REVIEW: Steve Knightley at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
He will forever remain in debt to an unnamed Gosport darts player for unwittingly changing the course of his career.
Over the last 20 years or so, Steve Knightley has become one of the leading names on the English folk, roots and acoustic music scene.
The singer-songwriter – one part of Show of Hands, who have sold out the Royal Albert Hall five times – is well-known for poetic, evocative tales such as Cousin Jack, Country Life, Roots and Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed.
Such beautifully-written, west country-influenced narratives have opened many doors – not least two appearances on BBC farming programmes!
Knightley freely admits to certain influences – folk legends Bob Dylan and Martin Carthy and ex-poet laureate Ted Hughes, who had a major impact on the then teenager after meeting him on a creative writing course in north Devon.
But it was the briefest of encounters with a darts player, just a few miles down the coast, that brought the biggest laugh during Knightley’s intimate show on his Songs and Stories tour at the Wedgewood Rooms.
Starting a song in a pub with the line ‘I don’t know why Sarah left me...’, the wise-guy with the arrows shouted out ‘I can see why!’ without breaking his throwing stride.
It was an instant epiphany, of sorts.
‘I knew then that I wasn’t going to be a self-pitying song-writer,’ Knightley dead-panned.
Instead, he has devoted the last few decades to telling the stories of people he has met on his journey around the south of England.
Born in Southampton, and after a brief move to Portsmouth, he grew up in East Devon before Uni life took him to Coventry ahead of moves to Brighton and an eight-year stint in London.
Moving to Dorset to live in his early 30s – his musical dreams all but extinguished – Knightley confesses to drinking too much for a year or so before reuniting with one of his good friends from the East Devon folk scene, Phil Beer.
From there, Show of Hands was quickly born – but they were no overnight success story; instead, earning their dues from countless pub gigs.
Knightley engaged and entertained the Wedgewood Rooms crowd – by his playing, his anecdotes, his impressions and his self deprecating sense of humour.
He certainly has a good memory – the last time Show of Hands played a ‘free’ pub gig, he reminisced, was in Stubbington in the early 1990s.
Knightley, now 63, has come a long way since then, and the concept of his Songs and Stories show must surely catch on.
Because he talked as much as he sung and played, we were given more than a glimpse into his life, and the impact certain people and events had on him.
And, as a result, we have a far better understanding of Steve Knightley’s music, and a far better appreciation of the man behind it.