After 25 years together, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer need very little introduction – and having been with them for a dozen of those, the same could be said for Miranda Sykes ! Were delighted that the fantastic trio are returning to Derby, three years after their last amazing appearance in the festival marquee…we’ve waited as long as we could to bring them back, and now we can’t wait to see them again!
A quarter of a century on the road. 25 album releases. 2 Honorary Doctorates, 3 BBC Folk Awards, 4 Royal Albert Hall sell-outs. Tours in 14 countries from America to Australia. Show of Hands have unequivocally become one of the leading forces in British folk. Steve Knightley and Phil Beer are respectively recognised as one of the UK’s best singer songwriters and one of its finest multi instrumentalists. Without frills or fanfares they have carved a unique niche built on a carefully constructed cottage industry and become one of the most in-demand bands on the circuit.
One of Devon’s greatest success stories started with the guys growing up on opposite sides of the River Exe, though Steve was born in Southampton and Phil hailed from Cornwall. Playing in different bands their paths eventually crossed and they joined forces to play the Exeter pub and club circuit before taking off in different directions. After gaining a degree at Coventry University, Steve started teaching in London and playing the capitals rock scene while Phil pursued the life of a pro musician, playing in Arizona Smoke Review and the revered Albion Band. But when Steve returned to the West Country in the mid 80s they started gigging again and in 1991 Show of Hands was formed. Unusually their first album was a live one. Live 92 was recorded at Dorset’s Bull Hotel in Bridport and its excellent reviews helped them break into the festival circuit and tour with Ralph McTell.
A period of great albums, TV appearances, and sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall passed by, with an ever-increasing fan base, and plaudits from all-corners. In 2004, after numerous nominations, Show of Hands struck gold at the BBC Folk Awards, winning the coveted Best Live Act title – the only category voted for by the public. They were joined by Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals for their autumn 2004 UK tour –a tour that triggered a live 22-track double album As You Were. Miranda has been adding another dimension to the Show of Hands sound ever since. May 2006 was a defining moment when they unveiled a strident new sound with Witness produced by Grammy-nominated Simon Emmerson and Mass of Afro Celts. Songlines Magazine called the album A beautiful portrait of modern rural Britain, intensely compassionate and filled with carefully contained rage. Described as a cinematic journey of the West Country it was widely acclaimed with some of Steves finest writing in the title track, The Dive and the stirring Roots – a rally call for the English to get behind their identity and musical heritage spurred by a certain comment by one-time Culture Minister Kim Howells – that his idea of hell was three Somerset folk singers in the pub! Roots found champions in unlikely quarters with some even calling for it to be the new national anthem! In 2006 they were quirkily voted Greatest Devonians in a poll beating historic figures like Sir Francis Drake and modern day music icons Chris Martin, Muse and Joss Stone while they were later voted the West Country’s favourite musicians in an ITV series and invited to join the West Country Hall of Fame. Despite all their success they have never sold out on the West Country and on St George’s Day 2006 they performed a fund raising gig that helped save a rural Devon post office.
Another ten years: filled with amazing shows at festivals such as Glastonbury and WOMAD; another two visits to the Royal Albert Hall; more TV appearances; wonderful albums garnering critical acclaim … and never once standing still, or sounding out of date or out of place! After such a journey it is clear that the Show of Hands story is a remarkable one and they are now, as BBC Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe says, at the top of their game.