Gig Seeker Pro


Bristol, England, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Bristol, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Folk Acoustic




"It's enigmatic and beautiful"

Spiro occupy a unique place on the British folk scene. The quartet of fiddle, guitar, mandolin and accordion draw on traditional tunes but work them into a web of delicate acoustic sounds that repeat or slowly transform.

...emotional detachment...balance and structure. The interweaving of lines forms a counterpoint which often builds up with a rhythmic thrust. And then suddenly it stops. It's enigmatic and beautiful. - The Evening Standard, UK (Kaleidophonica)

"Spiro are that rarity: true English originals"

...engaging, experimental...who defy categorisation. They play violin, mandolin, accordion, guitar and cello, make use of traditional English melodies in many of their intricate compositions,

(Spiro) are definitely not a conventional folk band. The traditional influences are "enmeshed" ...into an elaborate, atmospheric or quietly stirring rhythmic style...melodies and riffs juggled between the different instruments. Spiro are that rarity: true English originals. - The Guardian, UK (Kaleidophonica)

"Refreshingly Unnerving"

...The Bristol Band are imbued in the culture of informal sessions and you assume this is another album of dance tunes with a strong English feel. But within the fiddle/mandolin/guitar/accordian framework rhythms go haywire, tunes somersault and the sound adopts darker, edgier twists. Refreshingly unnerving. - Mojo, UK (Lightbox)

"Melodically Inventive and Emotionally Compelling"

...Intense and minimal, they roll out complex arrangements with such ease that you feel your heart lift a few inches above its normal resting place....Melodically inventive and emotionally compelling, this is a fantastic record. - The Word, UK (Lightbox)

"Sophisticated and adventurous"

The folk scene - or rather, the experimental acoustic folk-influenced scene - is becoming increasingly sophisticated and adventurous, and Spiro are leading exponents of this new genre. They are an instrumental quartet, playing guitar, accordion, violin and mandolin, who rework traditional folk melodies into stirring, rhythmic and often complex pieces that make use of the repeated phrases and patterns of systems music. In some ways, they are like a British folk answer to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra - though with a less exotic musical lineup - while echoing the tight interplay of that brilliant acoustic folk trio Lau. The quartet have developed a style in which there are no improvised solos, just tight arrangements in which the various instruments all provide the melodies and rhythmic settings. The mood is always changing, from the drifting and lyrical I Fear You Just As I Fear Ghosts (they specialise in memorable titles) to the slinky and jaunty Antrobus. This would be great film soundtrack music - and I mean that as a compliment. - The Guardian, UK (Lightbox)

"Compelling, strangely soulful music of mind and body"

Ultra-detailed arrangements. Lots of forward drive. No affect. It's folk music of a kind, rooted geographically in the English West Country, but not as you'd expect it to sound.

It steams from point A to whatever point it's going to with all the train-like persistence of a Steve Reich composition. In pieces such as "I Fear You Just as I Fear Ghosts" it exhibits other properties, which pulsate with gospel trenchancy. An oddly compelling, strangely soulful music of mind and body. - The Independent, UK (Lightbox)

"shimmering pulse...changing like the surface of an unpredictable sea"

...the reichian shimmering pulse is still at the heart of Spiro's finely machined modernist version of folk music: ...each separate line repetitive yet the whole constantly changing like the surface of an unpredictable sea. - Financial Times, UK (Kaleidophonica)


Still working on that hot first release.



Bands often claim to be unique, but Spiro really do defy easy categorisation. They are an acoustic instrumental quartet, playing violin, mandolin, accordion and guitar (which is occasionally replaced by cello), with just over a third of the songs on the new album Kaleidophonica based on traditional themes. The traditional melodies are enmeshed (a favourite Spiro word) into a complex, constantly changing, often stirring, rhythmic style that makes use of the repeated phrases and patterns of systems music. The aim, says mandolin-player Alex Vann, is to create music thats accessible and uncompromising at the same time.

There is no improvisation and no solo work, and none is needed. All the intricate arrangements have been meticulously worked out in advance, and the album was recorded as if they were playing live, with no over-dubs or multi-tracking. According to violinist Jane Harbour, its an approach that means there are never any ego problems in the band because its one solo machine, what we do. We are like watch-makers who have made an intricate machine. You just wind it up and let it go.

Kaleidophonica is the follow-up to Spiros much-praised Real World album Lightbox, but its different, says Vann because weve pushed the ideas and the systems music further. Jane argues that weve taken the most intricate bits of Lightbox and taken the whole mesh to a higher level. And if it sounds as if there are more than four of us playing, its because much of the time people are playing more than one part at the same time. We try to play two lines on one instrument quite a lot, so at some points there might be eight lines going on....

Spiro are virtuoso musicians, but theres energy as well as craftsmanship to their playing and they are eager to point out that in their music, riffs are as important as tunes. When asked to explain how it all works, they talk in much the same way that they play, with one member of the band starting a sentence, and the others developing the idea. The riffs are enmeshed and equal, said Jane, to which guitarist Jon Hunt added a tune has the same status as a riff, they just become one of the team, and Alex finished the explanation off by adding theres not one dominant top line, which is how folk tunes are usually played, but its enmeshed with the riffs ...so you hear the tune, then it can disappear, and bits of it can re-emerge, or get shattered and broken up into pieces, or scattered around the arrangement, or re-appear like ghosts.

It goes without saying that unconventional music like this is created in an unconventional way. All four band members contribute to the process, by suggesting either riffs or tunes, and these are given names depending on the way they make us feel. They then start mixing the riffs and themes together, said Alex so its like two people meeting and having a conversation, and that might spawn something interesting, and then someone else joins in the conversation and that starts to generate new ideas.....

Jane, whom he described as the dating agency of the themes is crucial to the process. According to Jon her head is like a multi-track studio. Its phenomenal the things that can go on there. She can hear complex arrangements, and manipulate them in her head. Jane herself put it like this We have a pot of themes and I just juggle them around in my head, and decide that this riff will go with that. But when I work out the systems stuff I write that down, and its quite an intellectual process and can be quite mathematical. So its both an imaginative process and mathematical pattern-making.

While Jane, Alex and accordion-player Jason Sparkes mostly provide the riffs, its Jon Hunt who adds the traditional melodies into the Spiro melting pot. Ive always been Mr Tunes, he said. I love traditional tunes and particularly tunes from the North-East and North-West. They resonate with me, and Im always pushing them into the pot. But sometimes they scream and jump out again because they dont necessarily get on with the other characters! The five traditional tunes that remained in the Kaleidophonica pot include Saw Ye Never A Bonny Lass, which was collected by the Border piper Matt Seattle, and which has now been transformed into the track The Gloaming, and Softly Robin, which was collected by John Offord (the main North-West collector we have plundered), which has kept its original title.

I look through these books and find the tunes going round my head, said Jon. And my head has its own editing process. The characters lodge themselves in your head and you find yourself warming towards some and not others.


Jon Hunt - Guitar

Jane Harbour - Violin

Alex Vann - Mandolin

Jason Sparkes - Accordion