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

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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!

PETE FYFE

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

Phil Beer Box Set Revisited

I wanted to remind you all of the fantastic body of work Phil released in 2010, which was known commonly as “Box Set 1”.

The work would suit both Beer aficionados, Show of Hands fans and anyone that has seen Phil play live. The work, as a whole, is a great reminder of the breath of Phil’s musical partnerships, as well as his diversity of material and multi-instrumental talents. As well as a few Show of Hands rarities, you are also treated to the other Phil Beer collaborations with the Arizona Smoke Revue, Arizonas, Ridgeriders and the Albion Band. The CD box set features music partnerships with a wide range of artists including: Mike Oldfield, Paul Downes, Julie Matthews, Deb Sandland, Miranda Sykes, Ashley Hutchings, Jon Moore, Simon Care, Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Jenna and Tom Palmer.

The Box Set is made up of three CD’s and a forth disc containing 6 video clips. Here is a full breakdown:

Disc: 1 – Archive
1. The First World War – Phil Beer And School Chums
2. Jan Tregale – Oddfolk
3. Berepper Beach – Oddfolk
4. The Hunting Of Arscott Of Tetcott – Downes And Beer
5. Spanish Ladies – Downes And Beer
6. Morning Sky – Arizona Smoke Revue
7. Factory – Arizonas
8. Take Back Your Pictures – Arizonas
9. Down In Yon Forest – Phil Beer
10. Thomas’s Morris – Phil Beer
11. Set Their Mouths To Twisting – Phil Beer
12. Nameless Kind Of Hell – Phil Beer/Albions
13. Last Picture Show – Show Of Hands
14. White Tribes – Show Of Hands
15. Weathercock – Phil Beer/ Nick Henness
16. Lifeline – Phil Beer/Albions/Swan Arcade
Disc: 2 – Acoustic Live
1. Old Riley – Phil Beer
2. Robbers’ Roost – Ridgeriders
3. Blind Fiddler – Phil And Julie Matthews
4. Long Black Veil – Phil And Deb Sandland
5. Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear – Phil Beer
6. Devils Right Hand – Phil Beer
7. Willin’ – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
8. Youngstown – Phil Beer
9. Bus Stop – Phil Beer
10. Cocaine – Phil Beer
11. Icicles – Miranda Sykes And Phil Beer
12. Exile – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
13. Flowers Of The Forest/The Holy Brook/When This Bloody War Is Over – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
14. Varso Vianna – Phil Beer
15. Warlike Lads Of Russia – Phil Beer
Disc: 3 – Acostic Studio
1. The Life Of A Fool – Phil Beer With Ashley Hutchings, Jon Moore And Simon Care
2. Lo! What A Glorious Sight Appears – Albion Band
3. Red River Valley – Phil Beer
4. Santiago – Alianza
5. The Three Knights – Phil Beer
6. Sit You Down – Phil Beer With Mike Oldfield
7. Border Song – Phil Beer
8. Blow The Man Down – Phil Beer With Jackie Oates And Jim Causley
9. Bus Stop – Phil Beer
10. Undertow – Show Of Hands With Jenna
11. The Downeaster Alexa – Phil Beer
12. Static On The Line – Tom Palmer With Phil Beer
13. Dakka Dan – Tom Palmer With Phil Beer
14. Crockery Ware – Jackie Oates With Phil Beer
15. I Wish/Ichbod – Jackie Oates With Phil Beer
Disc: 4 – Film Clips
1. The launching of the Pegasus at Bristol
2. A trip around the River Exe
3. A performance at the Minnack Theatre
4. Acadian Driftward Performance
5. Answering questions for a Longdogs web chat
6. A short film of the Band

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Also available via Phil’s Website: http://www.philbeer.co.uk/

MIRANDA SYKES & REX PRESTON – HANDS ON MUSIC HMCD035

Miranda and Rex play together in other Celtic bluegrass projects. Miranda is, of course, well known as the third member of Show Of Hands and Rex is a rising star in mandolin-playing circles, working with Cara Dillon and Brian Finnegan.

It’s clear from the start that their backgrounds have shaped their debut album together. The songs are mostly covers with one original instrumental and a traditional arrangement from Rex. The first two songs are by Kate Rusby and Karine Polwart – the latter being a gorgeous gently rocking version of ‘Only One Way’ – and from the first few notes you know that this is something rather special. The sound is incredibly rich and I searched in vain for a list of guest musicians. There is a guitar in there and I’m guessing that Rex plays it but top marks for production whoever it is.

Later writer credits might be unfamiliar unless you’re deeply immersed in American roots songwriters. Karin Bergquist, Ryan Roberts and Peter Bradley Adams are not exactly household names in the UK so Miranda and Rex have had their pick of some fine songs. Miranda’s voice is flexible and expressive from the delicacy of ‘Between Sheets’ to the jazziness of ‘Sweet Pea/Mean To Me’ and ‘Trouble’ and you can only marvel at Rex’s playing. From simple ingredients Miranda and Rex have created an exceptionally good album.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist Web link: www.mirandasykes.com

SHOW OF HANDS with MIRANDA SYKES – Covers 2 (Hands On HMCD32)

Ah, a three-piece suite always looks and feels better with a new set of covers and a new set of covers is exactly what you get here. Any musician will (usually) tell you that as part of the requisite for any performer it is the enjoyment you feel at having been afforded the opportunity to re-interpret someone else’s songs and make them feel as integral a part of a set as if you’d written them yourself. With this in mind our intrepid heroes Steve Knightley & Phil Beer and long time associate Miranda Sykes muster thirteen tracks of the highest calibre. Talking of Ms Sykes, it’s her brooding bowed double bass that resonates chillingly beneath Steve’s anguished vocals on the opening track Richard Shindell’s You Stay Here” that will steer the listener to check out the writer himself…so I did and now I’m a convert. Speaking as someone who has to sing songs like ‘The Wild Rover’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ (I suppose you’d call them ‘covers’) in pubs in order to eke out a living it makes listening to Show Of Hands all the more enjoyable particularly when the songs are given a new ‘acoustic’ lease of life. From Springsteen and Knopfler to an invigorating version of Peter Gabriel’sSecret World” who wouldn’t feel honoured to be counted amongst such august company? If this is your first dip into the world of acoustic music (I’m not even going to try using the word ‘folk’ anymore) then you’ve come to the right place.

PETE FYFE

Artist website: http://www.showofhands.co.uk/

SHOW OF HANDS – Arrogance Ignorance And Greed (HMCD 29)

No resting on their laurels for that dynamic duo of ‘folk’, multi-instrumentalists Steve Knightley and Phil Beer bring home the bacon once again with a superbly crafted album that is positively crackling with great material. Now joined at the hip by bass player and vocalist Miranda Sykes, Show Of Hands well structured finger-wagging title track particularly at the ‘fat-cats’ from London and beyond is the voice of reason for a Nation sick to the back teeth of ‘rip-off’ bankers. Raking over coals in much the same way the Battlefield Band did with their diamond encrusted Zama Zama release a short while ago, Steve and Phil certainly know how to ‘have a pop’ and in much the same way as Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan did years before them the protestations of ‘folk music’ can certainly make itself heard above a lot of the crass drivel expounded on the airwaves today (did anyone watch the Mercury awards?). There is a darker, more gritty edge to this recording than the duo have been recognised for on past offerings and, with a bit of luck (although it might not go down too well in the loftier tiers of our society) this album could seriously make a dent where it needs to. Also added to the already heady mix are guests Mawkin:Causley and Jackie Oates on a stirring “Keys Of Canterbury”. With an impressive production that strips the musicians to their organic ‘acoustic’ roots Stu Hanna (one half of Megson) will gain much kudos from the recording ‘business’ and undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him. To complete the package I’d like to credit in despatches the terrific artwork and design by the team at Stylorouge. Nice one!

PETE FYFE

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