Gigspanner Big Band and Raynor Winn 16th Jul 2022 7:30pm

The Salt Path is Raynor Winn’s Sunday Times best-selling memoir of walking the South West Coast Path in its entirety…a walk that was an impulsive response to unexpected circumstances which left her and her husband, Moth, homeless.

It has won global praise for its 'against all odds' uplifting message, and its frank exploration of the reality of homelessness. 

The Salt Path is one couple's story, but such a well-trodden path must hold many more stories of loss, love and the natural world. Perhaps these stories could be found in the form of traditional songs and tunes that have been left behind and saved for us due to the diligence of song collectors such as Cecil Sharp (1859 to 1924) co-founder of the English Folk Dance & Song Society. 

This seed of an idea has developed into an exciting collaboration between Raynor Winn and The Gigspanner Big Band, a collective of some of the most high-profile names on the British folk scene.

Together, Raynor and the Gigspanner Big Band will celebrate this “630 uninterrupted miles of coastline, crossing wild headlands with the calls of oystercatchers, and the smell of salt laden air ever present” (Raynor Winn ~ Ambassador of the South West Coast Path).

Review by Jenni Balow

The tide was high and the open air Minack Theatre was full to the brim, every seat sold, as a hot salt-laden easterly immersed them in a lyrical flow of words and music by a best-selling author and one of the finest folk bands in the land.

The Saltlines tour by Raynor Winn, who wrote The Salt Path four years ago, softly speaking her lines alongside the Gigspanner Big Band, giving a portrait of the South West Coast Path in old songs and new words, has won standing ovations all along the way.

For the author, the evening was in stark contrast to her first visit, when she and her debilitated husband Moth, were bought tickets to watch a performance of Iolanthe by a passing couple, because they were almost penniless, homeless, and were living in a makeshift tent as they treked the 630 miles of the Coast Path  -  it was one of very few kind acts they encountered from strangers.

Earlier, their comfortable family life had been shattered within months by a series of unforeseen events, when they were stripped of their savings and their home, and Moth was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.

The Salt Path has been read by millions world-wide, who shared in the couple's experiences on the walk they took with nothing to lose, and everything to gain from Nature.

Raynor wrote a second book, The Wild Silence, and will publish a third, Landlines, in September.

With the exception of her dialogue, few words were spoken, and for those who did not invest a fiver in the programme, no song titles or introductions were made, with no special facts given about their relevance to the show and The Salt Path. It's a small point, but they would have been welcome.

The collaboration was inspired by producer Deborah Knight, the wife of legendary folk fiddler Peter, who originally made his name with Steeleye Span, and has now combined with outstanding musicians  -  John Spiers, one of the leading squeezebox players of his generation, Hannah Martin, playing violin, banjo and tenor guitar, composer and singer, Phillip Henry, who is magic on slide guitar and harmonica, Roger Flack, guitar and bass, and Sacha Trochet, creative percussionist.

They chose traditional songs from along Raynor and Moth's walk, including the lovely Lemonday, with her words evoking the scattering of wild flowers and plants, comfrey, samphire, wild strawberries, the violin notes soaring like a lark ascending above the South West Coast Path  -  a pollen path, with bees thriving among the thrift and thyme.

Raynor acknowledges the path as "a wild place that's a last stronghold for our wildlife and a haven for humans in search of meaning" and elemental place of inspiration and memory, with a history involving fishing and mining.

The Cadgwith Anthem, Cornish Lads and Fishermen, written by Roger Bryant, the May Day Carol, the Padstow 'obby 'oss verses, Brixham Town, the Helston Furry Dance, Ten Thousand Miles and Hannah Martin's Salt Song followed with fascinating interpretations that created a classical folk symphony  -  pulsing waves of voice and sound.

The drumming and throbbing of Estren/The Three Knights was an uplifting finale to Raynor's moving memoir, and the whole audience stood to salute a beautiful experience.

The Gigspanner Big Band are a unique force in British folk music...

Their high-energy, virtuosic performances appeal equally to traditionalists and to those looking for something more experimental, and they have garnered praise from publications as varied as fRoots, The Telegraph and The Wire, where they were described as ‘melodically folk-rooted yet open and innovative beyond the constraints of genre’

Beginning life as a trio - with legendary Steeleye Span fiddle player Peter Knight being joined by percussionist Sacha Trochet and guitarist Roger Flack - the line-up has been expanded to form the Gigspanner Big Band, with acclaimed multi-instrumental duo Edgelarks (Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin - BBC Folk Awards 'Best Duo') and Bellowhead co-founder and melodeon player extraordinaire, John Spiers, joining the fray.

As collaborations go, it doesn't get much more mouth-watering than this.

Characterised by riotous inventiveness, technically gifted individual playing and subtle collaborative interaction, this coming together of several of the biggest names on the folk-roots scene, combines a deep knowledge of roots traditions with a ceaselessly boundary pushing approach. 

"With the Gigspanner Big Band, Peter Knight has assembled a group of musicians intent on making some of the most important and exhilarating art ever to sit under the banner of folk music" FRUK

"What a fabulous team they make, together producing a startlingly new musical form with few, if any, antecedents. The flights of musical fancy are staggering in their natural invention" Fatea Magazine

Raynor Winn

Raynor Winn is a long-distance walker and writer; her first book The Salt Path was a Sunday Times bestseller in 2018.

The Salt Path was shortlisted for the 2018 Wainwright Prize, and the 2018 Costa Book Awards in the biography category. The judges described it as "An absolutely brilliant story that needs to be told about the human capacity to endure and keep putting one foot in front of another."

In May 2019 The Salt Path won the inaugural RSL Christopher Bland Prize. In September 2019 it was the number one bestselling book in UK independent bookstores.

Winn also writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. Her second book Wild Silence was published by Michael Joseph in September 2020, and also became a Sunday Times bestseller.