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Show Of Hands - Union Chapel, London (09/11/17)


Steve Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Skyes better known as the multi-ward winning Show Of Hands, are one of the best Folk groups in the UK. They have honed their skills and craft over very many years together to create a fantastic night of music and entertainment. Their gig at the Union Chapel as part of The London Folk & Roots Festival and their 'Cathedrals Tour' was one of the best live performances I have seen from them. An evening of pure magic starting from their opening unaccompanied a capella walking through the audience to the stage to their very well deserved final standing ovation. Their music is thought provoking and sometimes hard hitting but always wonderfully written and presented. They blend traditional and contemporary folk with themes and subject matter which really resonate and are timely in highlighting important and topical issues of the day. 

Introduced personally by Steve, it was also a very important night for their special guest, London singer-songwriter Kirsty Merryn who was also launched her debut album 'She & I', themed on a collection of stories about inspirational women. Kirsty is getting a lot of attention for her music recently with a bursary from EFDSS, festival appearances and now a series of support appearances on the current Show of Hands UK 'Cathedrals Tour'. Kirsty's music is heavily anchored in the folk tradition, but also has influences from her background in jazz and classical music. She also has a fantastic pure crystalline vocal and delighted the sell-out Chapel audience with her delicately introspective piano based songs and sophisticated musical style. 

Murder ballads are a staple of Folk music and Kirsty's opening song was 'The Outlandish Knight', where unusually the heroine survives to tell the tale, unlike in this case the unfortunate Knight. 'Winter In Ontario' followed, one of the lead tracks from her debut EP 'Just The Winter', about being snowed-in in Canada. Celebrating the life of the author Jane Austin 'Love in A City Room' also taken from her 2013 debut EP, explores the practical side of love in a unromantic age. She continued her classy set with the unaccompanied 'The Birds Are Drunk', another folk murder ballad, this time based on a Persian poem. Kirsty's family was her next inspiration for 'The Pit and the Pugilist' about her great great grandfather Tommy Mitchell, who won a major boxing match and received a gold watch as his prize.

One of the highlights of the set was Kirsty's new single 'Forfarshire', a wonderful live duet with Steve Knightley. The song is based on the life of Grace Darling an English lighthouse keeper's daughter, famed for participating in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked 'Forfarshire' in 1838. It also explores the life of her father William. Kirsty completed her set with the wonderful 'A Song Of Parting', which is currently a free download for joining her mailing list. Something we highly recommend.

Walking slowly through the audience in the aisles to the stage singing the 'The Old Lynch Way', Steve, Phil and Miranda created their own piece of magic. They vocals rang around throughout the Chapel with the song's fantastic 'call and response'. It was one of the many 'goose-bump' moments on the night.

Once on stage the band started with the very moving and atmospheric 'The Preacher', first recorded on their 1995 'Lie of the Land' album. Show Of Hands have a strong social conscience and this was evident in their next song 'Cold Heart Of England' written by Steve in a Tesco's in Bridport in 2002. It discusses how negative changes often created by big business lead to the determent of local communities. Also very timely was a song about Halloween 'Hallows Eve' with strong audience participation joining in on the choruses.

'The Gamekeeper' is a story about a soldier in the Devonshire regiment in the Battle of the Somme. It was also the song that started SOH's critically acclaimed WW1 'Cententary' project. The song includes parts of the lyrics of the 'The Keeper' and 'Love is Handsome'. Always a firm favorite is Liam Clancy's famous 'The Parting Glass', in this version it has new lyrics from Steve but coupled with the original tune. This segued perfectly into Chris Hoben's 'The Lily & The Rose' with Miranda on lead vocals. 'No Secrets' is a new song written by Steve after a Folk singer friend asked him for one piece of advise on getting married. Phil said 'Don't' and Steve said 'Have no secrets', which became the basis of the song. Then it was Phil turn on lead vocals on with 'Exile', which Phil described as the best song that Steve has ever written. Their twin acoustic guitars playing of lead and rhythm working in perfect synchronicity.

The band over the years have developed a network of friends wherever they stay on tour, Stevie described them jokingly as 'safe houses'. The next song 'Smile, She Said' was inspired by photos changing over time in the home of one of the families they often visited. Kirsty joined them on piano and vocals. Always another very atmospheric song was Sidney Carters 'Crow On The Cradle' and SOH's stunning version was no different, with on Phil lead vocals and Steve on Bouzouki.

In 'IED: Science and Nature', disease is sinisterly portrayed as an unexploded bomb waiting to be detonated by forces unknown amid ghostly echoes of the traditional song 'The Trees They Do Grow High' and the gospel-tinged 'The Worried Well'. Tiny decisions and random chances often having a great impact on life. The traditional Celtic ballad 'The Blue Cockade' features a young man being forced to enlist in the army and wanting to return to his true love. The song then deals with the aftermath and the sadness and pain of his promised lover. Some really lovely harmonies and guitar solos on this one.

For the encore SOH chose another song with a current theme 'The Flood', dealing with the forces of nature, man's interference and the consequences. It then moved at the end into a William Blake poem. The evening finished as it had started with the band moving off stage and standing at the front singing unaccompanied the sea shanty working song 'Keep Hauling' with everyone in the venue joining in with the 'call and response'. Another goose bump moment as Steve, Phil and Miranda left walking down the Chapel aisles singing together with their enthusiastic audience.

Another standing ovation followed.

A very classy, magical and special evening by one of the UK's leading Folk groups and a fabulous debut album launch from a new potential star of the future.

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