SPIRO - Lightbox

SPIRO - Lightbox
Real World Records CDRW172

A 4-piece instrumental outfit trying to break the bonds of English acoustic music, Spiro combine traditional tunes and instrumentation with contemporary styles and arrangements. There's been a lot of hype around them, and in mainstream English music they are certainly something special and exciting, but Spiro are not so different from the instrumental side of Bellowhead or Hekety to pick two examples. Going further back, Blowzabella and The Barely Works were on the same track, and if we look to Scottish music there are clear similarities with Lau, The Treacherous Orchestra, or even The Shee. This is fine company to be in, of course.

So after fifty years, traditional music is moving away from the "everyone plays the melody" paradigm and Spiro may be among the innovators in England . Not unique, not particularly energetic compared to the Celtic contingent, but intriguing and powerful. They can certainly write a good tune: Glittering City is lovely, and Captain Say Catastrophe is as striking as its name. This is Spiro's third recording, their first on a major label - I haven't heard the previous two, but Lightbox draws on the Peacock collection of Northumbrian pipe tunes, Playford's publications, and other traditional sources. Spiro acknowledge this, and in some cases they do a great service to neglected tunes. The White Hart and The Radio Sky are good examples.

Violin, accordion, mandolin and guitar: Spiro compare themselves to a string quartet, a revealing view, emphasising their four-part arrangements and the blurring of melody into accompaniment. There are some wonderful arrangements here, entrancing music, such as I Fear You or Binatone. There are also a few unsuccessful experiments: Grimstock and Kafoozalum are plodding here, and why anyone would choose Bobby Shaftoe as a springboard is beyond me. A couple of tracks also struck me as background music rather than the promised exhilarating high-octane stuff. Even so, there's plenty of good stuff on this CD and Lightbox is definitely worth a listen for English music fans: see what you make of Spiro.

Alex Monaghan
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This album was reviewed in Issue 84 of The Living Tradition magazine.