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Show of Hands
|Genres||Roots, folk, acoustic|
|Instruments||Vocals, mandocello, mandolin, cuatro, fiddle, guitar|
|Labels||Hands On Music, distributed by Proper Music Distribution|
|Members|| Steve Knightley |
Show of Hands are an English acoustic roots/folk duo formed in 1986 by singer-songwriter Steve Knightley (guitars, mandolin, mandocello, cuatro) and composer and multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer (vocals, guitars, violin, viola, mandolin, mandocello). Joined by singer and double-bassist Miranda Sykes for a tour in 2004, Show of Hands continued to regularly perform as a trio with Sykes, as well as in their original format. In 2019 the line-up was further expanded by the addition of Irish percussionist Cormac Byrne.
Known for their songs with rousing choruses that address contemporary social issues,(notably their "singalong attack on the bankers", Arrogance Ignorance and Greed) these often illustrate current concerns through historical narratives and have earned Knightley the label the 'Gravel voiced spokesman of the rural poor'. Rooted in English traditional music the songs are shot through with diverse influences from music across the world, including the blues, Americana and Latin rhythms. Nominating Knightley as 'songwriter of the '90s' Tom Robinson of BBC Radio 6 noted that the songs spring from "the soil of the West Country," where, as Robin Denselow writes in the Guardian, "Beer and Knightley have become folk heroes".
Widely recognised as pioneers in the folk/roots arena both for their enduring emphasis on stagecraft, and their radical business model, Show of Hands are noted for the high level of professionalism they bring to their performances whether in a small club or the Royal Albert Hall.Their "much vaunted cottage industry," set up Show of Hands as an independent concern before the internet made this common practice. Beer and Knightley with their then manager Gerard O'Farrell built on their close relationship with their growing and "devoted" fanbase to create a completely self-contained way of working. This included their record label and production company Hands On Music, that gave them control of their consistently 'classy' output.
Show of Hands have received widespread critical acclaim over their 30 album (and continuing) career,and in 2006 were voted "Greatest Devonians Ever" in a poll run by Devon Country Council beating Sir Francis Drake, Agatha Christie and Chris Martin amongst others to the title.
1980s: The beginning
Offered a gig at the Wimborne Festival in 1986, Steve Knightley called on his old friends Warwick Downes (double bass) and Martin Bradley (concertina) to join him for that event. They performed as Show of Hands, a name chosen by Knightley who liked its democratic implications.Another of Knightley’s old friends, Phil Beer, was in the audience. Impressed by the quality of Knightley’s self-penned songs and by Exile in particular, Beer suggested they form a duo and offered to try and get them some gigs.
The pair had first met in the early seventies when both were in their early teens and performing on the thriving Devon folk circuit. Beer was gigging extensively with Colin Wilson (guitar) in their duo 'Odd Folk'. Knightley, in 'Gawain', was working his way through the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, with Paul Downes (Warwick’s brother) on guitar and John 'Bat' Evans on fiddle.At this time Knightley began experimenting with writing his own songs.
Relocating to Coventry to study politics and history at Lanchester Polytechnic Knightley started a folk club there. Beer and Downes, gigging as a duo were frequent visitors.Continuing his studies at Sussex University, Knightley formed a duo with Warwick Downes, during which time he penned his narrative folk 'opera' Tall Ships. This he later performed on Richard Digance's Capital Radio show, with his then neighbour, the actor Jim Carter (Downton Abbey's Mr. Carson) reading the opening poem, 'The Wrecker’s Prayer'.
Throughout the late '70s and early '80s Beer and Knightley would stand in as needed in each other's bands when they were playing in London. Here Knightley "stormed the indie rock circuit"In four bands The Cheats', 'Total Strangers', 'Short Stories' and 'The West' and Beer gigged with folk legends Johnny Coppin, Ashley Hutchings’ The Albion Band, Mike Oldfield and his own 'The Arizona Smoke Revue'.
In 1986 Knightley moved to rural Dorset with his first wife Simone to run the remote 'Catsley House' as a whole-food guest-house. Here, in January 1987, following their fateful Wimborne Festival meeting, Beer and Knightley set up in a studio above the garage to record the songs that as Show of Hands they were now honing live.
Their first release, Show of Hands (on cassette only), sold out over the course of their live shows.Playing every gig on the folk circuit they knew so well from their teenage years, they realised that audiences tend to favour familiarity over novelty. So the pair initially slipped original songs into a set of folk standards. But by the end of the decade the folk standards barely featured in their shows. This is testimony to Knightley’s ability to write original songs that become instant classics. For instance, The Galway Farmer has appeared in at least one list of traditional Irish tunes though Knightley wrote it in 1994.
1990s: Sowing the seeds of a 'grass-roots' phenomenon
Show of Hands kicked off the '90s with the release of Tall Ships. Again on cassette only and recorded at the Catsley House home studio, it featured the recording of Knightley’s epic folk-suite that had first aired on Capital Radio.This too sold out at gigs.
Taken on in 1991 by local agent Peter Wilson, he secured bookings for the duo in hundreds of venues up and down the South Coast. Here in the dockers' and bikers' pubs Show of Hands learnt how to successfully compete with the darts and the TV to grow a loyal audience beyond their usual folk crowd.
Knightley’s years performing in tough London pubs and bars and Beer’s folk/rock experience of venues throughout Europe began to pay off. "We were playing loud and hard. People would still be clapping and we’d be already counting in the next tune. Sometimes we’d have to tone it down a touch in the folk clubs, but it was great grounding for festival gigs."'Nailing it' live, Show of Hands were building firm foundations for their famously close relationship with their audience as the '90s dawned. And in 1991, as their gigging schedule became increasingly hectic, Beer left ‘The Albion Band’ to concentrate full-time on Show of Hands.
Out for the Count, also on cassette, followed the same year. Recorded at Beer’s Old Court Studio in Gloucestershire, it again quickly sold out at gigs.Displaying their trust in the people who came to see them, Show of Hands would simply put the cassettes in a tub and say: "If you’d like one, take one, but bung in a fiver."
A chance call from Roger Watson from the Southern Arts Development Project (TAPS) in 1992 resulted in Beer and Knightley’s collaboration with three exiled Chilean Musicians. Together with Dave Townsend on fiddle and concertina, they joined Sergio Avila, Mauricio Venegas and Vladimir Vega to create the band 'Alianza'.
Working with the Chileans on the 'Alianza' tour and album of the same name had a profound impact on Beer and Knightley. Whilst informing their rhythmic language and musical sensibility, it also inspired them to add the cuatro to their repertoire. The Chileans' awareness of music’s power to educate and inform (and the risks that they took to perform it), hit home with Beer and Knightley."In our society people can make political statements in song and no one will threaten you. But for them, just getting together and playing ordinary folk songs (meant) risking arrest, imprisonment and exile."
First CD releases
Beer and Knightley continued performing as Show of Hands whilst also touring with 'Alianza' and in June 1992 their performance at the Bull’s Head in Bridport was recorded live by Mike Trim who'd signed the duo to his RGF record label. Show of Hands Live '92 was their first CD release. It secured them slots on the following year’s festival circuit and a 60-date tour support with Ralph McTell.
Where the 'Alianza' tour had introduced Beer and Knightley to arts centre audiences in the South of England, the gigs with McTell took them to large theatre audiences across the country. McTell advised them to "stop doing endless gigs," to group them into coherent touring periods underpinned by a concept – and with a new record to promote!
In January 1994, Show of Hands recorded Beat About the Bush (Isis records 1994, Hands On Music 1999), in Wytherstone Studios, West Dorset, again produced by Mike Trim. Released in February, the album featured a large line-up of guest musicians, including a rhythm section that the prevailing wisdom deemed necessary for a more radio friendly sound.
A new business model
The Beat About The Bush tour took in over a hundred gigs from Land’s End to the Scottish Borders. Halfway through, Australian maverick and musician Gerard O’Farrell joined as sound engineer. Realising that the normal music business practice involving agents, fixed fees and using house PAs at each gig wasn't doing the band or the venues any favours, O’Farrell took up the reins as manager and agent. With Beer and Knightley he set up a new business model that was to become a template for musicians everywhere.
Show of Hands would book the gigs in-house, turn up with their own PA and lighting system and even provide their own rider. They’d refuse a fee and instead take a percentage of the door. All the venue had to do was sell the tickets. In taking on the financial risk, Show of Hands avoided possibly antagonistic relationships with the venues and also empowered a host of music-loving amateur promoters, many of whom have built careers booking major artists in large concert venues.
Forming a close-knit expert touring team, they also removed the anxieties of potentially poor sound and inadequate lighting. Show of Hands would take typical folk performances to a new level, ensuring a professional performance scenario that both they and their audiences could rely on.
As the band continued to build up their grass-roots fan base and growing a mailing list that received news of their forthcoming gigs, their 'cottage industry' approach began to pay off.
In 1996, O’Farrell, Beer and Knightley set up the label 'Hands On Music', to take care of Show of Hands' recording, distribution and publishing needs. From the outset, O’Farrell and Hands On Music bucked the trend in usual music business practice by positively applauding music sharing in line with the available technology.
A newsletter went out in 1997 encouraging the copying of albums onto cassette and handing them out to friends. Later, after a crash course to learn all things internet, O’Farrell set up the band’s website, made Show of Hands' music and footage freely available and gave downloading a hearty thumbs up.
In 2001 O’Farrell returned with his family to Australia where he continued to run the website. Vaughan Pearce, then in charge of the band’s merchandising, took on the role of manager. He would focus on the agency side of the business, whilst his wife Gwen, a former major record company executive, would soon join him to run the Hands On Music label. A deal with Proper in 2001 ensured mainstream distribution for Show of Hands releases.
Throughout the '90s the duo performed in Australia, Hong Kong, the US, Canada, Indonesia and India – experiences that opened their ears to yet more instrumental textures and songwriting themes. Under Vaughan and Gwen’s steady stewardship the duo re-focused their attention on their British audiences and their festival and concert profile grew accordingly.
"A formidable partnership"
1994 saw the release of Show of Hands first compilation album. Favourite tracks from the first three cassettes were repackaged on CD: Backlog 1987–1991. (Isis 1994)
Demonstrating their commitment to their audience and to music itself, Show of Hands embarked on their first 'workshop tour' in February 1995. In this they shared their experience of composing, performing and the music business with fans and fellow musicians alike.
In amongst festival gigs, and before performing to 18,000 at Copredy in August, Show of Hands recorded their next studio album Lie of the Land (Isis 1995, Hands On Music 1996). O’Farrell producing, plugged the instruments straight into the desk to capture a pared down 'live' sound. Released in October '95, the album received 4-stars and a 'startlingly good' from Q, becoming their folk record of the year in '96.Mojo said the album created "a powerful, fresh sounding music with both integrity and widespread appeal" whilst The Telegraph was moved to mention Show of Hands' "formidable partnership".
Lie of the Land's album cover by Rob O’Connor beautifully underpinned the band’s connection with their rural roots whilst setting the bar high for the look of the growing Show of Hands 'brand'. An old friend from Knightley’s Coventry days, O’Connor had taken on the duo’s various design requirements since producing the artwork for their debut CD Show of Hands Live. O’Connor’s graphic design company 'Stylorouge' became world-famous for its award-winning work, and his design aesthetic espouses Show of Hands' reputation for high quality in every aspect of their output.
Selling out the Royal Albert Hall
Despite their increasing critical acclaim and burgeoning fan base, in the mid '90s Show of Hands were finding gigs in the capital hard to come by. With the help of software designer Richard Patterson and festival organiser Steve Heap their solution was to book The Royal Albert Hall for a gig on 24 March 1996. This secured them mainstream media coverage, including an interview on Richard and Judy’s morning TV show and news features on Sky news and BBC TV.
Against the odds, (and the expectations of the RAH management),the show sold out. Show of Hands' fans turned up from all over the country. That year, Sue Morley and friends set up a formal fan club, with an internet forum 'Longdogs' (the name taken from the Show of Hands' song) following in 1998.
As of April 2017 when Show of Hands celebrated their 25th. anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall, the band has returned five times to the iconic London venue, (including on 8 April 2007, with their third performance there celebrating 15 years together), performing to sell-out crowds on each occasion. Each show at the RAH celebrates the previous five years of musical collaborations and features appearances from musician friends. Guests have included established names such as Ralph McTell, Johnnie Jones, Tom Robinson, Martyn Joseph and American singer-songwriter, Richard Shindell.
The Albert Hall shows have also given a platform to newcomers such as Jackie Oates, Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin, Jenna Witts and in 2001, making their first major public appearance, Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends. Carlton Television filmed the 2001 show for a live music 'special' and Knightley proposed (to Clare, now his wife) from the stage.
A recording of their debut RAH gig, Live at the Royal Albert Hall swiftly became their best-selling album to that date. It was released on CD in August '96 on Show of Hands' own Hands On Music.
Paying it forward
As well as carrying on with sharing their music for free, Show of Hands also continue to share their expertise in workshop tours across the worldand to give new acts a break by booking them as their supporting artists. By warmly introducing their guest artists themselves at each gig, and including them in a spot in their performance, Show of Hands aim to ensure that new artists are taken to heart by their audiences.
Their Five Days in May tour in '97 featured Kate Rusby on her first major solo venture. The tour culminated with a show at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Both separately and as Show of Hands Knightley and Beer continue to mentor and give touring opportunities to new artists, including Seth Lakeman, Jenna Witts, Jackie Oates, Megan Henwood, India Electric Company, Jim Causley, and Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin. Knightley has gone on to collaborate with Lakeman and their co-written Haunt You opened Show of Hands 2012 album, Wake the Union.
End of the '90s
Filming for a full-length feature documentary on Show of Hands began in February 97. Called 'Stairway to Devon' and directed by Rob O’Connor, it includes Show of Hands' appearance at Glastonbury that year.
The album Dark Fields was recorded in Cornwall and released in December '97, (Hands On Music)following Show of Hands' first single release Crazy Boy (Hands On Music), earlier in the Autumn. It featured songs by Knightley rooted in the area, including the notable Cornish diaspora anthem Cousin Jack – an 'instant classic' that is now taught in schools throughout the Duchy and remains a popular live number.
Celebrating the music that had inspired them in the first place, Show of Hands released Folk Music (Hands On Music) in 1998, an album of traditional songs and a reworking of Knightley’s composition The Train/Blackwater Side in traditional English style. That year also saw the debut of the band’s annual Abbotsbury Festival, a day featuring performances by Show of Hands and illustrious guest artists in the Dorset town’s lush Sub-Tropical Garden.
Recognition and mainstream success
As the millennium dawned Show of Hands entered a particularly prolific recording period. First up was ’'Covers'’ (Hands On Music 2000), an album covering songs they loved from genres other than folk. Tracks from artists as diverse as Thom Yorke, Peter Gabriel, Lowell George and Bob Dylan are given a folk inspired nuance.
Next, ‘'Cold Frontier'’, (Hands On Music) in 2001 shows Knightley’s 'deft hand' in confronting contemporary issues through historical narrative.Conveyed in memorable songs, such as ‘'The Flood'’ and the title track itself, his call to our common humanity is particularly effective. Cold Frontier was the first album to be recorded by Mick Dolan, who took responsibility for the Show of Hands sound after producer/manager Gerard O'Farrell returned to his native Australia. At the Cambridge Folk Festival that year, their CD sales outstripped those of every other artist.
2002’s Cold Cuts (Hands On Music) features live performances of overlooked songs from Show of Hands' extensive back catalogue, all given new arrangements. Here their fresh approach is also applied to covers including Leonard Cohen’s ‘'First They Take Manhattan.'’
The Path , released in 2003 is Show of Hands' first instrumental album. Celebrating the silver jubilee of The South West Path, all the tracks are inspired by and relate to specific places along the famous coastal trail, creating an atmospheric musical portrait of each location. Country Life (Hands On Music) was released in October that same year.
The gravel-voiced spokesman of the rural poor
Knightley’s talent for nailing social issues in song is razor-sharp on ‘'Country Life'’ (Hands On Music 2003). It was not just the title track "an anthem on the bleak realities of rural England"that exposed the harshness of local rural life and the album gained mainstream media acclaim – including from Andrew Marr. It landed Show of Hands a spot on BBC Five Live and Farming Today with Knightley becoming known as 'The gravel-voiced spokesman of the rural poor'. The seamless blend of folk, Latin, Celtic and subtle blues influences fuelled their tagline, 'world music from the West Country' and was labeled a revelation by Uncut magazine
Double bassist and singer Miranda Sykes joined Show of Hands for the ‘'Country Life'’ tour in the Autumn of 2004, featuring on the live double album this spawned – As You Were (Hands On Music). Released in 2005 it comprised 22 tracks recorded at various venues during the autumn tour. Knightley and Beer both assert that her outstanding contribution was transformative. They were no longer a 'blokey duo'.Sykes became the unofficial 'third member' of Show of Hands and from now on the band would perform as a trio as well as the original duo.
New musical practice
Due to the demands of the bass, and the sonic possibilities of the third harmony provided by Sykes' "almost ethereal" and "captivating"vocals, Beer and Knightley changed the way they worked. They’d become used to Knightley pitching up with a song and improvising together as they worked on the arrangement during a sound-check. They would then take audience reactions into account as they honed the song during live performances. "
With the bass rooting the chords and more complex vocal harmonies, the arrangements now had to be worked out beforehand. "There had to be," say Beer and Knightley, "less winging it and more structure".Paradoxically both find that the clearly defined structure and the grounding that the bass provides liberates their musical improvisation. Released from having to root a song themselves – and knowing precisely where it's going – frees them to fully explore the musical possibilities in each moment.
As for the songwriting itself, Knightley sees his output as broadly falling into four categories, "the emotional landscape American singer-songwriter approach, the up-tempo Irishy thing, the rural storytelling ballads and the big, angry, shouty sort of songs".In September 2016 he set himself a 'song a week' challenge, writing one of each over the month, which included the new crowd favourite, ‘'Make The Right Noises.'’
Knightley might be inspired by a sound, a phrase, a place, a rhythm or a melody he hears in his head. In true folk tradition he excels in writing songs that are rooted in place yet have universal resonance. Likewise his historical narratives and folk ballads bring history smack bang into the present with timeless contemporary meaning. Beer’s and later Sykes', brilliant musicality bring the themes to life, realising them in an almost filmic way.
Knightley has co-written a number of songs with long-time friend, pianist and producer Matt Clifford. Clifford’s close relationship with the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger in particular led to Beer playing mandolin on the band’s Steel Wheels CD and to Knightley playing guitar and mandocello on Jagger’s 2001 solo outing ‘'Goddess in the Doorway'’.Knightley also co-wrote The Dohl Foundation’s 2017 single Mother Tongue with Johnny Kalsi (who also recorded with Show of Hands) and writes for folk/reggae band E2 and West Country rock band Willie and the Bandits. Show of Hands also collaborate with the English folk roots and reggae inspired band 'Edward ll.' (Previously known as Edward 2nd. and the Red Hot Polkas).
Awards and nominations
In 2004, Show of Hands won the 'Best Live Act' award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, the only award voted for by the public.
The following year Show of Hands was nominated for 'Best Duo' whilst the title track on Country Life was nominated for 'Best Original Song'. They were also part of the Oysterband Big Session group that won the 'Best Group' award.
Again nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Duo in 2007, Roots (featured on their album Witness – Hands On Music 2006) was also nominated for Best Original song. Show of Hands was also nominated for Best Duo and Best Live Act in 2008.
2009’s Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed (Hands On Music) won the award for 'Best Song' at the 2010 BBC2 Folk Awards, with Show of Hands winning 'Best Duo'.
Voted 'Greatest Ever Devonians' in a 2006 competition run by Devon County Council, Show of Hands beat Sir Francis Drake, Agatha Christie, Captain Scott, Muse and Chris Martin amongst others to the title.
World music from the West Country
It was at the Folk Awards that Beer and Knightley fell into conversation with musician/producer and Afro Celt Sound System co-founder Simon Emmerson. Emmerson and fellow Afro Celt Simon 'Mass' Massey subsequently brought their huge Afro Celt sample library into playas they produced Witness released in May 2006 (Hands On Music).
Whilst warmly embracing the sensual African rhythms and the world and ambient music influences of the producers, Show of Hands' sound remains unmistakably their own. The world in their 'world music from the West Country' just got a little wider. Witness Show of Hands 9th. studio album was released to critical acclaim:Mojo gave the album four out of five stars, ranking Witness at number 10 on their best folk albums of 2006 list. Whilst music journalist Colin Irwin said that "Steve Knightley's songs have developed such an edge that it's hard to deny them any longer". Becoming the band’s best-selling album to date, Witness introduced Show of Hands to a new world music audience. The band went on to play at WOMAD in 2008 and a further 22 festivals that year. WOMAD founder Peter Gabriel called Show of Hands "one of the great English bands".
Featured on Witness, Show of Hands' anthemic song Roots, was released as a single in 2008 (Hands On Music). A rousing riposte to Kim Howell’s 2001 remark "the idea of listening to three Somerset folk singers sounds like hell"(when Under Secretary of State for Culture and Sport), the song calls for a celebration of British culture in its diversity.However, it was misappropriated by the BNP. Beer and Knightley forced the BNP to stop using the track and helped to launch ‘'Folk Against Fascism'’, giving ‘'Roots'’ to the movement’s eponymous 2010 double album. "Roots" also appeared on the compilation album "The Best of British Folk".
Roots (Hands On Music) was also the title of their 2007 double album, the tracks on which were voted for by their fans.
Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed and mainstream success
On the title track of 2009’s Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed (Hands On Music 2009), Show of Hands gave voice to the public outrage with bankers and the ensuing crisis. "You’re on your yacht/we’re on our knees/with your arrogance and ignorance and greed." With Megson’s Stuart Hanna producing, his pared-down post-punk aesthetic delivered on the raw immediacy of the album’s material.
If Country Life had flagged them up as an 'issues' band, AIG carried those colours slap bang into the mainstream. The accompanying guerrilla-filmed video features huge images of Beer, Knightley and Sykes performing the song projected high onto the edifices of the city’s banks whilst monkey-masked graffiti artists work Banksy style below. It 'went viral' on YouTube.
Both the award-winning title track and others from the album received widespread radio airplay, glowing reviews in the mainstream press (including 4 stars in the Financial Times from David Honigman)and landed Show of Hands a slot on the Andrew Marr Show.
Back to Basics
Whilst AIG garnered mainstream success, Show of Hands' core fans found they missed the familiar smooth production and the subtle metaphors with contemporary meaning in Knightley’s historical narratives. Show of Hands responded with Backlog 2 (Hands On Music) in 2011. The double album featured Show of Hands songs from 1991 to 2003 as voted for by their fans via the Longdogs forum. Recorded as if live, it had the immediacy and warmth of a Show of Hands gig. It followed on from 2010s Covers 2 (Hands On Music) release.The album was credited to Show of Hands with Miranda Sykes, the first time Sykes received a leading album credit. Following the album's release, the band toured with Texan guitarist Rodney Branigan. 2010 also saw previously unreleased Show of Hands compositions mostly before 1987 on Beer's box set, Box Set One.
2014’s Centenary (Universal Music), featuring instrumental settings of World War 1 poetry, used instrumentation typical of the Edwardian period. Original commemorative songs by Show of Hands met their audience’s continuing demand for Knightley’s way with a narrative. Centenary entered the 'UK compilation album charts at no. 13and received widespread acclaim in the mainstream media.
To mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Show of Hands played Centenary live in Exeter Cathedral with Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton reading the poetry. The evening was recorded and released as Centenary Live at Exeter Cathedral in 2016 (Hands On Music).
The Long Way Home
2016's The Long Way Home, saw a return of Beer and Knightley to their roots. Unlike 2012’s American roots inspired 'Wake the Union'described as "where the A303 meets Route 66," The Long Way Home "more Devonian than American", barely detours from the A303. Both albums were produced by the band and long-time Show of Hands fellow traveller, Mark Tucker.
Playing live – And for charity
With the freedom afforded by their business model and a steadfastly loyal following, Show of Hands can and do play anywhere from village halls to festivals and concert hall bastions of culture. For example, in July 2008 Show of Hands played at the first folk proms concert in the Welsh Proms season in St Davids Hall, Cardiff and in the same month at the Evolve 08 festival in Lodmoor Park, Weymouth, along with Miranda Sykes. Knightley returned to the Trowbridge Village Pump Festival in July 2009 without Beer, due to Beer's sailing at the time. He played songs from his then-new solo album Track of Words – Retraced. Show of Hands returned to the festival in July 2010 with both members. Ships too also feature, from Show of Hands' performance on the upper deck of The Phoenix, a three-masted ship that sailed up to Topsham on the High Spring Tide in 2001, to gigs on a Rhine and Danube River Cruise in 2016 and 2017.
Whether appearing as a duo or a trio, Show of Hands continue to feature guest musicians, many of whom guest on their recorded output, like long-term friend and Rolling Stones' session man, Matt Clifford, (keyboards, accordion) and their great friend and mentor Ralph McTell.
Their flexibility in playing live enables them to respond easily to requests for gigs 'in support of...’ and Show of Hands have raised money for local causes, such as keeping a rural post-office open, as well as global issues, including those relating to education and health.
A deluxe, in depth photographic book No Secrets (Flood Gallery 2017) details Show of Hands' extraordinary career and their prolific output. Told in part in their own words, No Secrets features photographs, artwork and stories made public for the first time.
No Secrets is also the title of the single released on 21 April 2017 (Hands On Music). It follows the book’s publication to mark Show of Hands fifth triumph at the Royal Albert Hall the week before.
Autumn 2017 saw the band starting work on their latest studio album 'Joint Venture' and continuing to explore new sonic landscapes in their ongoing musical collaborations.
Show of Hands are patrons of the Sidmouth Folk Festival and St. Ives Festival and are also honorary patrons of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and Torrington’s Plough Arts Centre. Knightley is also patron of the Costa Del Folk festival and, along with Oysterband’s John Jones, Shrewsbury Folk Festival.
Phil Beer is an English multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, and one half of English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands.
Beat About the Bush is the fourth studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. Originally released by Twah! Records in 1994, it was their debut studio album to be released on CD, following the discontinued cassette albums that are Show of Hands from 1987, Tall Ships from 1990 and Out of the Count from 1991. It was their only studio album on Twah! Records, and was subsequently re-released in 1999 on the duo's own label, Hands on Music.
Steve Knightley is an English singer, songwriter and acoustic musician. Since 1992 he has been one half of folk/roots duo Show of Hands along with Phil Beer. Knightley was named "Songwriter of the Nineties" by BBC Radio 6 Music in 2012.
Live is the first live album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. After the duo had recorded three studio albums on cassette from 1987–1991, the last of these being Out for the Count, the duo set on recording a live album for their first Compact Disc release. They enlisted Mark Trim to engineer and produce a live album of the duo's performance at The Bull Hotel, Bridport, in the duo's native Devon. The album features all sixteen songs from the performance which featured numerous guest musicians, including the band's long-time collaborator Matt Clifford and Beer's sporadic collaborator Paul Downes.
Lie Of The Land is the fifth studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. Following the live band setting of the band's previous album, 1994's Beat about the Bush, the duo sought a simpler sound that featured just themselves, with the duo trying to capture their live sound, which included experimenting with DI units and making the maximum use of pick-ups and pre-amplifiers. The album was produced by Gerard O'Farrell, who by this point had become the band's manager, and recorded in July 1995 in Bredon, Gloucestershire.
Live at the Royal Albert Hall is the second live album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. Following the success of their stripped-down fifth studio album Lie of the Land, the duo experienced attention from major publications, who praised the album, and the duo's fan base had built. Nonetheless, the duo were unable to commerce any performances in London. Their duo and their manager and producer Gerard O'Farrell took the gamble of hosting the city's historic Royal Albert Hall for a concert on 24 March 1996. The concert would be an attempt to gather all of the duo's fans and to raise the duo's profile. The duo were ridiculed for booking the hall, with many saying the performance would not sell out. Nonetheless, not only did the performance sell out, but it did so with advance orders, and it raised the duo's profile.
Dark Fields is the sixth studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands, released in 1997 on their own label Hands on Music. The album follows the duo's 1996 performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, a performance which raised their profile. A live album of the performance was released as Live at the Royal Albert Hall in August, becoming the band's best selling album. The duo followed the success with Dark Fields.
Folk Music is the seventh studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. After the successes of their 1996 Royal Albert Hall performance and their subsequent album Dark Fields (1997), the duo decided to record a limited edition album featuring the duo's renditions of traditional folk music. It was recorded in September 1998 as a project to connect the band to their roots.
Country Life is the eleventh studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. Released in 2003, it marks a departure for the band, with stronger socially and politically lyrics than the duo's previous albums, as well as showcasing the duo exploring a larger musical palette. Some of the album's lyrics concern rural issues which Knightley had taken to heart in previous years, including in the aftermath of their previous lyrical album Cold Frontier (2001). Prior to the release of Country Life, the duo had released an instrumental album named The Path. Both The Path and Country Life were released close together. The album was packaged in a lavish set which included a bonus disc of demo versions and other bonus material. The album's title track was also promoted by the band's first music video.
Cold Frontier is the ninth studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. It was recorded in early 2001 on location by the Countess Wear at the River Exe, Exeter, Devon, with Mick Dolan, engineer for Steve Winwood, co-producing the album with the duo. The album features a stripped down, acoustic sound. The duo's website says the album is "possibly Show of Hands’ finest work so far." The album comes with a full colour twenty page booklet, all the lyrics, and comments on the background of each track.
The Path is the tenth studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands, released in April 2003. The album was conceived as an "instrumental journey" around the South West Coast Path, a 630-mile coastline path opened in 1978 in the duo's native West Country, and a celebration of the coastline's "sights and sounds". It is the band's only completely instrumental album, with each of its songs named after and inspired by different locations on the path. It was a project between Show Of Hands and The South West Coast Path Team, as part of the latter's celebrations for the silver jubilee of the path. As such the album is endorsed by various organisations who own different parts of the path, namely The Countryside Agency, The National Trust and English Heritage Commission,.and the music is ambient instrumentals inspired by different locations around the coastline.
Covers is the eighth studio album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. The album was released in 2000 by the duo's own label Hands on Music. The album exclusively features cover versions of thirteen songs by the duo, chosen and recorded to reflect the band's contemporary musical influences. As such, the album contains no Steve Knightley compositions. The album was recorded over two days in Chudleigh Town Hall, Devon, with producer Gerald O'Farrell, and features only "straight performances", with its songs being untouched by post-production or techniques such as overdubbing or double tracking, presenting a "live" sound. The album followed their limited edition release Folk Music (1998), which featured the band's versions of traditional folk songs, and was the duo's first array into creating an album of music without Knightley compositions.
Witness is the twelfth studio album by British folk duo Show of Hands. The album was recorded in January 2006 at Presshouse Studio, Colyton, Devon, and was produced by Simon Emmerson and Simon ‘Mass’ Massey from the Afro Celts, who helped to incorporate elements of traditional African, ambient and electronic dance music with the duo's characteristic folk style. It was the band's first album in twelve years to use a rhythm section. Lyrically, the album addresses communal and heritage values, and was described by the duo's lead singer Steve Knightley as a "cinematic style journey of the West Country." The album features unofficial third member Miranda Sykes on ten of its twelve tracks.
As You Were is the fourth live album by English acoustic roots duo Show of Hands. Following the release of their acclaimed tenth studio album Country Life in 2003, which itself was promoted by a tour, the duo were named the "Best Live Act" at the 2004 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The live interest in the duo ultimately lead to a greater interest when the band announced their Autumn Tour 2004. The tour itself ran from November–December and included Miranda Sykes as a collaborator, her first collaboration with the duo. With the band's producer and engineer of the era Mick Dolan, the entire tour was recorded onto MiniDisc, with the duo subsequently ploughing through each concert recording the following day to identify the best performances and then collating and working through the "A list again" to find the best tracks to create the live album.
Arrogance Ignorance and Greed is the fourteenth studio album by English folk duo Show of Hands. Released in 2009 on the band's label Hands on Music, the album was produced by Stu Hanna of the English folk duo Megson, with additional production by Mark Tucker. The album followed an emotionally painful period for Steve Knightley where members of his family battled serious illnesses. This led to the album becoming particularly personal and darker than previous Show of Hands albums, aided by Hanna's direct and sharp production. The album also discusses several social and political concerns, and contains several collaborations with other musicians and vocalists.
Covers 2 is the fourteenth studio album by British folk duo Show of Hands. An official collaboration with double bassist and vocalist Miranda Sykes, who had been the duo's unofficial third member for six years, it is the duo's second album of cover versions, following Covers (2000). The album was intended for "friends and fans" of the duo, and an attempt to record songs that the duo had played live for some time. The album was produced by Mark Tucker and recorded as a mostly "straightforward" recording with little overdubs or extra production work.
Show of Hands is the debut album by English folk duo Show of Hands. The duo formed when Phil Beer took a break from folk rock band The Albion Band, requesting to Steve Knightley that they record a cassette together in Knightley's garage. Knightley, who had recently returned to the duo's native Devon after departing London, agreed, and the duo recorded the album together in January 1987 in Catsley Home, described by Knightley as an outbuilding in the remotest part of Dorset. The album contains twelve compositions, mostly songs by Knightley.
Wake the Union is the sixteenth studio album by British folk duo Show of Hands. Although their fifteenth studio album, it is their eighth in their "canon" of studio albums. The release follows the successful Arrogance Ignorance and Greed (2009) and the limited edition albums Covers 2 (2010) and Backlog 2 (2011). Recorded and produced by Mark Tucker, the album takes a strong influence from both English and American folk music and was created as a "journey through of [the two countries'] landscapes united by a common tongue and musical heritage". The album again features their unofficial third member Miranda Sykes. The album was also described by Knightley as a direct continuation of Arrogance Ignorance and Greed, although critics saw it as very distinct in its own right. The album was also a 20th anniversary celebration for the duo.
Backlog 2 is the fifteenth studio album by Devonian folk duo Show of Hands. Following the release of their limited edition "back to basics" cover album Covers 2 (2010), which was intended for "fans and friends" and released in a limited edition manner in a way that would only appeal to fans and friends, the duo wanted to release an album with fan participation. As the duo had retired many of their older songs from live performances, they asked fans on their internet forum Longdogs to select twenty Show of Hands tracks from 1992–2003 that they would like to hear the duo perform and re-record.
Miranda Sykes is an English folk singer, double-bassist and guitarist who performs with Steve Knightley and Phil Beer in the acoustic roots/folk group Show of Hands. As of 2019 she is undertaking solo performances while on maternity leave from the group. She has recorded with Show of Hands and has also performed and recorded as a duo with mandolin player Rex Preston.