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Andrew Knight 1949 - 2016

The third of four sons to John and Betty Knight, Andrew was born and raised in Banstead, Surrey. He was introduced to Irish folksong when elder brothers Simon and Chris, together with friends, started a weekly singing session in The Black Horse in Reigate and other pubs in the region. Soon his younger brother Patrick, with whom Andrew was to play traditional dance music for the rest of his life, joined the throng. This was the mid-sixties and the material embraced songs from the hugely popular Dubliners as well as The Clancy Brothers, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and others. Every Saturday night, rebel songs and street ballads were belted out in unison to guitar and banjo accompaniment.

Andrew progressed from Reigate Grammar School to study Chemical Engineering at Newcastle University in 1967. There he discovered Geordie folklore, learned to play the guitar and succeeded in failing all his second year exams. He met and developed a friendship with the Briggs sisters, six amazing girls who sang folk ballads in close harmony. There is little doubt that it was their singing that cast a mould for the extensively chorded style Andrew later used in song accompaniment on the concertina. Andrew subsequently married Lesley Briggs and had daughters Rachel and Karina.

In 1969 Andrew bought a second-hand English concertina, a 48 key Lachenal, for just £8. The following year, brother Patrick moved to Newcastle and the two of them attended Johnny Handle's ceilidh band workshop in The Bridge Hotel on a Saturday morning. They learned tunes from The Fiddler's Tune Book and Allen's Irish Fiddler on concertina and tin whistle. The Irish tunes seemed more appealing and the boys were soon playing material from other written sources, in particular the collections of Francis O'Neill, Pat McNulty and Breandan Breathnach. In addition, they made regular trips to Co. Clare where they met concertina players Packie Russell (Doolin) and Paddy Murphy (Inagh) as well as Willie Clancy (Milltown Malbay), Joe Cunneen (Quilty), Tommy Peoples (Kilfenora) and many other local musicians.

Back in Newcastle, Alistair Anderson was the leading young English concertina player of the day. An obvious influence for Andrew, but Alistair's staccato style, taken presumably from the close-fingered playing of the Northumbrian pipes, didn't necessarily suit Andrew or his approach to Irish dance music. He was very interested to meet and visit Gordon Cutty in Gateshead. Gordon played an eclectic selection of folk tunes as well as music hall and popular classical dance pieces on an English Wheatstone. All were arranged with strong chorded sequences and counter melodies. A retired Co. Durham miner, Gordon was from an earlier generation when 'working-class' concertina bands were around. He played in these and led his own band in the thirties and forties.

Andrew soon bought a 64 key, metal-ended Wheatstone. Its extended bass gave him the opportunity to understand and develop more comprehensive chord structures. This and another 64 key Wheatstone together with an occasionally used baritone were the instruments he played for the rest of his life.

In developing an Irish style Andrew never tried to emulate the Anglo concertina or any other instrument. He listened to all the music that was available and worked out how to achieve suitable traditional ornamentation with an appropriate rhythm. As a player of the English he was very much on his own, Irish concertina music being played, almost without exception, on the Anglo.

As well as commercial recordings, there was a number of good players around Tyneside in the seventies, so Andrew wasn't short of influences. Foremost would be John Doonan, whose driving and perfectly delivered piccolo playing was a fantastic encouragement to anyone wanting to find out how to play Irish trad for dancing.

Every Monday the two brothers travelled to Durham to play with fiddlers Chuck Fleming and Bernie Molloy and Jim O'Boyle, another English concertina player. The session moved around various pubs in the city, eventually coming to rest in The Colpitts. Occasional trips were also made to Elsdon to listen to and play with Joe Hutton and Willie Taylor. In Newcastle, the brothers helped establish sessions at The Barley Mow, The Ship and The Cumberland Arms and ran a folk club at the Gosforth Hotel. As well as their trips to Ireland, they went to annual festivals in Newcastleton, Morpeth, Rothbury, Alnwick, Haltwhistle, Edinburgh, Girvan, Bangor, Bromyard and other places.

By the end of the decade, a branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann was established on Tyneside. This gave the Knights an opportunity to engage with a wider Irish community and an introduction to playing for step dancing. In time they met Barbara Slater and became lead players for the Clann Na Gael dance group. Over the next 10 years the group performed at festivals throughout Britain as well as making trips to Europe and America.

Meanwhile eldest brother Simon, having become an excellent button accordionist, had established a vibrant set-dancing scene in Somerset. Andrew took to set dancing and soon became a popular partner in the set and a respected player in the band.

In 1992, Andrew and Patrick sold up their interest in the computer company they founded on Tyneside and removed to the Isle of Man. For the next 20 years and more the brothers were significant and colourful figures on the IOM session scene. They played regularly with Dublin piper Gilbert O'Sullivan and particularly with the irrepressible New Ross button accordionist, Mary Molloy. During that time, of course, regular trips were made to their old haunts and they continued to be recognisable at sessions in Ballyvaughan, Derrygonnelly, Bangor, Girvan, Moniaive, Lancaster and Mells.

In earlier days Andrew's tune decoration involved an array of cuts, tips and triplets. Chords were incorporated both sparingly and in more extensive sequences. Later he developed a 'cranning' technique where a single button would be played using alternating fingers. Bellows direction was not generally employed to assist the decoration, only to accentuate the phrasing. He had a lovely flowing style but with a strong and steady pulse, ideal for dancing. He picked all the best tunes and delighted in playing many of the most difficult reels in the correct key, with chords and without any cheating. Examples would include Jean's Reel, Reel Beatrice and Catharsis. He always adhered to a tune's original key and had no problem in playing C, F, Bb and even E. Tune sets were carefully selected and always had uplifting key changes.

Andrew loved hornpipes and thanks to Pat McNulty's fabulous collection, played many of the more elusive ones. The last tune he learned was the absurdly complicated Kansas City Hornpipe, heard from the supreme piping of Fred Morrison and delivered with a fully chorded B part on the repeat.

At any informal gathering Andrew always had a song, usually some soul-searching ballad sung in a plaintive tenor and with a strong and emotive concertina accompaniment. Although he greatly admired and was influenced by the singing of Tony Rose, he developed a more homophonic accompaniment relying on big chord sequences in preference to counter melody.

Andrew was good-natured and opinionated. Entertaining anecdotes abound but they're for another telling. After a long battle with kidney failure he died on the 11th January 2016. His music touched all those who heard him and remains in our hearts as his legacy.

Pat Knight