Photograph by Chris Bates
1. What was your musical education as a child and how young were you when you first started to play? Was the violin your first instrument and if not, what made you decide to take it up?
My Dad played the violin, guitar and mandolin and he forced me to learn them. Just kidding. But he did trick me. He used to play his fiddle and make deliberate mistakes knowing that I would think I could do it better. He admitted to that much later in life. I suppose I was around eight or nine at the time. I learned a couple of tunes on the mandolin before playing the violin. The first tune I learned was called ‘Laughing, laughing Sambo’. My dad and I played it at a school concert. He sang the song too. I don’t think we would be allowed to now. Funny ole world.
I then took violin lessons at school and passed an audition to go to the Royal Academy of Music in London. I think that somewhere it is written that it was in true Billy Elliott style, and it was like that as I didn’t come from a privileged background, growing up as I did on a council estate in Hertfordshire. I went to the Royal Academy for three years as a Junior Exhibitioner.
2. How and when were you first approached to join Steeleye Span and had you heard of them and their first album, 'Hark The Village, Wait'?
Bob Johnson and I were playing in folk clubs and we noticed Martin Carthy seemed to be turning up to quite a few of our gigs. I then got a call from Ashley Hutchings asking if I wanted to join Steeleye Span. I had heard of the band but they hadn’t done any gigs at that time. They had recorded their first album and then split up. Not surprising really knowing those involved. They had asked Martin to join and then needed a fiddle player. I seemed to fit the bill. I hadn’t listened to the first album ‘Hark the village Wait’ at that point. So I joined Steeleye, and sometime later got Bob into the band. I always think of Bob as being Steeleye Span. He only ever loved the band for the music and never used it to promote his own interests.
3. Following on from that question, what direction do you think your musical career would have taken if you hadn't joined?
I have no idea. My interests are many and varied and I have always loved so many things about this life, so maybe I wouldn’t necessarily have followed a career in Music. The idea of being a Professional golfer always appealed. However, I would still have found somewhere to be where the music could hold my attention. When Tanna were in Austria recently, we had a bit of time off and decided to go busking in one of the main streets. We could have earned more than we got for the gigs if we had stayed a while. We played for about an hour and bought a house each. Just kidding again. Good money though. So there is always that :-)
4. There is such a large number of songs in Steeleye's back catalogue, are there any that you don't play now, but would like to and are there any that you don't get much satisfaction from playing these days?
Some songs are associated with certain members of the band both past and present, and so the line-up has a large influence on what songs we choose for a tour. I can’t think of any songs that I would like to do. If you had asked me this question before the last tour I would have said ‘Lovely On The Water’. There have been a couple of songs that I’ve never been too bothered about playing but I wouldn’t tell you publicly. I wouldn’t want to upset anyone :-)
5. When you contribute a new song for Steeleye what is the process? Do you send it to the individual members first or do you have to go though Park Records? Who actually makes the decision as to which songs will go on a particular album?
The process Steeleye go through when coming up with new material is quite varied and is usually dictated by the changing strengths and weaknesses of the band members at the time of getting together. Sometimes someone will come in with a few trad songs to try out, or present the band with an arranged demo. Both can be equally good. Sometimes someone will come in with nothing. It sort of doesn’t matter who contributes. We share the royalties. Being a democratic outfit is the best way to ensure that the best material gets recorded. Come to think of it, it doesn’t always work :-)
We don’t have any rules about the material we play. It is left to the individual to determine what will suit Steeleye. We all have a different slant on that, and we all have different musical interests and desires. So we meet up with new material and explore the possibilities. Some never get off the ground, and others go on to become part of the Steeleye’s repertoire.
We definitely don’t go through Park records. Park did refuse to include ‘Staring Robin’ on ‘Bedlam Born’ and that will always cause me a problem. I could have and should have insisted at the time that it be included, but sometimes we make decisions for the sake of all involved. These days I would never allow a record company to dictate the musical content. That’s why I have never accepted any invitation by a record company to record my solo work. They always want to have some say in the music. Perfectly reasonable. It’s their money on the line.
6. Following on from that when you write a new song or tune do you already have an arrangement in your head, or is it just bare bones and you leave it to the other musicians to work out their respective parts?
That varies. On the last album I suggested some traditional songs for Maddy to sing like ‘Lord Gregory’ and ‘The Bonny Black Hare’. I suggested changing the time signature of the latter from 7/4 to a straight ahead 4/4 just to make it a bit funky. It seemed to work. ‘Lord Elgin’ I wrote and let the others do whatever they liked on the song. That song is sort of throwaway for me. Just a riddle. No big deal.
7. During your time with Steeleye were you ever approached by another band to join and, if so, which band and in what capacity?
When I left Steeleye with Bob, we did both get together with Dave Cousins with the view of maybe joining the Strawbs, but nothing came of it. I was asked to join Jethro Tull and even went as far as talking money with Ian Anderson, but I decided that I didn’t really want to play bass guitar, and that it wasn’t in my nature to jump out from behind an amp with fireworks going off. Steeleye had toured with Tull in the States and it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I recommended Dave Pegg who took the job. It was my mate Barry Barlow who tried to rope me in. I still see him. Great guy.
8. If Steeleye hadn't existed which band would you have like to have joined?
No idea. I don’t really think about life and music in that way. Jethro Tull maybe :-)
9. When Bob Johnson and yourself left Steeleye in the late '70's to record 'The King of Elfland's Daughter', did you still follow Steeleye's career and did you ever get to hear the abums that you weren't on? Was it always the plan to return at some point?
For the record, Bob and I didn’t leave Steeleye to record ‘Elfland’. In the true nature of band behaviour, Maddy announced that she was leaving, and Rick said that he would leave too. Bob and I thought that we might as well go in that case, and so we did, but Rick and Maddy didn’t. That sort of thing is typical of how things work in bands. It’s all normal stuff. Publicly different reasons were given, because the truth can work against bums on seats. But the truth is always more interesting than false declarations. By that time I had had enough anyway. With hits and success came TV cameras, vanity and everything that has nothing to do with music.
I suppose all this raises the question, was it some sort of trick to get Bob and I out of the band. I don’t think so because it was all a bit heady then, but you could always ask Maddy or Rick. You never know :-) How good life is now that I’m older.
While I fished the English channel with my mate Percy in a 20ft fishing boat, Steeleye carried on with Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick and recorded a couple of albums. It was quite a while before I could listen to them without going through a load of weird, but when I did listen to them I enjoyed the experience. I always liked Martin and John. About three years later I got a call saying that Steeleye had been offered a recording deal by Chrysalis records, but the condition was that I had to be in the band along with Maddy and Tim. My demands were met and here I am.
That concludes the first part of the Peter Knight Interview. Part two coming soon!!
Many thanks to Peter Knight for doing these interviews!
Don't forget besides his work with Steeleye, Peter has an active solo career. He also works with saxophonist, Trevor Watts and is a member of the bands, Gigspanner, Tanna and Feast of Fiddles.
For more information please visit Peter's web site at:-
Peter also takes workshops and masterclasses. For details of this go to:-