This review was originally published by Hastings Online Times here
Touring together since the early 90s, picking up more awards than you’d care to mention and selling out the Albert Hall on several occasions, Devon’s Show Of Hands are one of the best-known names on the contemporary folk scene. As the venues got bigger and the album sales increased the original duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were joined by double bass virtuosos, Miranda Sykes, along the way.
For this tour however, sans Sykes, the duo have decided to go back to their roots, performing songs from early on in their career. They are ably supported by Geoff Lakeman, father of a whole brood of award-winning folk musicians in Sean, Sam and Seth Lakeman. An engaging folk singer and concertina player with a lifetime’s experience as part of the local west country folk scene, Lakeman entertains the audience as he adopts the bemused persona of someone who finds themselves touring in support of their very first album at the age of 69.
Show Of Hands’ set features songs from Knightly and Beer’s early years of playing together at the Deer Leap folk club in Devon, in addition to songs voted for by their fans from the duo’s first five albums. There’s a nice variety in terms of both traditional material and Knightley’s own songs. As one would expect, it’s also a great showcase for Beer’s musical genius on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. Perhaps more so than a typical Show Of Hands gig, however, the nature of the performance gives the two a real opportunity to talk about their original coming together as a duo, their musical influences and some of the things that had happened to them over the years – both the hilarious and the poignant.
Introducing ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’ Knightley explains that they were once playing the song to a group of musicians in India when the host musicians responded with a song of their own that had an almost identical melody and subject matter. It’s a lesson in realising however English we might think many of these old folk songs are there is something universal about much traditional music and also reminds us how well-travelled some of these songs are.
It isn’t all music from the early days though. The duo wrap up with a ‘greatest hits’ collection, giving some of their best-known anthems like ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’, ‘Country Life’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ a good airing. There’s plenty of Life In Show Of Hands yet and, I’m certain, there’ll be plenty more caustic observations of modern-day life but for this tour it was nice, also, to celebrate the duo’s early days with them and to learn a bit more about what brought them together.
Photo Credit: Simon Putman