Back in April this year Show of Hands played a sell-out gig at the Royal Albert Hall – not bad for a couple of folk musicians from Devon. On Friday night they packed out another hall, this time at English folk’s home, Cecil Sharp House – a fitting venue, given Knightley’s involvement in the Cecil Sharp Song Project in 2011. The rousing support set was by North Americans Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak (one of Knightley’s companions on the Cecil Sharp Project) who managed to warm up the crowd nicely, with some participatory arm and thigh slapping, otherwise known as hamboning.
Cecil’s House may not match the sophistication and prestige of Albert’s Hall but what it lacks in size and equipment, it more than makes up on in warmth of atmosphere. Phil Beer and Steve Knightley were joined onstage by singer and double-bass player Miranda Sykes who is so much a permanent Show of Hands fixture these days, it somehow feels wrong to call them a duo.
With no introduction, they kicked off the show, accompanied by dazzling onstage lighting, with ‘Haunt You,’ a song Knightley co-wrote with Seth Lakeman for his Poor Man’s Heaven album.
Like the fellow West Country singer Lakeman, Show of Hands boast an incredibly loyal fan base who do enjoy a sing-a-long and happily participate whenever they’re invited by Knightley to do so. There’s no doubt that much of Show of Hands’ material is eminently singable. Knightley is a highly talented songwriter who has a great knack in addressing serious and pertinent issues with really catchy lyrics – whether it be about the global banking fiasco, ‘Arrogance Ignorance & Greed’, which won them the Best Original Song Award in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2010 or ‘Roots’ which has become their signature song and riposte to the former Labour Culture Minister Kim Howells’ description of hell as being “three folk singers in a pub.”
Towards the end of the show, they were joined by Podolak and Gordon, on banjo and harmonica, bringing a lovely sound and different twist to ‘Aunt Maria,’ one of the songs from the Cecil Sharp Project. They’re currently on a 28-date tour of the UK – no venues as grand as the Albert Hall – but top-class performances are guaranteed whichever venue they play.
Show of Hand’s new album Wake The Union is out now and will be reviewed in the next issue, #89.