Steve and Phil met as teenagers while playing in different bands in the Devon city of Exeter where they grew up. They eventually got together and for a short period played in pubs and clubs, even undertaking a disastrous tour of Sweden the summer they were 16. As school finished, their lives went separate ways. Steve went to university in Coventry, collected a degree and teaching qualifications and ended up in London playing music in a rock band in his spare time. For Phil the leap to professional musician was immediate. Throughout the years he played with many different people, including the Arizona Smoke Review and then from 1984 with the Albion Band. In the mid 1980’s, as Steve returned to live in the West Country, he and Phil got together casually to play a few shows. This continued until 1991 when it became obvious that the partnership had the potential to become a full time career. Phil left the Albion Band and Show Of Hands was born.
The first Show Of Hands recordings were three cassettes, recorded on home studios (a selection of the best tracks was subsequently released on CD entitled ‘Backlog’). Their first album was, unusually, a live album. Recorded in Bridport and titled Live ’92, the excellent reviews it garnered helped them break into the festival circuit of 1993 and later during that year they toured with Ralph McTell on his autumn tour. During 1992 Steve and Phil were invited to join an inter-cultural music project which involved working with three exiled Chilean musicians. Out of this the band Alianza was formed and an album made. Alianza toured throughout 1992 and 1993 and influenced Steve and Phil greatly.
They were introduced to a new range of rhythms and instruments and Steve was inspired to write songs that are now favorites with Show Of Hands fans including ‘Santiago’, ‘Armadas’ and ‘Columbus Didn’t Find America’. Some of these found their way onto the first Show Of Hands studio album ‘Beat About The Bush’ which was released in 1994.
In 1995 Steve and Phil persuaded engineer/ producer Gerard O’Farrell to join the Show Of Hands team as sound engineer for live shows.
1995’s Show Of Hands album ‘Lie Of The Land’ was a bleak and powerful album, with a directness of purpose normally associated with rock music. The album proved a turning point as it gathered in a slew of reviews from major publications hailing it as a masterpiece and a classic. Mojo said the album created ‘a powerful, fresh sounding music with both integrity and widespread appeal’, while Q called it a ‘startlingly good’ album and went one further in voting it their folk album of the year in 1996.
With thousands of fans on their mailing list, Steve and Phil had long wanted to play a concert big enough to gather all those fans together. Different ideas were brought up but none seemed right until London’s Royal Albert Hall was mentioned; the perfect venue, prestigious and big enough! The undertaking required a huge gamble by the band and their management, but it paid off… the show sold out in advance and the evening of Sunday 24 March 1996 saw their fans arriving by train, bus and car to witness one of the concerts of the year, if not the decade.
Five years later Show of Hands celebrated their tenth anniversary with another sell out show at the Royal Albert Hall in April 2001. The concert was recorded by Carlton TV for network transmission, a measure of the reputation the band had achieved up to then, and was shown as two dedicated half-hour programmes. A video of the full show is available as ‘The Big Gig – Show of Hands @ The Royal Albert Hall’.
Show of Hands have continued to build on their reputation as the UK’s foremost live folk act, with at least one major, country-wide, sell-out tour of the UK every year and appearances at every major folk festival, both at home and on mainland Europe. They have also continued to produce outstanding recordings, such as the ‘Cold Frontier’ album in 2001. This stunning collection of new material was the first album to be recorded by Mick Dolan, who took responsibility for the Show of Hands sound after Gerard returned to Australia. 2003 saw the release of their first ever collection of purely instrumental music. ‘The Path’ is a celebration of the sights and sounds of the West Country coast line. Each track is named after a different location, and creates an atmospheric musical portrait of the sea, and the seaside.