I imagine that the Longdogs already own everything that Show Of Hands have ever done but this may just have eluded even them. High Germany – 900 Miles To Bremen is a product of the fruitful relationship between MIG Records and Radio Bremen and is a triple-CD set, reissued last year and made up of two concerts from 1997 and 2005. The sound is clear and crisp as you would expect although I should say that the songwriting credits are a bit wayward but we’ll let that pass – it didn’t do Bob Dylan any harm.
The first concert was recorded at Moments, a club which seems to be permanently closed now, presumably a victim of Covid. Steve and Phil open with a three-song medley, ‘Man Of War/The Well/The Oak’, linked, as far as I can tell, by the concepts of strength and their home West Country. ‘Don’t It Feel Good’ is one of Steve’s early bitter-sweet love songs and he then introduces ‘The Red Rose Of England’ taking longer over that than the song itself. Actually, Steve’s intros/stories are very useful, not only for overseas audiences but also for those of us who have trouble remembering back more than twenty-five years.
‘Cars’, a complaint about traffic, was clearly adapted to fit in with his story about driving on the autobahns. An instrumental set leads into a collection of the band’s greatest hits including ‘Armadas’, ‘Longdog’, ‘Crazy Boy’ and ‘The Blind Fiddler’ (one of their absolute greatest), before they close with three traditional songs.
The second and third High Germany discs present the two halves of a concert recorded at Radio Bremen studios in 2005 with the duo augmented by the vocals and bass of Miranda Sykes. There are one or two songs still in the set from last time including the opener, ‘Don’t It Feel Good’, ‘Crow On The Cradle’, ‘The Blind Fiddler’ and ‘The Oak’. Mixed in amongst these are the west country folk-rock songs that shaped what we might call their middle period. Here we have ‘Red Diesel’, ‘Undertow’, ‘Galway Farmer’ and later ‘Country Life’, Cousin Jack’ and, finally, ‘Roots’. That said, Show Of Hands’ timeline weaves in and out of itself so although Steve describes ‘Galway Farmer’ as one of the oldest songs in their repertoire its legacy goes forward to Witness in 2005.
High Germany includes a couple more traditional songs: a stunning version of ‘Reynardine’ and ‘Adieu, Sweet Lovely Nancy’ plus a long medley of ‘The Train’, ‘Santiago’ and ‘The Soldiers Joy’. But Steve Knightley’s songwriting remains the soul and centre of what Show Of Hands do.
Label website: http://www.mig-music.de/en/mig-music/
‘Country Life’ – official video of about the right vintage:
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