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. shroudsofthesomme.com

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

Artists’ website: www.showofhands.co.uk

Mike Grogan announces his new album

Mike Grogan

The new album by singer-songwriter Mike Grogan, called Too Many Ghosts is released on the 10th February, 2017. This will be Mike’s third album and like the last one Make Me Strong, it is a conceptual work. This beautiful reflective album, with ten original songs,  embraces  the fragility of life and love (‘Let Me Feel The Rain’, ‘Show Them What Love Can Do’, ‘Wish You’, ‘Underground’, ‘The Way’), and it also reflects on the past whilst trying to look optimistically into the future (‘Too Many Ghosts’, ‘Heaven Is Here’). It delivers a karmic message (‘Hallelujah’), that we should strive to do the right thing, and that the superficialities of life won’t help in the long run.

As with the last album, this one has been recorded and produced by Devon based Mark Tucker, who has been responsible for many great albums of late for example Show Of Hands’ Wake The Union and The Long Way Home. Mike has enlisted the support of some great musicians on this album including John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (The Who, Free, Bob Marley, Crawler), Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes (Show Of Hands) along with James Eller (The The).

Mike will be playing stripped down and solo with just voice and guitars extensively across the country in 2017 and will also be playing many festivals during the summer of 2017 with full band.

Mike Grogan is singer-songwriter based in the south of England whose songs focus on the social, and the human spirit. His songs can be personal and written in the third person but all are weaved with a delicate sensitivity. Mike plays a variety of instruments including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin, piano and harmonica. His current road and recording companions are his Patrick Eggle Skyland acoustic, Martin D-28 and Fylde tenor guitar.

Artist’s website: www.mikegrogan.co.uk

Promo video:

MIRANDA SYKES & REX PRESTON – The Watchmaker’s Wife (Hands On Music HMCD40)

The Watchmaker's WifeWhen I last heard Show Of Hands I couldn’t help but note Miranda Sykes’ contribution to their sound. Not just her double bass playing but particularly her voice and I felt that she should be better known in her own right. The Watchmaker’s Wife is her third album with Rex Preston and the duo is as delicately balanced as a fine watch with each supporting and reinforcing the other.

The title track, written by Miranda and Rex with Chris Difford is a perfect exemplar of what the album is about. How much is drawn from Sonia Taitz’s book, The Watchmaker’s Daughter isn’t spelled out but there are distinct parallels in the dichotomy of the man whose marriage seems loveless leaving his wife to ask “how can he make such beautiful things?”.

Miranda steps into the spotlight again with ‘Bonny Light Horseman’, a beautifully natural reading of the song in which she is the calm at the heart of the storm of Rex’s musical flourishes. Rex tones it down a bit for ‘Going To The West’ which immediately follows it and, for the first time, gives us two of his own songs, ‘Rosie’, a slightly quirky not-love song, and ‘Leaving Song’ which needs no further explanation.

There are two instrumental sets: ‘Swedish’, from Blazin’ Fiddles and Rex’s brilliantly titled ‘(Insert Name)’s Waltz’ and finally Miranda takes the lead on John Doyle’s ‘Exile’s Return’ with just enough Irish in her voice so that, once again, her singing sounds perfectly natural. The Watchmaker’s Wife is a fine album but one which requires thought and attention from the listener.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.sykespreston.com

‘The Watchmaker’s Wife’ live:

SHOW OF HANDS – The Long Way Home (Hands On HMCD39)

SHOW OF HANDS The Long Way HomeThis year marking their 36th anniversary and their 15th studio album (18th if you count three earlier cassette releases), Devon duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have long been an English folk institution, making regular appearances in many a folk awards lists. This latest release sees them returning to their early roots, revisiting staple folk themes across the course of five new Knightly numbers, traditional songs and a selection of covers.

As well as unofficial third member Miranda Sykes on double bass,, it featuring a clutch of collaborators that include Hannah Martin, Phillip Henry, Chris Hoban and, on cajon, Knightley’s teenage son. The album’s bookends also feature fiddler Jackie Oates and ascending star Ange Hardy on “vocal landscape”, opening with ‘Breme Fell At Hastings’, a steady martial beat stompalong Knightley wrote for the BBC TV series The Great British Story, which, presented by Michael Wood (who provides the spoken Saxon here), viewed the death of the titular freeborn farmer as epitomising the subjugation of Saxon culture and identity to the Viking conquerors.

The first of two Hoban-penned tracks arrives with ‘Hallows’ Eve’, the writer playing accordion on a song that, driven by a rousingly anthemic chorus featuring the Bridge Inn Shantymen, explores the British traditions of lantern lighting behind the more familiar Americanised trick or treat. As you’ll have gathered, England and its past loom large here, a theme continued on ‘Hambledon Fair’, an arrangement of a traditional tune and lyrical amalgamation of ‘Rambleaway’, ‘Derry Down Fair’ and ‘Brimbledon Fair’ that, featuring Oates on viola and sharing vocals with Sykes, is inspired by the young Knightley’s rambles over Portland Hill to Hambledon Village.

The title track follows, Knightley’s sprightly fiddle and mandolin-accompanied hymn to love the second time round, and then comes ‘Keep Hauling’, another outing for the massed chorus of drinkers at the Bridge Inn, Topsham where they recorded this concertina-coloured shanty by Andrew Cadie of German-based folk duo Broom Bezzums.

It’s back to trad. arr, and another appearance of folk ballad habitué lovely Nancy, for ‘Twas On One April’s Morning’, Beer taking lead vocal backed by an assemblage of cajon, accordion, fiddle, concertina, guitar, double bass and mouth organ with percussion design from Mark Tucker in an arrangement that flows into instrumental Knightley coda, ‘Isca Rose’.

From that number’s very traditional folk, things shift into 12 bar blues mode for Knightley’s ‘Sweet Bella’, a nod back to their pub playing days that features mandolin and Henry on mouth harp. The second Hoban contribution arrives in the form of ‘The Old Lynch Way’, an account of the pathway winding between the Dartmoor farms and hamlets along which funeral processions were expected to pass en route to St Petroc’s Church in Lydford. Introduced by birdsong and featuring Knightley on lead with Beer and Sykes’ voiced interlacing like monastic echoes, a trio, arrangement for cuatro, bass and mournful fiddle.

The mood lifts with ‘Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down)’, a strummed, self-referencing Knightley song that slips in sly lyrical nods to his ‘Country Life’ and ‘Arrogance Ignorance and Greed’, written to raise funds for a documentary about the Sidmouth Folk Festival to be titled ‘A Small, Quiet, English Town’. It’s back to the traditional and Beer on vocals for ‘Virginia’, providing a new tune to a familiar tale of transportation to the American colonies that marks the album’s sole duo recording.

Heading to curtain fall, the penultimate tracks is another cover, this time of Dick Gaughan and Brian McNeill’s ‘John Harrison’s Hands’, a slow-swaying tribute to the 18th century Lincolnshire watchmaker who devised a clock to determine maritime longitude, saving countless lives in the doing. And so, marking the return of Oates and Hardy, the album ends with ‘Mesopotamia’, a sombre, forlorn mandolin and guitar based father’s lament about his young daughter who’s slipped away to follow her lover to war, a song that sounds clear contemporary relevance in today’s turbulent world and, given the land of the title corresponds to modern-day Iraq, Syria and Kuwait, cannot but help evoke thoughts, and perhaps a controversial emotional understanding, of those women leaving England to join their men on whatever side they may be fighting. It may have been a long way home, but the journey was well worth the taking.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.showofhands.co.uk/

‘Breme Fell At Hastings’ – official video:

SHOW OF HANDS The Forum Bath Gig (12th November 2015)

SHOW OF HANDS The Forum Bath Gig

There can be few acts in any genre that would opt to open a concert with a song that their audience had never heard them perform. Yet this is precisely what Show of Hands did on Thursday evening amidst the art deco opulence of the Forum; then proceeded to showcase a succession of beguiling new compositions throughout their entire first set! It is of course Show of Hands’ confidence in the calibre of their own material as well as the staunch support they enjoy amongst audiences that underpinned this decision.

The duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, abetted once again by the atmospheric double-bass playing and plaintive vocals of Miranda Sykes, presented their audience with music that took its inspiration from the songs they heard as teenagers in the folk clubs of Devon. Their new music marks something of a departure from recent material that has made increasingly more explicit reference to American folk idioms. Knightley’s facility as a songwriter able to vividly capture time, place and narrative in song was amply displayed in the new songs, which will appear on new album The Long Way Home in January 2016. Amongst the most memorable was ‘Breme Fell At Hastings’, written for the BBC series The Great British Story. Opening in arresting fashion with Anglo-Saxon words intoned by Knightley, the song focuses on Breme, a local farmer caught up in the Battle of Hastings. The song presents his death at the battle as emblematic of a lost Saxon cultural identity. Contrastingly, the spirited ‘Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down)’ conveyed a life-affirming zeal that will surely make it a favourite with audiences for years to come.

Following a short interval during which ale was hastily consumed and albums briskly snapped up by an appreciative crowd, Show of Hands returned to the stage for a set comprising some of their best loved material. Many of the songs were introduced with Knightly and Beer’s wry anecdotes about the circumstances in which the songs were written. The audience was also treated to an entertaining tale of how during a 2006 tour Show of Hands encouraged audiences to vote for them in a Devon County Council competition to determine history’s greatest Devonians. The pair duly outvoted the likes of Agatha Christie, Sir Francis Drake and Charles Babbage to scoop the award, to the apparent bewilderment of the competitions sponsors.

Amongst the highlights of the second set was the wistful ‘Santiago’, a song originally performed in collaboration with exiled Chilean musicians. This was one of several occasions in the evening when the massed voices of the audience combined with those of Knightley, Beer and Sykes to poignant effect. Trenchant social commentary was to the fore in the enduringly popular ‘Country Life’ and the banker-baiting ‘AIG’; an acronym that in Knightley’s hand was redefined as arrogance, ignorance and greed. One of the most affecting moments of the evening came with the first encore in which, without amplification, Knightly sang Ralph McTell’s ‘The Setting’, a pensive tale of a man accompanying his departing sister to a train stations as she sets off for an uncertain future. This was intermingled with Beer’s rendition of the traditional ‘Mary From Dungloe’. The two songs were so sensitively combined that the audience appeared mesmerised. For many there remains only one way to conclude a Show of Hands concert and the band did not disappoint. A rousing performance of ‘Cousin Jack’ filled the Forum and saw audience members still singing Knightley’s celebrated song of exiled Cornish miners as they departed into the streets of Bath.

Tim Carter

Tim Carter presents ‘Off the Beaten Track’ on Somer Valley FM (www.somervalleyfm.co.uk) on Monday evenings at 6pm.

‘Cousin Jack’ – live in 2014

Show Of Hands to receive honorary doctorates

Show Of Hands to receive honorary doctorates

West Country-based Show of Hands, one of the leading forces in British folk, are to receive Honorary Doctorates in Music from the University of Plymouth.

Devon’s multi award-winning band – singer songwriter and frontman Steve Knightley, multi-instrumental wizard Phil Beer and double bassist Miranda Sykes – will be honoured with the accolades on Wednesday, September 23 at the Plymouth University graduations ceremony at Plymouth Hoe.

Recognised as leading ambassadors for roots music, the band has become one of Devon’s most successful music stories. Formed by Knightley and Beer in 1991 they have been joined by Miranda Sykes for the last decade. With a highly impressive back catalogue of nearly 30 album releases they have sold out the Royal Albert Hall four times and are also triple winners at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards where they have won the coveted categories Best Original Song, Best Duo and Best Live Act.

Professor David Coslett, Interim Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University said the band were receiving the doctorates to mark “great distinction in your professional lives”.

“My colleagues and I are unanimous in wishing to recognise your musicianship, considerable national reputation and, through your music, celebration of place and use of narrative”.

Steve Knightley said: “Being rooted in Devon and the West Country has provided us with a wealth of inspiration for songs and tunes over more than two decades. It is part of the very fabric of this band and our material is closely entwined with its social history and geography. We have been able to take those regional trademarks around the UK and all over the world and find connections with people everywhere. We are all delighted to be honoured in this way.”

Also to be honoured at the ceremony will be author and decorated former SAS soldier Andy McNab who will be recognised for his contribution to literature, receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Arts and other Devon luminaries including endurance swimmer and ocean environmentalist Lewis Pugh, acclaimed poet Alice Oswald and Rear Admiral Ben Key.

Artists’ website: http://www.showofhands.co.uk/