Probably the friendliest folk club in the Northwest
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One thing is certain – Spiro are their own people, commendably operating in their own sphere and at their own pace. This contemporary acoustic ensemble first came together through Bristolʼs folk sessions scene in 1993, trading under the name of The Famous Five. Now, a full 16 years later, theyʼve only just got around to releasing their third album. Their first for Real World Records, Lightbox is an extraordinarily stirring record. Recorded over four days at Real World Studios in Box and largely produced by Simon Emmerson (the chief architect behind the Afro Celt Sound System and The Imagined Village projects), it showcases a highly imaginative and highly disciplined group with a sound thatʼs unified but never uniform. All four members, all four instruments, pull in the same direction, creating music thatʼs intricate yet so full of momentum. These are hurrying, scurrying soundscapes that sweep majestically with cinematic presence, echoing – at various points – the work of Steve Reich, Michael Nyman and the Penguin Café Orchestra. But, kindred spirits aside, this is the music of Spiro – undeniably English, undeniably theirs. Despite a slew of work for theatre, film and television, Spiro remain something of an enigma, a well-kept secret thatʼs only now starting to spread. Even in their hometown of Bristol, theyʼre decidedly inconspicuous, thanks to their gentle, organic and snail-slow blooming. “There was never a grand plan,” explains Jon.

“Itʼs just evolved. Some kind of magic thing happened between us that wasnʼt necessarily expected. It was quite serendipitous. Weʼre all quite different as musicians and we each brought in particular passions and visions. Itʼs all been about the interaction of those visions.”

Their individual backgrounds are wide-reaching. Jane studied classical violin in Japan under the legendary Shinichi Suzuki and grew up “listening to a lot of vaguely modern classical stuff like Bartok and Stravinsky and Britten so Iʼve got a lot of time for dissonance and strange harmonies and counter rhythms”.

Sheʼs also a sucker for dance music, “repetitive tunes that are really free and ecstatic”.

Accordionist Jason Sparkes began his own classical training during his pre-school years before taking up folk at the start of his teens, inspired by his morris-dancing father. Alex Vann was the drummer in a punk band before taking up the electric guitar and then graduating to his weapon of choice – the mandolin. Jon Hunt has also done his time in punk bands, someone who took an unusual route from pop to folk to punk to post-punk/new wave but emerged with “this preserved love and fascination for traditional English music”.