Show of Hands at Wells Cathedral – Friday 3rd November 2017

Almost exactly seven years have passed since Show of Hands last appeared before an audience at Wells Cathedral; an interval of time that many would conclude has seen the world become an ever-more uncertain and unpredictable place. In these days when the news amounts to a cavalcade of increasingly unsettling events its reassuring that some cherished institutions remain steadfast and dependable, enshrining values that continues to inspire. As part of the fittingly titled ‘Sanctuary’ tour it was a joy to see two much revered institutions reunite – musical act and sacred building – each casting the other in new and unexpected light.

The first member of Show of Hands to appear before tonight’s audience – a congregation comprising the band’s staunchly loyal audience and the cathedral’s parishioners – was Phil Beer. Illuminated at the altar, Beer introduced the evenings supporting artist, Kirsty Merryn. His warm words of praise were swiftly borne out by a distinctive set, most notable for Merryn’s liquid clear voice cascading over the deft piano runs of her original compositions. Many of the songs, drawn from Merryn’s debut album, ‘She and I‘ provided a fresh perspective on the achievements of esteemed female figures from history including Jane Austen and Grace Darling. As ever, Show of Hands had picked an artist to accompany them on this tour of cathedrals who genuinely was the ‘special guest’ of the evening rather than a mere supporting artist.

When, after the interval, the band appeared it was, as is so often the case, without any grand gesture or musical fanfare. Instead the performance began with the solitary figure of Steve Knightley walking down the cathedral’s central aisle as he gently intoned the words of ‘The Old Lych Way’, a composition by Topsham songwriter and musician, Chris Hoban. The song focuses on a longer and yet more ancient route that traverses a remote stretch of Dartmoor along which the faithful would bear the deceased to a final resting place at Lydford Church. A suitably contemplative and mystic atmosphere was conjured beneath the Cathedral’s hallowed arches, setting the tone for much of what was to follow. Next came ‘The Preacher’ from 1995 album ‘The Lie of the Land’, a song in which the prayers of a lonesome island-dwelling cleric lead to guilt and self-recrimination.

While some of Show of Hands best loved numbers were absent from this evening’s performance – there was to be no regaling of ‘Cousin Jack’ – this was entirely fitting since the set list had clearly been compiled to highlight the spiritual questing evident in so much of Show of Hands’ material. Phil Beer, a more vocal presence during this evening’s show than is often the case, offered an exquisite rendition of Sydney Carter’s masterpiece ‘The Crow on the Cradle’, a song that focuses on the power of mankind to avoid the horrors of war.

Throughout the evening Show of Hands’ stunning music was complemented by equally impressive lighting effects. The St. Andrew’s Cross, an enormous arched structure that occupies the east end of the nave was often spectacularly lit while the carved stone work that lies immediately behind it was frequently illuminated to produce a striking contrast. As Steve Knightley himself pointed out, the band’s music became in this context just one element of the experience. Perhaps the lighting was at its most dramatic during a rendition of ‘Innocent’s Song’, the words of Cornish poet, Charles Causley set to music. As the song was performed the massive stone backdrop was bathed in red – powerfully representing the blood of the innocents murdered by the biblical King Herod. Another highlight was Phil Beer’s tune ‘Gwithian’, the music’s urgent fiddle-driven rhythm increasingly intensified by the hand claps of an enraptured audience.

At intervals throughout the evening Show of Hands were joined by the Dartmoor Folk Choir whose contributions highlighted the anthemic quality of many of the songs while providing an apt accompaniment for performance in a cathedral. Also present at times to further embellish the music with accordion was Chris Hoban, who Knightley commended as a songwriter who “sometimes writes better songs than me”. When at an earlier point in the evening Show of Hands double-bassist Miranda Sykes, sang a captivating version of Hoban’s song ‘The Lilly and the Rose’ it was difficult not to agree.

The great care evident in the content of this evening’s show in terms of the songs chosen, guest musicians and lighting design all served to elevate Show of Hands’ performance far beyond the ordinary infamous while reconfirming the outstanding quality of so much of their material. An inspiring evening indeed.

Tim Carter – Presenter – ‘Off the Beaten Track’ www.somervalleyfm.co.uk

Artist Web Links: https://www.showofhands.co.uk/ – http://kirstymerryn.com/

KIRSTY MERRYN – She & I (own label)

She & IKirsty Merryn hails originally from the New Forest but is now, inevitably, based in London where the action is. She & I is her debut album; an ambitious work but also accomplished and confident.

The songs are about or dedicated to influential women except the opener, ‘The Pit And Pugilist’. It’s about Kirsty’s great-great-grandfather and isn’t as macabre as the title suggests – Tommy Mitchell was a miner and boxing champion from Derbyshire and his story roots the album somehow. Listening for the first time without paying too much attention to the lyric the song had Sandy Denny written all over it. There is something about the structure, Kirsty’s enunciation, her piano accompaniment and the opening line “Bitter the winter and petrified ground”. I was tempted to ask “what else have you got?”.

What she had was ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ and then I paid attention. The song is dedicated to Nancy Mitford, author of The Loved One, and Henrietta Lacks, who was still known by the pseudonym Helen Lane when I was at school. Look up her fascinating story for a full explanation. The song is a bluesy shuffle built around the rhythms of Tom Grashion’s drums and the multi-instrumental and production skills of Gerry Diver.

The other influential women include Lady Hamilton portrayed as ‘The Fair Tea Maker Of Edgware Row’ and Grace Darling, heroine of the ‘Forfarshire’, with Steve Knightley singing the role of her father, William. The next two are less well known. Georgina Houghton was a Victorian spiritualist and Annie Edson Taylor was the ‘Queen Of The Mist’, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The story of ‘Delilah And Samson’ is familiar enough – Luke Jackson sings the male part – and ‘The Birds Are Drunk’ is a murder ballad observed by an anonymous protagonist who may well be the victim’s ghost.

Diver’s production is commendably restrained but always atmospheric, leaving Kirsty’s words front and centre. She frequently takes an alternative view of a story so ‘Forfarshire’ isn’t an heroic ballad but more of a ghost story and we are left to decide whether these are the ghosts of those who perished or of Grace herself, who died a few short years later. In fact every song has lines that demand your attention – I particularly like the idea of Emma Hamilton considering a drink of the brandy that her lover was brought home in.

She & I is a remarkable debut album, packed with imaginative ideas and superb songwriting.

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 KIRSTY MERRYN link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.kirstymerryn.com

‘Forfarshire’ – official video:

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

The Folking Winners – Public Vote 2016

First of all, a big thank you to the thousands who voted in our inaugural Folkies awards. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the runners-up, although all our nominees are winners to the team who enjoyed their music, either live or on record, over the last year and placed them on the short list. Here are the folking public vote winners and now, may I have the first envelope please…

Soloist Of The Year – Steve Knightley

The Folking Winners - Steve Knightley

http://folking.com/steve-knightley-bio/


Best Duo – Show Of Hands

The Folking Winners - Show Of Hands
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

http://folking.com/show-of-hands-bio/


Best Band – Blackbeard’s Tea Party

Best Live Act – Blackbeard’s Tea Party

The Folking Winners - Blackbeard's Tea Party

http://folking.com/blackbeards-tea-party-bio/


Best Album – Disco At The Tavern – The Demon Barbers

The Folking Winners - Disco At The Tavern

http://folking.com/disco-at-the-tavern-review/


Best Musician – Peter Knight

The Folking Winners - Peter Knight

http://folking.com/peter-knight-bio


Rising Star – Will Varley

The Folking Winners - Will Varley

http://folking.com/will-varley-bio


Best International Artist – Gretchen Peters

The Folking Winners - Gretchen Peters
Photograph by Gina Binkley

http://folking.com/gretchen-peters-bio



If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl) of any of the artists featured here, download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above to be taken to that relevant page via 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.

Steve Knightley – bio

Steve Knightley - bio

Steve Knightley is the songwriting force behind Show of Hands, widely acclaimed as the finest acoustic roots duo in England.

In early 2014 Steve set out on his 160 date ‘Grow your own Gig’ tour of rural village halls. Once described by the Times as the “gravel voiced spokesman of the rural poor” and possessing a vast repertoire of songs about those who live and work in the countryside, this journey finally came to an end in September 2015.

In 2016 he has decided to turn his attention to Maritime venues around the shoreline of England and Wales. The ‘All at Sea’ tour will find him playing in seaside halls, an Elizabethan Fort, on boats and in a rich variety of performing spaces all within sight of the waves and the tide.

As Steve says “As a West country songwriter I have written so many songs of seafarers and wreckers, travellers and traders, pirates and smugglers. Now I‘m going to be able to sing them with the sound of the sea in the distance – I can’t wait!”

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/steveknightley/

Welcome To The Folkies

With Oscar fever rising to a climax it’s time to say “Welcome To The Folkies” – the 2016 Folking Awards. We’ve sifted through the albums and performances of 2015 – always a long and difficult task punctuated by bouts of thumb-wrestling to settle disputes. Adopting the pattern followed by everyone else, here, in no order of precedence, are our nominations. With the exception of one category we have restricted our choices to British acts.

All nominations are 2016 Folking Awards winners.

Welcome To The Folkies

Soloist Of The Year

Steve Tilston
Sam Carter
Kathryn Roberts
Steve Knightley
Ange Hardy

Best Duo

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
India Electric Co.
Show Of Hands
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Clype

Best Band

Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Tradarrr
False Lights
Merry Hell

Best Live Act

The Demon Barbers XL
Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Tradarr
CC Smugglers

Best Album

Layers Of Ages – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner
Head Heart Hand – Megan Henwood
The Girl I Left Behind Me – India Electric Co.
It’s Not Your Gold Shall Me Entice – Elle Osborne
Disco At The Tavern – The Demon Barbers

Best Musician

Dan Walsh
Peter Knight
P.J. Wright
Chris Leslie
Kris Drever

Folking’s Rising Star

Will Varley
Sam Kelly
Wes Finch
India Electric Co.
Chris Cleverley

Best International Artist

Gretchen Peters
Tom Russell
Gandalf Murphy And The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams
Justin Townes Earle
Los Lobos

To give the awards a further edge, we opened the vote to our visitors and run a public poll in all of the 8 categories (as listed above).

The Public Vote closed Sunday 28 February at 20.00 hours and “The Folking Winners” have now been announced here at: http://folking.com/the-folking-winners/


If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl) of any of the artists featured here, download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above to be taken to that relevant page via 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.