Standing ovations for Show Of Hands’ Big Gig

Big Gig
Photograph by Darren Beech

England’s premier folk duo Show of Hands, once described as “the most famous unknown band in Britain”, brought the house down at the Royal Albert Hall on Easter Sunday with a ‘pull all the stops out’ show marking their milestone 25th year.

Singer songwriter Steve Knightley and multi instrumental wizard Phil Beer took to the stage of the iconic London venue for the fifth time with a memorable milestone gig which prompted two standing ovations.

Some 5,000 fans descended on the capital not just from all over the UK but also from Canada, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

The first band to ever hold a raffle at the Albert Hall maintained the tradition, raising £4,355 – the most ever – for chosen charities MIND and Great Ormond Street Hospital & Children’s Charity, the main prize being a beautifully crafted cello mandolin made by SoH’s Devon-based instrument makers Oddy Luthiers.

One of British folk music’s most popular acts – and two of the most active ambassadors in the acoustic arena – Knightley and Beer were joined by long-term guest Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals.
A dramatic opening saw the performance of Knightley’s spellbinding song ‘Widecombe Fair’ with Beer appearing high in the organ loft playing an eerie fiddle.

They were soon joined by the Devon’s 30-strong Lost Sound Chorus for the moving ‘The Old Lych Way’ about the ancient Dartmoor trackway along which coffins were carried. The choir returned throughout the evening to swell the sound on some of the band’s best known songs and numbers from most recent albums Centenary and The Long Way Home.

Also taking to the “Kensington village hall” stage were top mandolin player Rex Preston, 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards ‘Best Duo’ winners Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin and Canada’s hugely entertaining Matt Gordon & Leonard Podolak, their fiddle and banjo music punctuated by outbreaks of clog dancing (joined by Mr Knightley!) and “hamboning” (traditional African American body percussion).

Long-time collaborator, composer and keyboards player Matt Clifford, who famously worked with The Rolling Stones, added to the sound as did Devon teacher Chris Hoban, who has penned some of Show of Hands’ more recent songs including the epic ‘Katrina’ (also performed on the night).

Towards the end of the first set, there was a surprise appearance by renowned Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter who read Siegfried Sassoon’s To Victory in his inimitable way before a performance of the WW1 song ‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’ while Alice Jones was a solo Morris dancer in ‘Twas on One’s April Morning’.

Steve Knightley also announced a £150,000 crowdfunding appeal to bring an extensive Shrouds Of The Somme art installation to the capital.

Last year Somerset artist Rob Heard painstakingly hand stitched calico shrouds onto 19240 12 inch figures representing every Allied soldier who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – making a powerful artwork that was seen in Exeter and Bristol. Knightley was closely involved in the unique project, serving on the committee.

Now Heard has embarked on making more than 70,000 shrouds to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 in 2018 – commemorating every soldier who died at The Somme with no known grave. It is hoped to display the new work in London for Armistice Day (November 11) next year. The crowdfunding campaign will launch on May 10.

Show of Hands’ “anthems” ‘Country Life’, ‘Roots’, and banker-baiting ‘Arrogance Ignorance And Greed’ were all on the set list as well as the traditional favourite ‘The Blue Cockade’. Their trademark ‘Cousin Jack’, about emigrating Cornish miners, was the rousing finale before they stepped back on stage for Knightley’s “hard to believe it’s not traditional” number ‘The Galway Farmer’ and a rousing ‘Santiago’ with the whole company on stage.

A lavishly illustrated 224-page hard-backed souvenir book marking the band’s 25th year went on sale on the night, entitled No Secrets –A Visual History of Show of Hands.

Tying in with this, the Knightley-penned single ‘No Secrets’ was released on Friday (April 21) via Amazon and iTunes. Says Steve: “This started live as a piece of advice for a friend getting married but it is also apt as the ethos of our business and it became the backdrop to the book.”

Show of Hands 25th year continues with a busy UK festival schedule (including Folk by the Oak, Underneath The Stars, Wickham, Sidmouth, Cropredy, Towersey) before a newly announced tour of English cathedrals this autumn (Oct 4-Nov 8), from Chichester to Carlisle, supported by young singer songwriter Kirsty Merryn.

Big Gig
Photograph by Judith Burrows

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UK album release June 30th 2014 / ‘Lads In Their Hundreds’ – UK single release July 14 2014 On UMTV

Two of our most popular and distinguished actors, Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton, have teamed up with the celebrated West Country acoustic band Show of Hands to mark the centenary of the First World War.  The conflict lasted for four years, led to the deaths of over sixteen million soldiers and civilians, and transformed Britain and much of the world. But the brutal carnage and the horrors of life in the trenches inspired the War Poetry, an extraordinary artistic movement written by those who fought, and in some cases died, in the fighting.

Unique and powerful, Centenary: Words & Music Of The Great War matches the remarkable poetry of those war years against the music of the era, along with new compositions inspired by the war. This double CD release includes one disc of twenty two poems read by Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton and set to new arrangements of songs from the period. As Show Of Hands’ Steve Knightley explains “we thought of the pieces as brief scenes from a film and treated the songs as half-remembered, distant reveries that with the extraordinary voices of Jim and Imelda just came alive”.

Jim Carter (Downton Abbey, Shakespeare In Love, The Madness Of King George) and his wife Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter, Vera Drake, Gypsy) became involved after being approached by Jim’s friend and former flat-mate Steve (Knightley).  “I have known Jim since the Eighties”, said Steve. “We used to share a house together in Maida Vale, London.  He was in the basement and I lived upstairs. I was on the rock band scene and he was at the National Theatre”.  Jim Carter later provided narration for the 1990 Show of Hands project, Tall Ships. Although he and Imelda have been married for over thirty years, Jim says this was “a very rare opportunity for us to work together”.

On the second disc Show of Hands perform distinctive versions of period favourites plus new songs from Knightley including ‘The Gamekeeper’, and his setting for AE Housman’s foreboding ‘The Lads In Their Hundreds’ which, although from a slightly earlier era, fits perfectly into this selection. Show of Hands (Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes) are joined by distinguished friends from the folk scene including Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Phillip Henry, Geoffrey Lakeman and Andy Cutting.

The horrors of the First World War have inspired a series of powerful films, plays, novels and musical works. This project is one of the finest.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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