Review | Show of Hands at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea: 'On fine form throughout'

If you’ve ever wanted a gig by folk superstars Show of Hands in your front room, this is about as close as most of us will get.

Show of Hands at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on November 26, 2021. Picture by Chris Broom
Show of Hands at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on November 26, 2021. Picture by Chris Broom

As long as you don’t mind sharing it with about 300 of your new best friends.

The stage is set up, apparently, as the inside of multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer’s home – complete with an enormous dresser, dining room table (complete with decanter of brandy and glasses) and a hat stand. It all lends proceedings a homely but slightly surreal tone.

This was intended to be a tour by the four-person iteration of the band - with long-standing double-bassist Miranda Sykes and percussionist Cormac Byrne joining the original duo of Beer and Steve Knightley.

But Covid-related financial issues led to the decision by the founding pair to go it alone – their first duo tour in many a moon.

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    The first half of the show is devoted to their new album, Singled Out, a compilation of singles from their three-decade career.

    The irony being that they have never really been a ‘singles act’ - an irony that becomes a running joke as they introduce songs with less than typical chart-friendly themes such as The Battle of The Somme (The Keeper), how America wasn’t ‘discovered’ by Europeans (Columbus), or folk archivist Cecil Sharp’s visit to the Appalachians (Aunt Maria).

    The first half finishes a couple of songs ‘about corporate greed,’ before Knightley invites us all, to knowing laughter, to spend money in the interval at the merch stand.

    The set closer Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed, written 13 years ago about the banking crisis remains all too relevant, lines like: ‘You're on your yacht, we're on our knees,’ still burn with righteous anger.

    The second half takes us abroad to Ireland, with a nod to early supporter and folk legend Ralph McTell, and into Cajun country via Knightley’s affectionately bastardised take on the genre.

    And the stripped down take on You’ll Get By from 2019’s Battlefield Dancefloor album is a beautiful, tender moment.

    They finish the main set with The Best One Yet – a song Knightley wrote specifically to be released on June 19 this year to coincide with the much-heralded ‘unlocking day’ as an anthem of optimism for summer 2021.

    Of course, the summer didn’t quite go as hoped with the unlocking being delayed, and the subsequent cancellation of many festivals.

    The song is, though, Knightley at his most-crowd-pleasing and uplifting, and (Covid-willing) destined to soundtrack festivals next year.

    Both musicians are on fine form throughout, with plenty of daft jokes and banter along the way, and the sell-out audience laps it up.

    So, here’s to 2022 and may it indeed be the best one yet…

    A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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