SHOW OF HANDS – Battlefield Dance Floor (Proper Records PRPCD156)

Battlefield Dance FloorBattlefield 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The album flows well though the title track ‘Battlefield Dance Floor’, despite its clever lyrics with historical references it didn’t pass the car journey test with my better half, but it stays on when I’m in the car alone!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.

Duncan Chappell

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‘Lost’:

Show Of Hands announce new album

Show Of Hands

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.”

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Tour Dates

Wednesday 30 October   Beehive, Honiton   01404 384050

Thursday 31 October   Royal Hall, Harrogate   01423 502116

Friday 1 November   Cast, Doncaster   01302 303959

Saturday 2 November Gala Theatre, Durham   03000 266600

Thursday 7 November Brangwyn Hall, Swansea  01792 475715

Friday 8 November   Bath Forum, Bath   0844 888 9991

Saturday 9 November Westlands, Yeovil   01935 422884

Wednesday 13 November  Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury
01743 281281

Thursday 14 November   Epic Studios   01603 727727

Friday 15 November   Dorking Halls, Surrey   01306 881717

Saturday 16 November  City Hall, Salisbury   01722 434434

Wednesday 20 November    New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
023 9264 9000

Thursday 21 November   Alban Arena, St Albans  01727 844488

Friday 22 November   Union Chapel, London

Saturday 23 November   De La Warr   Pavilion, Bexhill On Sea
01424 229111

Sunday 24 November  Aylesbury Waterside Theatre  0844 8717607

Wednesday 27 November   Birmingham Town Hall  0121 780 3333

Thursday 28 November   Cheltenham Town Hall  0844 5762210

Friday 29 November   Engine Shed, Lincoln   0871 220 0260

Saturday 30 November   Leicester Haymarket Theatre 0116 2961236

Friday 6 December    Exmouth Pavilion, Devon   01395 222477

Saturday 7 December   Exmouth Pavilion, Devon  01395 222477

Here is one from the folking Archive from 2007 – one of Show of Hands oldest songs, ‘Tall Ships’ joined with ‘Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’ and ‘The Falmouth Packet’ to make the ‘Tall Ships Medley’.

Towersey Festival announces top names

Towersey

Hothouse Flowers, Seth Lakeman, Steve Harley, and The Unthanks are among the acts headlining the 55th Towersey Festival.

The annual four-day folk and roots festival takes place from 23-26 August 2019, in Thame, Oxfordshire, and also boasts appearances from folk rock legends Oysterband, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Two-Tone heroes The Selecter, and shanty singers Fisherman’s Friends.

Former buskers, Hothouse Flowers hit the international stage when Dublin hosted the Eurovision Song Content in 1988. Since performing as an ‘interval act’, they’ve forged a reputation as a blistering live band, combining rock, soul and folk.

Steve Harley emerged from the London acoustic scene in the early 1970s and set the charts alight. A contemporary of Bowie and T.Rex, his hits include summer anthem ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and the enduring ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’.

Five years from his last appearance at the festival, Seth Lakeman arrives in the wake of an acclaimed globe-trotting stint as part of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters. Expect to hear tracks from across the West Country musician’s career, including ninth album The Well Worn Path.

Remarkably, The Unthanks first ever live gig was at Towersey in 2004. Fifteen years on, and the Mercury Prize-nominated band have established themselves as one of contemporary music’s most inspiring, surprising and enquiring acts.

Also returning are Fisherman’s Friends. A huge success with audiences at 2018’s festival, the story of their incredible rise from Port Issac’s quayside to the UK album charts has now been turned into a film starring James Purefoy and Daniel Mays (in cinemas from 15 March 2019).

Others joining the line-up include Welsh/ African duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, winners of the fRoots Album of the Year 2018 Critics Poll; Show Of Hands’ guitarist Steve Knightley; BBC Scots Trad Music Award 2018’s Best Live Act, Elephant Sessions; and representing an exciting new generation of British singer-songwriters, troubadours Beans On Toast and Will Varley.

Towersey Festival Director Joe Heap said: “After an amazing 2018, we’ve really set out to capture what people love so much about the festival.

“As a result, 2019 is one of our most exciting and eclectic line-ups, with some of the biggest names in folk and roots music, from Seth and The Unthanks to shanty superstars Fisherman’s Friends, alongside major musicians from across the British Isles, Africa, and North America. There’s also the usual collection of names, such as Beans On Toast, who may be new to Towersey audiences, but who we know they’ll love.

“There’ll be loads of other surprises too,” enthuses Joe, who adds that further announcements are to follow shortly, including details of Saturday night’s headliner and more information about the festival’s celebration of the life and work of musician, tutor, activist and Towersey Patron Roy Bailey, who sadly passed away in November.

Situated in easy reach of London and Birmingham, on the Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border, and established in 1965, Towersey is one of the UK’s longest running independent music festivals. Boasting nine venues, alongside an extensive music programme the festival also features over 30 hours of ceilidh, daily workshops, well-stocked bars, street food, spoken word, film screenings, roaming performers, an acclaimed programme of activities for children and younger festival-goers, and more.

Tickets for Towersey Festival, which runs from Friday 23 to Monday 26 August 2019 at Thame Showground in Oxfordshire, are available now (Tier 2) from £129 (adult), £120 (conc), £90 (youth), £65 (child). For further information, and to book, see: www.towerseyfestival.com

Shrewsbury Folk Festival – tickets are now on sale

Shrewsbury Folk Festival
Kate Rusby

Tickets have gone on sale for the 2019 Shrewsbury Folk Festival as organisers have shared the first names to be added to the bill.

Weekend tickets to the four-day event, that will take place at the West Mid Showground from August 23 to 26, are expected to be in high demand. Last year the first tier of tickets were snapped up in less than 30 minutes and weekend tickets sold out a month before the August Bank Holiday event.

Two of the UK’s top solo stars Kate Rusby and Martyn Joseph will be topping the bill along with the legendary Oysterband and female supergroup Daphne’s Flight, who are returning after a triumphant performance in 2017. Scottish folk rockers Skerryvore have also been invited back after wowing crowds earlier this year.

Grace Petrie – photograph by David Wilson Clarke

Gary Stewart’s Graceland – a reworking of the Paul Simon classic – has also been signed up along with solo shows from Show of Hands frontman Steve Knightley, singer songwriter and activist Grace Petrie and appearances from The Phil Beer Band and Merry Hell.

Exclusive to the festival will be a special day of programming on its Pengwern stage by duo Chris While and Julie Matthews to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their musical partnership. The While and Matthews Takeover will see the pair curate performances on August 25th that will culminate in a big band show to close the night.

Granny’s Attic

Other acts will include Chris Elliott and Caitlin Jones, Edgelarks, Geoff Lakeman, Granny’s Attic, Mankala, Paul Downes, Rapsquillion, Reg Meuross, Track Dogs, the Urban Folk Quartet, and Winter Wilson. Festivalgoers will also be able to watch folk opera Here At The Fair by Mick Ryan.

Festival Director Sandra Surtees said many more artists are yet to be revealed.

“As ever the Shrewsbury line-up will feature some of the biggest names in folk, some popular performers that have been requested by our audience and a number of world and Americana acts.

“But the festival is about so much more than just the music – there’s so much to do during the weekend for all ages. The festival has its own magical atmosphere and we have many visitors who wouldn’t class themselves as ‘folkies’ but they just come to enjoy the relaxed and friendly atmosphere with friends and family and listen to great music.

“The festival continues to go from strength to strength with a devoted audience who return year after year, demonstrated by the fact that we regularly sell out in advance.”

The festival has four main music stages, a dance tent featuring ceilidhs, workshops and dance shows, children and youth festivals, workshops, crafts, food village, real ale, cocktail and gin bars and on-site camping and glamping.

There are also fringe events at local pubs with dance displays held in the town centre and a parade through the streets on the Saturday afternoon. Weekend and day tickets can be booked at  www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk/booktickets/.

GLYMJACK – Light The Evening Fire (Storm Lantern GLYMJACKCD001)

Light The Evening FireTo describe Glymjack simply as contemporary English folk would be rather inadequate. It is acoustic roots, lyric-driven with a nod to soft rock, peppered with a little Americana, and anchored here by two traditional English songs to establish the home ground. Thus Glymjack arrives all guns blazing with a finely produced sound and a galaxy of star guests that give an unequivocal seal of approval to their debut album Light The Evening Fire.

First, some name checking. In the driving seat is singer-songwriter Greg McDonald (accordion, bass, cuatro, guitar, tenor guitar, mandocello, mandolin, piano, vocals) who has written eight of the ten tracks. Adding flair and colour to the now-touring trio are Gemma Gayner (violins, violas, vocals) and Dickon Collinson (bass). The hallmark of the album is sophisticated arrangements with multi-instrumental and harmonic delights provided by a line-up of well-known guests from the folk world: Phil Beer, Steve Knightley, Miranda Sykes, Sam Kelly, Evan Carson, Louise McDonald, Tom Peters and Claire Portman. I read elsewhere that McDonald has been in the Phil Beer band, hence the reciprocal collaboration.

The word glymjack is Victorian slang for a street child who led strangers through the streets of London at night with a lantern. Many of McDonald’s songs are London-centric and the lyrics clearly reflect current social issues. But here’s my major gripe: why, when the lyrics and subject matter are so important, is there no booklet or word sheet in the CD, or indeed anything that tells you the background to the material? One could argue, I suppose, that if the lyrics are clearly audible (which they are), nothing else is needed. Well, I may be slow, but two hearings later I still don’t quite grasp the meaning of ‘The Wolf Who Cried Boy’. ‘Bright Sparks’ makes reference to folk heroes such as hedge preacher John Ball, one of the leaders of the 1381 peasants’ revolt, and to the suffragettes. I’ve no doubt that McDonald is a fine song writer, but some of the songs reflect particular events and concerns for which the listener (or is it just me?) needs at least a clue.

‘Bows Of London’ and ‘The Sweet Trinity’ are fine renditions of traditional songs, showcasing one of the many pleasures of the album – the rich harmonies. To conclude – thumbs up for a decidedly delicious and very English set of songs steered admirably by arrangements from the very best of the folk hierarchy.

Jon Bennett

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‘Bright Sparks’:

Glymjack’s debut album is on the way

Glymjack

Produced with Show of Hands’ Phil Beer, and featuring Steve Knightley and Miranda Sykes alongside Sam Kelly percussionist Evan Carson and fiddle virtuoso Gemma Gayner, English folk-roots act Glymjack’s debut album Light The Evening Fire is released this month.

Previously described as “a dynamic, fiddle driven force to be reckoned with” (Maverick), or simply “brilliant folk music” (fRoots), Glymjack’s music is pitched somewhere between the gritty Americana of Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen and the string-laden indie-folk of Blue Rose Code.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Greg McDonald’s original songs are unflinching in their dark vision of Brexit Britain. Title track ‘Light The Evening Fire’ steels itself against the coming darkness with angry defiance as McDonald reels off a list of what he’s prepared to burn to get through the night while Knightley and Beer chant “On the fire! On the fire!” Meanwhile the anthemic ‘Made In England’ depicts homeless soldiers sleeping on the streets of London, and the epic ‘Hope Point’ takes a road trip through rural counties where immigrant gangs face exploitation and worse.

There’s traditional English folk music here too, of both the dark-hearted balladic kind on ‘Bows Of London’, and the festival-pleasing kind on a fiery rampage through the seventeenth century traditional tune ‘The Sweet Trinity’.

The album closes with the epic ‘Bright Sparks’, a tribute to two beacons of English progressive politics, fourteenth century radical John Ball and suffragette Emily Davison. Based on a speech given by the late Tony Benn at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival where he and McDonald shared a bill five years earlier, it signs off with an anthemic sing-along as defiant in the face of the Trump era as it is celebratory of its heroes’ inspirational legacy: “When all light’s lost in the dark”, Glymjack’s assembled cast roars, “I just close my eyes and I see bright sparks”.

Fittingly, the name Glymjack is itself a nod to a dark chapter of English folk history, taken from Victorian criminal underworld slang for a street child who led strangers through the streets of London at night with a lantern. Phil Beer and Steve Knightley’s roles in the making of the Light The Evening Fire album mark the creative zenith of a musical relationship that began when a teenage Greg drunkenly cornered the pair with a demo at a gig – an incident, immortalised in the Show Of Hands song ‘Be Lucky’, which would ultimately lead to Beer suggesting the studio collaboration out of which Light The Evening Fire grew.

Throughout 2018, Glymjack tour as an acoustic trio with Greg joined by Gemma and bassist Dickon Collinson, delivering a high energy, harmony-rich set of hard-hitting originals, English folk songs and fiddle tunes.

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