There’ll be an excellent, eclectic and truly international line-up at this summer’s 14th Gate To Southwell music festival (June 4th-7th). English roots stars Show Of Hands, the Galician piper-powered Anxo Lorenzo Band, Breton/Scots The Celtic Social Club and 2019 BBC folk award winners The Breath (featuring Rioghnach Connolly) are among the headline acts alongside three exceptional Scottish bands Imar, The Jellyman’s Daughter and Talisk, two Canadian duos in Madison Violet and Pierre Schryer & Adam Dobres, and last summer’s Californian bluegrass stars AJ Lee & Blue Summit.
Now regarded as one of the UK’s best family festivals, set in beautiful rural surroundings near Southwell Racecourse, Nottinghamshire, Gate To Southwell all kicks off on Thursday June 4th with a classic Blues Night starring Dutch-based singer/guitarist Ian Siegal. Over four days of great music will also feature “the renaissance man of English folk”, Chris Wood, the increasingly-influential and charismatic BBC Horizon award-winner Blair Dunlop, master storyteller and emotional songwriter Reg Meuross, plus Texan-born troubadour and guitar virtuoso Rodney Branigan.
If all this wasn’t enough to whet appetites for this action-packed festival – which features music workshops, ceilidhs, dance displays, great children’s entertainment, a craft fair and fine food and drink stalls – GTSF 2020 also brings you the folk-meets-gypsy swing of Beaubowbelles, the French reggae of Simawe from Angiers, great Irish folk and harmonies from Donegal’s The Henry Girls, Italian country blues-meets-ragtime double act Veronica Sbergia & Max De Bernardi and the highly-acclaimed, sweet-voiced multi-national Americana band Track Dogs.
Folk favourites Kate Rusby, Steeleye Span and Show of Hands are some of the confirmed acts that will welcome festival-goers at Towersey Festival’s new home of Buckinghamshire, in August 2020.
The iconic folk and roots festival will celebrate its 56th year from 28-31 August 2020, in Buckinghamshire’s stunning Claydon Estate, in Middle Claydon.
Joining these folk greats are more contemporary names such as This Is The Kit, Grace Petrie, London’s ground-breaking Brass ensemble The Hackney Colliery Band and Scottish power trio Talisk. Also, on the initial roster are new band The Magpie Arc, featuring guitar great Martin Simpson, English folk singer Nancy Kerr and leading musicians from Scotland.
Four years since her last visit to Towersey, Kate Rusby was described by The Guardian as “one of the superstars of the British acoustic scene”. Forever proud to call herself a folk singer, Kate’s beautiful, expressive vocals never fail to connect the emotional heart of a song to that of her audience. The crossover appeal Kate enjoys is unprecedented for a folk singer and has been achieved without resort to compromise.
Among the most commercially successful and influential traditional artists, thanks to their hit singles ‘Gaudete’ and ‘All Around My Hat’, Steeleye Span changed the face of folk music forever. After 50 years, they are as creative and vital now as ever, with a new album that is garnering rave reviews and taking their live performances to new levels.
Also returning to Towersey 2020 is the multi-award-winning Show of Hands, with their new four-piece line-up including master percussionist Cormac Byrne, who returns with his blistering additions by popular demand. There’s no doubt that Show of Hands the four-piece, now something of a supergroup, and their combined musicianship is guaranteed to sound nothing short of magical.
Towersey is renowned for staging artists that are not often seen at bigger music festivals so it should not be a surprise to see one of the country’s leading choral groups, The London Welsh Male Voice Choir, amongst the first artists revealed.
Others joining the line-up include indie-folk band Laura Cortese And The Dance Cards, girl power bluegrass band Midnight Skyracer and 2019 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award ‘Best Album’ winners, The Trials of Cato.
Towersey Festival Director Joe Heap said: “After a record-breaking 2019 festival we are very excited to be moving to an incredible new site and working with Claydon Estate. 2020 will be such a special year – our new and stunning location provides such a fabulous backdrop for our festival, and with these first-named artists, we have the beginnings of what could be our greatest line-up to date.
“There’ll be loads of other surprises and more great names to come in 2020, but we are so excited to be sharing these first artists now as well as announcing our exclusive Circus and Music Show ‘Circocentric’ which will premiere at Towersey.”
Towersey is the UK’s longest-running independent music festival, with seven venues featuring an extensive music programme, over 30 hours of ceilidh, and a packed schedule of daily workshops. 2020 will feature many of the regular favourites plus the introduction of new circus shows and workshops, well-being & mindfulness activities and outdoor experiences.
With a dedicated and acclaimed programme of activities for children and younger festivalgoers, as well as street theatre performers, arts and crafts, film screenings, late-night sessions, real ale and cider bars and street food, there really is something for everyone.
Tickets for Towersey Festival, which runs from Friday 28 to Monday 31 August 2020 at Claydon Estate, Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire (claydonestate.co.uk), are now available from £144 (adult), £134 (concessions), £70 (young person 5-17). For more information go to www.towerseyfestival.com
The line-up so far
Friday 28 August
Show of Hands
Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards
Forest of Fools
Honey And The Bear
Saturday 29 August
This Is The Kit
The Trials of Cato
Jackie Oates & John Spiers
Smith and Brewer
Sunday 30 August
Hackney Colliery Band
The London Welsh Male Voice Choir
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
Monday 31 August
The Magpie Arc
Circocentric – EXCLUSIVE TO TOWERSEY! A newly created Circus show by The Chipolatas and The Pirates of the Carabina!
Weekend Tickets with camping (4 days)
Standard: Campsite access from 9am on Friday 28th August.
Adult £169; Conc £159; Young Person (5-17yrs) £85; under 5s FREE.
Weekend Tickets without camping (4 days)
Standard: Site access from 9am on Friday 28th August.
Adult £144; Concession £134; Young Person (5-17) £70; under 5s FREE.
Day Tickets without camping
Fri Adult £45; Young Person (5-17) £30; under 5s FREE.
Sat/Sun Adult £50; Young Person (5-17) £35; under 5s FREE.
Mon Adult £35; Young Person (5-17) £25; under 5s FREE.
Day ticket camping Adult £15; Young Person (5-17) £10; Under 5s FREE
Battlefield Dance Floor is the 18th studio album from Show Of Hands, a band that is one of the most recognized Folk acts of the 21st Century. So much so I’m writing this review with some trepidation as I only became aware of them when they toured their last album with the wonderful Megan Henwood (who I’d really gone to see!!) in 2016.
With eight new original songs from Steve Knightly, this thirteen track album doesn’t disappoint. Regular Show Of Hands gig goers will be familiar with many of them as they have been ‘road tested’ by the band either at solo gigs or together as band. An example being the Cornish reggae ‘Dreckley’ which Steve performed at Towersey (which has become a bit of an earworm and is now in my head all the time).
As well as Cornish reggae, there are other diverse sounds such as the Eastern feel to ‘Mother Tongue’, a really full sounding track which rolls along at a steady pace and has a haunting feel to it.
This album has a fourth member with Cormac Byrne (who toured with them last autumn) adding percussion to Miranda Sykes double bass, and Phil and Steve’s multi instrument contributions. There are also contributions on keyboards from Matt Clifford.
The album includes the Kirsty Merryn song ‘Forfarshire’ on which Steve sang on her album She And I, this version has Miranda joining Steve on vocals and Gerry Diver, who produced Kirsty’s album, on a collection of instruments from mandolin to percussion. Miranda also takes the lead vocal on ‘Make The Right Noises’.
Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’, is given great treatment by the band and although I don’t know the original I suspect this is a much jauntier version. Phil’s vocals come to the fore on Richard Shindell’s ‘Next Best Western’, another song I remember from live shows and Adrian Mannering’s ‘My True Love’.
The album flows well though the title track ‘Battlefield Dance Floor’, despite its clever lyrics with historical references it didn’t pass the car journey test with my better half, but it stays on when I’m in the car alone! So this is a great listen, but to get the full Show Of Hands effect go and see them live as they are consummate storytellers, entertainers and musicians and you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
With its arresting cover of a felled marionette, Battlefield Dance Floor is the 18th studio album from one of the most prized acts on the folk roots circuit.
Show of Hands’ first key release in more than three years, the 13-track album brings eight keenly awaited new songs (and a co-write) from the pen of Steve Knightley, widely acknowledged as one of the country’s most inspired and original songwriters.
Phil Beer is the ‘master decorator’ of the songs – a brilliant, consummate multi-instrumentalist while long term third member Miranda Sykes is back on board with her eloquent double bass and vocals after her sabbatical – and Cormac Byrne and his feted percussion skills (witnessed on last autumn’s UK tour) bring a vibrant fresh dimension to the party.
Rolling Stones collaborator Matt Clifford adds his keyboard skills to some tracks and an impromptu collective known as The Bridge Hill Shanty Men are the icing on the cake, weighing in with rousing choruses.
Possibly their most commercial release to date, Battlefield Dance Floor is an exuberant, lush, full-blooded album co-produced by the in-demand Mark Tucker and Knightley – Show of Hands’ first release since 2016’s The Long Way Home.
An album of broad brushstrokes, it mixes songs of despair and displacement, emphatic songs, tongue-in-cheek songs, poignant songs and carefully chosen covers into a classic Show of Hands package with wide appeal.
Knightley is a highly talented songwriter who has a great knack in addressing serious and pertinent issues with really catchy lyrics. Top class performances are guaranteed wherever they play” – Songlines
It bursts straight in with Knightley’s ‘Lost’ – a slickly produced, multi-layered and poetic opener – on the surface a number inspired by the story of doomed Devon sailor Donald Crowhurst who died while competing in the 1968 single-handed, round the world Golden Globe Race –but with a deeper theme summed up by Knightley as “a maritime-themed song about masculine despair.”
Catching the listener unawares the mood swerves abruptly to the upbeat, jaunty, genre-hopping title track as Bhangra meets Morris, a seed sown by Show of Hands’ recent close encounters with Johnny Kalsi’s The Dhol Foundation.
Politics and history graduate Knightley name checks some of the greats in history (Wellington, Drake, Churchill, Monty) in this savvy song of eve-of-battle drunkenness with its catchy rugby chant style chorus. Juxtaposing battle readiness with pre-battle abandon it travels through time from the Battle of Agincourt to D-Day and is littered with clever lyrics: “It’s a ballet not a battle/A salsa not a siege” and its ‘Tomorrow it’s a battlefield/tonight it is a dance floor” refrain.
A trademark Knightley song is shaped in the sublime ‘Just Enough To Lose’ – a poignant tale of failing love delivered by his distinctive voice. “It was just between the sowing and the reaping /You told me our crop was bound to fail’, the regret underlined by Beer’s beautifully judged fiddle and Clifford’s keyboards.
Some years ago Show of Hands joined forces with exiled Chilean musicians to form the band Alianza so the theme of displacement is one well known to them and here it is explored in the Knightley-Johnny Kalsi co-write ‘Mother Tongue’, a stand-out track on the album penned soon after the 2016 Brexit referendum. The atmosphere-charged song is given a haunting, spiritual edge by the enigmatic chanting of British-Asian performer Shahid Khan.
There are songs with a lighter touch – the percussive, tongue in cheek ‘Cornish reggae’ of ‘Dreckley’, the tale of a Home Counties relationship threatened by the lure of the West Country replete with pasties and Poldark! It even includes a nod to The Great British Scone Debate – clotted cream or jam first on your Devonshire scone?!
Sykes takes lead vocal on the wry Knightley original ‘Make The Right Noises’, a cynical look at how we fake concern and enthusiasm because we think we should – concluding that ‘of the virtues sincerity is the most underrated’.
It’s over to Beer to take centre stage on a cover of Richard Shindell’s ‘Next Best Western’ – a gem of a road song which suits his voice – and flawless guitar work– perfectly while he also takes the microphone to deliver ‘My True Love’ – a gentle ballad written by Dubliner Adrian Mannering who Steve and Phil encountered on the Brighton folk scene back in their 20s.
‘You’ll Get By’ is a song of hope and reassurance for the older generation facing the array of life’s ups and downs (not just the province of the young!) and drums roll as ‘Swift And Bold’ marches in. A Knightley song written for 6 Rifles Infantry Regiment at a special celebratory concert at their Exeter HQ – at which to his surprise he was made an Honorary Rifleman – brings the battlefield back into view, with the Bridge Hill Shanty Men in full flow. Named after the regimental motto it’s a song which Steve was proud to write.
He says: “Being awarded the title of Honorary Rifleman meant I joined my grandfather and step brother in re-establishing a close relationship with the regiment.”
Steve also revisits a haunting song he first sang on Kirsty Merryn’s debut album She And I.
Merryn’s spellbinding ‘Forfarshire’ tells of lighthouse keeper’s daughter Grace Darling and her father William and Grace’s heroic rescue of shipwrecked mariners. In this version Steve is joined by Miranda and Gerry Diver, who produced Kirsty’s 2017 release. A useful man to know Gerry also plays myriad instruments on the track – mandolin, piano, fiddle, bass guitar, tenor guitar and percussion.
The album ends with ‘No Secrets’, released as a single to coincide with Show of Hands’ incredible fifth sell out of the Royal Albert Hall in 2017, celebrating 25 years of this unique band. Upbeat and breezy Steve describes it as a distillation of some sage advice given to a fellow folky on his wedding eve.
A classy cornucopia, it’s an album that successfully melds vintage Show of Hands and brand new material, infusing influences old and new and this time – as a four strong band – with even greater depth and panache.
Says Steve: “With the heartbeat and harmonies that Cormac and Miranda add, we are at last creating a sound we’ve dreamed of making for twenty five years!”
The music is sharp and the armoury is strong. Battlefield Dance Floor reinvigorates Show of Hands’ unshakeable position at the front line of folk.
Show of Hands will showcase songs from Battlefield Dance Floor on a 22-date autumn-winter tour of England and Wales (October 30-December 7). The album will be officially released on September 27, 2019 under licence to Proper Music Publishing and will be distributed by Proper Records.
Steve Knightley has said “Show of Hands is still a duo consisting of Steve and Phil. Miranda and Cormac have solo careers in their own right and whenever they join us they are always name checked as such! We are absolutely delighted to have them on board for this year’s Autumn tour and next year’s festival season.”
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.
Kirsty Merryn is one of the most arresting new young singer songwriters on the UK folk roots scene, with a style uniquely her own.
London-based and New Forest-born Kirsty will launch her debut album She And I at London’s Union Chapel on November 9 whilst supporting Show of Hands on their UK Cathedrals tour (Oct 4-Nov 31).
Produced by in-demand Gerry Diver, the album focuses on the diverse stories of inspirational women in history – from Emma Hamilton to Annie Edson Taylor – the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel! The sharply observed piano-based narrative songs include the beguiling Forfarshire about lighthouse keeper’s daughter Grace Darling and her heroic rescue of shipwrecked mariners. She is joined on the haunting song by Steve Knightley on guest vocals while BBC Folk Awards double nominee Luke Jackson also guests on the album on the song Delilah and Samson.