Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, better known as the acoustic duo Show of Hands, have succeeded the hard way. For the past 16 years they have played hundreds of concerts, often in tiny venues, slowly building up such a devoted cult following that they have packed the Albert Hall three times. Their current tour concentrates on churches and historic buildings, making London’s Union Chapel an ideal showcase for one of the most successful live bands on the folk scene.
They came on looking like long-haired burly buskers, but their first song, The Bristol Slaver, showed why they are distinctive. Written by Knightley, it combined three of his favourite themes – history, tragedy and stories from his native west country – and was quickly followed by bleaker songs dealing with murder or the loss of English heritage. Knightley tackles subjects that are too serious for most songwriters, and two in particular deserve to become contemporary classics. Country Life was a horror story of dying English villages, while the inspired Poppy Day contrasted the story of a heroin-dealer making a “killing along the M4 corridor” with a soldier fighting in the opium fields of Afghanistan.
The backing was provided by impressive multi-instrumental work from Beer, who swapped between fiddle, guitar and mandolin, helped by “special guest” Miranda Sykes’ double bass. Constant touring has improved their confidence and stage-craft, and many of the best sections featured the duo venturing into the hall to sing or play without amplification, with Beer walking through the audience switching between fiddle tunes and a sparse treatment of Springsteen’s Factory. Their one weakness, surprisingly, was folk songs. Down in Yon Forest or Lowlands sounded pleasant enough, but far less impressive than their own material.
Robin Denselow – GuardainRead All News