Lancaster University, 25 October 2009
Reviewed by Colin Bertram
This was the final date on the first leg of a 37 date County Towns tour that Show of Hands are currently on. Steve Knightley did say that he had received an email telling him that Preston is in fact the county town of Lancashire but as he said, it was just a rough theme for the tour.
Support was provided by Flossie Malavialle, originally from the south of France but for the last seven years Darlington has been her home. So she speaks English with a north-east accent but when singing songs by Jacque Brel and Edith Piaf there is no doubting her nationality. She opened with the Brel number ‘Amsterdam’ and her set also included ‘John Condon’ written about a 14 year old Irish boy who lied about his age to fight in the First World War and became the youngest casualty of the war.
Having studied English at university Flossie is obviously fascinated by language and spent a good five minutes of her set talking about oxymorons. Steve Knightley later told us how he is waiting for Flossie to spend her entire set talking to the audience and not actually singing any songs. He did have a point but I’m sure the audience will remember her for her fantastic singing rather than her between-songs banter.
Show of Hands certainly have a large number of loyal fans here in north Lancs as they got a warm welcome right from the start of their set kicking off with ‘Tall Ships’. Being from Devon and with Phil Beer’s love of the sea, there is always a nautical element to their concerts. Steve has written a song for the new album titled ‘The Napoli’ about the reaction of the normally law-abiding public to the grounding of that ill-fated ship at Branscombe in 2007. The song includes what Steve described as his best lyric, “Lyme Bay to eBay”, which we were told had resulted in spontaneous applause from the audience the previous night in Durham. The Lancaster audience duly obliged with a bit of ego massaging for Steve!
On the subject of piracy Show of Hands have a refreshingly anti-music industry approach to the subject. They actively encourage fans to copy cds they have bought to spread the word about their music. This is so much better than the likes of Metallica taking court action against their fans for illegally downloading music.
Money and greed are very much in evidence on the title track of the new Show of Hands album ‘Arrogance Ignorance and Greed’, the initials of which are by no small coincidence the same as one of the companies at the heart of the recent financial meltdown. The audience were encouraged to join in the chorus which went, “At every trough you stopped to feed, With your arrogance, your ignorance and greed”.
Despite the recession and the concession price of £15, which was perhaps a bit steep, there was a good sized crowd at the Great Hall. Steve Knightley had pretty much recovered from his recent cold with just the occasional cough later in the set but he was in fine voice as were Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes, their semi-permanent double bass player. Despite Phil insisting in an interview for a guitar magazine that he is primarily a guitarist, he spent most of the evening playing fiddle, mandolin or cuatro all to his usual high standard, complimenting Steve who swapped between guitar and mandocello, the latter being an integral part of the Show of Hands sound.
The set ended with favourites ‘Country Life’, ‘Cousin Jack’ and ‘Roots’, the latter complete with a dig at Nick Griffin, along with a wonderful rendition of ‘The Setting \ Mary from Dungloe’ sung by Steve and Phil in amongst the audience. Steve may doubt that their music will win folk music more fans but if so, it’s the general public’s loss as this was English folk music at its very best.