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/

Wickham Festival 2015 – Reviewed by Simon Burch

Click on the photo below to see the full set…

Wickham 2015

Staged in a corn field and with three stages linked by alleyways of food and crafts stalls, Wickham proved to be a good nursery slope for my family of first-time festival goers: no intimidating vast crowds and a relaxed atmosphere which built steadily through what turned out to be some swelteringly hot days.

showofhands_wickham15Musically, in the main All Time Grates big top stage it was folk with a twist of vintage pop and rock: from crowd-pleasing sets by folk stars such as Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands, Eliza Carthy, Lisbee Stainton and Martin Carthy to The South – Beautiful South survivors Dave Hemmingway and Alison Wheeler – 10CC, Billy Bragg, Cockney Rebel, Wilko Johnson and The Proclaimers.

Crowd_Wickham15The crowd was an eclectic mix of folk devotees and commuter belt families, but overall the demographic was mature and knowledgeable so that at times the main stage had the contented air of a cricket match, with festival goers seated sensibly underneath sun-hats on folding chairs, sipping real ale and completing sudokus to the sound of music.

Giants@WickhamI soon found out that for a parent festivals have to be enjoyed in the round. My children weren’t there for the music, but found instead joy in the laser quest – a shoot-‘em-up inside a series of sweaty, dark inflatable tunnels – the solar-powered Groovy Movie cinema and the digital funfair, a quirky installation where gamers played Space Invaders while sitting on a stationary bike or racked up high scores by slapping two headless mannequins on their plastic buttocks in time to music.

Playbus_Wickham15After a while it became possible to enjoy the music while waiting for them to complete their activities or resisting their pleas to spend the GDP of a small country in the various food and craft stalls, simply via the proximity to the three stages, especially the acoustic stage, where a varied line-up of young up-and-comers and older veterans strummed, picked and twanged their way skilfully through a mixture of their own material and interpretations of popular classics, finding favour with a sprinkling of punters lounging back on the straw-coated ground.

At the top of the festival was the sweatier and rockier Bowman Ales Stage 2 tent – which hosted performances from Edward II, headlining prog rockers Stone Cold and Damn Beats – but I confess that, as a first-timer wanting to immerse myself in folk my visits there were fleeting so I concentrated on the main stage, where a succession of acts filled the afternoons and evenings with musical stories from every corner of Britain and beyond.

SpookyMen_Wickham15From the lilting Northumberland romance of Kathryn Tickell and the Side, to the seasoned yarns of Huw Williams and Maartin Allcock and the acapella oddness of the Spooky Men’s Chorale, it is fair to say there was something for everyone’s tastes, but the big top came into its own later on as the sun dipped behind the food stalls and the headliners took to the stage.

BillyBragg_Wickham15Among the highlights was the life-affirming return to action of Wilko Johnson, the welcome familiarity of The (Beautiful) South’s hits and the appearance of Billy Bragg, whose wit and political zeal brought Friday night to a close. The next night, Seth Lakeman gave a rollicking masterclass of modern folk rock, sweeping the audience along and raising the temperature in the big top.

Proclaimers2_Wickham15Despite the passing of years, festival headliners The Proclaimers hadn’t seemingly aged that much and their set was a polished resounding collection of love songs, devoted to Scotland as much as to the objects of their desire. The large TV screens showed that the Reid twins had their committed fans who knew all of Proclaimers1_Wickham15the words, but as the night continued, you did get the feeling that most people in the tent were waiting for their signature tune – I Would Walk 500 Mile – like a seashore full of surfers all readying themselves for the big wave that would take them right to shore.

And, duly, at about five to 11, it arrived: cueing a joyous outburst of jigs and a singalong in affected Scottish accents. This provided the most exuberant moment of the weekend, before it drew to a close with a thank you and good night, and the boys left the stage.

The third night was over, but the next day the sun again rose hot and strong. Family holiday commitments meant I had to slip away early, but in my absence the crowds returned with their chairs and sun hats, eager for more.

Simon Burch – 23 August 2015

Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston – new album

Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston The Watchmaker's Wife

After spending most of the summer recording their eagerly awaited third album – The Watchmaker’s Wife – Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston will undertake a run of UK tour dates in September showcasing tracks from the new album, due for release in the spring of 2016, along with performing material from their back catalogue.

In the space of just a few years, Miranda and Rex have emerged to become one of the most sought after duos on the English folk/roots scene. The striking combination of the flame headed double bass player and virtuoso mandolin player create music that fRoots magazine sums up perfectly: “A musical partnership made in heaven. Scintillating, sensitive and brilliant.” The duo have a unique connection, which is a pleasure to watch when they share the stage together.

Well known for the last eleven years as a central component of Show of Hands, Miranda has an exquisite and spine-tingling voice, whilst Rex, with his exuberant and flamboyant playing style, has built a reputation as one of the finest mandolin players in the UK. The rare fusion of double bass & mandolin makes for one of the most exciting new pairings on the acoustic roots scene. Miranda & Rex interweave timeless, well chosen covers with one or two Preston originals. Their backgrounds, as well as skilful instrumentation & warm engaging vocals have shaped their unique sound.

Artists’ website: www.sykespreston.com

 

CENTENARY: WORDS & MUSIC OF THE GREAT WAR

MUSIC PLAYED BY SHOW OF HANDS

POETRY READ BY JIM CARTER AND IMELDA STAUNTON

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.

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SHOW OF HANDS UNVEIL RARE “BEHIND THE SCENES” DOUBLE BILL DVD AS THEY SET OFF ON 21ST ANNIVERSARY AUTUMN TOUR

Making The WakingCelebrating a remarkable 21 year partnership, singer songwriter Steve Knightley and multi instrumentalist Phil Beer headed out on the 29-date “Hand in Hand” tour last month brandishing a brand new double-bill DVD.

Joined by musical chameleon Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals, the tour takes in locations from Cambridge to Chesterfield, Worthing to the Wirral, debut performances at Portsmouth’s The Pyramids and Torquay’s Princess Theatre and a capital show at London’s Cadogan Hall (November 13).

Coinciding with the tour will be the release of the DVD – Live at Shrewsbury Folk Festival and Making the Waking – a unique behind-the-scenes look into the recording of Show of Hands’ 14th studio album, Wake the Union.

The Anglo-American themed studio album released last year was acclaimed by many critics as their best yet and they will continue to showcase it on tour.

The first DVD disc, featuring eight live songs, was recorded at the 2012 Shrewsbury Folk Festival by MicroVideo’s Charles and Heather Denscombe when Show of Hands, together with members of the Urban Soul Orchestra, Exeter duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin and Matt Clifford (keyboards and string arrangements), memorably reprised their stand out Royal Albert Hall show from earlier in the year.

It includes songs from the band’s penultimate studio album Arrogance Ignorance and Greed including the dramatic The Dive, IED:Science or Nature and Innocents’ Song/Gwithian as well as favourites from the back catalogue including Exile and The Blue Cockade. Their performance of Knightley’s anthemic Santiago is dedicated on the DVD to the late Vladimir Vega, one of the Chilean exiled musicians with whom Steve and Phil formed the unique 90s band Alianza. Vladimir sadly died this summer but as the musician who introduced Steve and Phil to the cuatro, his legacy lives on in Show of Hands performances.

Making the Waking has been filmed by Wake the Union’s producer Mark Tucker and is a fascinating track-by-track insight into the recording of the 2012 album which also includes “appearances” by the likes of Seth Lakeman and Cormac O’Byrne and a sequence filmed on the Channel Island of Sark, with Andy Cutting and Martin Simpson.

Wake The UnionRevealing and often humorous, it’s a chance to learn more about the history of all 14 tracks – Haunt You / Company Town / Now You Know / Katrina / Cruel River / Aunt Maria / Coming Home / Reunion Hill / No Man’s Land / Seven Curses / Home to a Million Thoughts / Who Gets to Feel Good / Stop Copying Me and King of the World.

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Artist web link – http://www.showofhands.co.uk/