Tim Carter, presenter of ‘Off the Beaten Track’ reviews Show of Hands live

Show of Hands at Yeovil Octagon Theatre Saturday 27th October, 2012

Amongst the many acts that populate the current and seemingly ever-expanding British folk scene, few are as reliably rewarding in the live context as Show of Hands. It would seem that this is a view shared by many, since every seat in the house was taken for the band’s performance at The Octagon Theatre this evening.

Unlike many live concerts, in which the support act offers a truncated set to an indifferent audience, Show of Hands consistently present their discerning followers with an act worthy of further investigation. On this occasion the Yeovil audience was treated to a highly entertaining duo comprising of Canadian musician, Leonard Podolak and his musical partner from the United States, Matt Gordon. This pair performed some endearing Appalachian Mountain music, complete with nifty footwork and rhythmic slapping of limbs on a sand strewn wooden platform. The audience was entreated to participate in the musical body slapping and it was an oddly amusing sight from my vantage point to see an entire audience gamely clap a sequence of limbs in unison. Each partner in this entertaining duo was equally engaging, performing either solo or with the other and established a warm, good humoured atmosphere for what was to follow.

Quite clearly Show of Hands have much confidence in their newly released album ‘Wake the Union’ a work that combines perspectives on challenging times, historical and contemporary, on both sides of the Atlantic. The set began with the album’s opening track ‘Haunt You’. The appeal of this song, like so many Steve Knightly compositions before it, owes much to the composer’s ability to set an evocative narrative within a rousing musical setting.  Other highlights of the set included another ‘Wake the Union’ stand-out: ‘Katrina’. In this song the horrors of the New Orleans’ hurricane are made vivid through an evocative musical arrangement and Knightley’s quietly insistent vocal.

Elsewhere in the set Phil Beer provided an arresting moment in his superb and darkly atmospheric rendition of Charles Causley’s ‘Innocents Song’ set to dramatic fiddle playing. The towering shadow of Show of Hands’ virtuoso  multi-instrumentalist on one wall of the Octagon Theatre provided a striking visual counterpoint to the song’s eerie lyrical content.  Of course, Show of Hands could scarcely perform at this venue without a rare outing for the track ‘Yeovil Town’, a grimly humorous yarn about a late night encounter in a chip shop with one of the town’s less than folk-friendly denizens. It’s not often that a band can play a song that urges the audience to “stay away” from the town in which it’s performing yet Show of Hands pulled it off with aplomb, bringing much mirth to the house as they did so. Amidst the excellent new material there remained time for the band to perform a number of the song’s on which the high esteem in which they are held is founded. These include ‘Roots’, ‘A.I.G’ and perhaps Show of Hands’ best loved number ‘Cousin Jack’, an elegiac yet impassioned song about mass emigration to foreign climes in the wake of the collapse of the Cornish mining industry.

Show of Hands remains the folk act most likely to win over even those most resolutely antipathetic to folk music, effortlessly dispelling any preconceptions as they do so. The quality of the song-writing and musicianship on display this evening provide ample reason why after twenty years they continue to go from strength to strength. Tim Carter

Tim Carter presents ‘Off the Beaten Track’ every Monday at 6pm on Somer Valley FM. The show can be listened to on-line at www.somervalleyfm.co.uk

See Artist web link for latest tour details: www.showofhands.co.uk

SHOW OF HANDS – Wake The Union (Hands On Music HMCD36)

Steve Knightley and Phil Beer (with long time collaborator Miranda Sykes) certainly know how to stir things up opening with a powerful song of bitter recrimination in the hard-hitting and spiteful “Haunt You”. You can just hear the angst as Knightly spits out the lyric with such venom that it will make you wonder if he has personal experience of the subject matter. Continuing the duo’s/trio’s no nonsense approach in having a dig at the ‘fat cats’ that still inhabit the earth carried over from their previous album Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed they include the laid-back blues styled “Company Town” reminiscent of  “Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?” but in place of a full-on New Orleans Dixie Band they introduce the sound of Paul Sartin’s Cor Anglais (perhaps, in view of the recession the budget wouldn’t stretch to a full band) and Paul Downes tenor banjo this is only the start of what turns out to be a veritable box of delights of which there’s not a duff track to be found. With more than a touch of Americana liberally sprinkled throughout the recording and images of Dust Bowl tumbleweed blowing about courtesy of sampled instruments this really could be the CD that sets Show Of Hands alight in the good old US of A. Personally for me this album really is a turning point in my appreciation for all things American styled and congratulations must go to the other musicians involved in the project namely Seth Lakeman, Cormac Byrne, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, B.J. Cole, Hannah Martin, Phil Henry, Leonard Podolak and Jenna Witts. On a final point congratulations to Mark Tucker in the production chair, photographer Rob O’Connor and the stunning art design by Mark Higenbottam. Unreservedly ten out of ten!


See Artist web link for current tour details: www.showofhands.co.uk