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Show Of Hands, Ely Cathedral, November 1

January 26th 2009

Show Of Hands is a musical collaboration between Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, and they have been performing together since 1991, even having a tenth birthday celebration in 2001 at the Royal Albert Hall, which was filmed by Carlton Television and later released by the band in 2004 on DVD. During their Spires & Beams tour I went to see them at a little local venue just twenty minutes walk from my house…the venue? Ely Cathedral! The show was held in the Lady Chapel and ended up being one of my favourite concerts of 2008. Steve and Phil were joined by vocalist and double-bass player Miranda Sykes. The amazing acoustics of this absolutely wonderful chapel turned out to be perfect for this talented trio of performers.Phil took lead vocals on the thoughtfully brooding Crow on The Cradle, as well as playing fiddle alongside Steve’s mandocello. Country Life had them both on guitars, and this popular folk tune written and sung by Steve had the capacity audience singing along. Halfway through the first section the lads left the stage allowing Miranda Sykes to perform a solo tune on guitar, and her beautifully soaring voice filled the chapel and won her many a new fan. The lights dimmed as Miranda left the stage and from behind the audience came Steve’s voice singing Widecombe Fair accompanied with just his guitar, and with no amplification needed he put the excellent acoustics of the building to great use. As Steve finished his tune Phil then walked slowly from the back of the audience down the middle aisle playing a superbly atmospheric fiddle solo. After this wonderfully ethereal section of the show all three artists congregated back on stage to perform a great medley which included the aesthetically pleasing The Train and Black Waterside with Steve on vocals and Phil playing some dreamy guitar. The first half of the show was then brought to a close with the old folk tune Keys of Canterbury.

The haunting lyrics of the Innocents’ Song opened part two, with Phil on lead vocals and both him and Steve playing fiddles. Steve was then back on lead vocals for the fittingly appropriate Poppy Day, as well as a surprisingly good folk version of the Cyndi Lauper hit Time After Time. Then came another audience sing-along part to end the second half, as the many fans in the chapel joined in firstly on the chorus’ of Roots which had Steve on vocals and mandocello, Phil on mandolin and Miranda (as she did all night) adding sweet harmony vocals and rhythm support on her doublebass, and secondly on probably one of their biggest tunes Cousin Jack.

There was no way they were going to get away without an encore (and they would not have wanted to anyway), they topped the evening off with a superbly atmospheric version of Haul Away Joe, all grouped together down the middle aisle amongst the audience, singing and playing without microphones. Show Of Hands are a top-class folk act, and are in fact one of the best in Britain. The setting of the concert could not have been better, and the acoustics were absolutely amazing.

David Knowles – Maveric Magazine

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Show of Hands are undeniably one of the strongest current forces in acoustic music - England's finest and most popular roots duo and something of a "people's band".

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