A glance at the cover of Show of Hands’ latest studio album leaves no doubt as to their intention, there’s the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, Woody Guthrie’s guitar still promising to kill fascists, and you can head west on the highway that’s the best, that’s either Route 66 or the A303, your choice. This showcasing of both English and American roots to the music is surely no surprise from Phil Beer given his solo and Phil Beer Band output. But it’s maybe less expected from Steve Knightley, many of whose strongest songs resonate with a sense of place that is not just English but quintessentially West Country.
Last year, though, Steve was part of the Cecil Sharp Project, developing material with British and American musicians to celebrate Cecil Sharp’s Appalachian song gathering. Aunt Maria is a track stemming directly from this collaboration but the Project’s influence is heard on several other tracks. Project collaborator, Canadian, Leonard Podolak’s 5 string banjo is on Aunt Maria and also on Katrina, where, alongside the dobro of Phil Henry, it creates an ethereal background for Steve’s voice to tell the story of one personal tragedy, capturing the essence of the disaster that befell New Orleans.
Collaborations abound on this album, starting from the opening track, Haunt You, co-written by Steve and Seth Lakeman, an upbeat sound overlying the chilling tale of what a spurned sailor could do to haunt his unfaithful lover. Richard Shindell played support on last year’s tour, Steve often joining him for his song of a Civil War widow, Reunion Hill. For the album, Steve sings solo but with Phil’s fiddle and Phil Henry’s dobro providing the emotive backing. There are instrumental contributions by some of the best folk musicians around, including Martin Simpson on slide guitar, Andy Cutting on melodeon and Cormac Byrne provides percussion on the majority of tracks.
There’s a liberal sprinkling of death and desertion throughout the songs, but this is folk music, the body count is always high. Coming Home paints the picture that too many families have had to endure over the last few years, of a son returning from Afghanistan in his coffin. Steve’s singing ends with the all too familiar phrase, “the family have been informed” and Miranda’s pure voice immediately comes in with My Bonny Light Horseman to devastating effect.
The album, of course, has a lighter side, Now You Know and Stop Copying Me will already be familiar to anyone who’s been to a Show of Hands gig in the last couple of years, both songs providing classic SoH sing along choruses.
Phil Beer was quoted recently saying their previous album, Arrogance Ignorance and Greed, whilst receiving widespread critical acclaim, had not gone down well with their core audience. Wake the Union comes across as a return not just to their musical roots but also to pleasing this core audience. In contrast to AIG, and previous album Witness, both Phil and Steve took a full part in the production of Wake the Union, alongside named producer Mark Tucker. So, whilst the material ranges widely in its geography, the sound is unmistakably that of Devon’s finest.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Wake the Union is released on October 15th.
Autumn Tour 2012 with support Matt Gordon & Leonard Podolak
Thursday Oct 18 2012, Lowther Pavilion, LYTHAM ST ANNES, FY8 5QQ
Friday Oct 19 2012, The Great Hall, EXETER, EX4 4PY
Saturday Oct 20 2012, Hall for Cornwall, TRURO, TR1 2LL
Wednesday Oct 24 2012, The Roses Theatre, TEWKESBURY, GL20 5NX SOLD OUT
Thursday Oct 25 2012, The Anvil, BASINGSTOKE, RG21 7QR
Friday Oct 26 2012, Lighthouse, POOLE, BH15 1UG
Saturday Oct 27 2012, Octagon Theatre, YEOVIL, BA20 1UX
Thursday Nov 08 2012, Brewery Arts Centre, KENDAL, LA9 4HE
Friday Nov 09 2012, City Varieties Music Hall, LEEDS, LS1 6LW
Saturday Nov 10 2012, The Lowry, SALFORD, M50 3AZ
Wednesday Nov 14 2012, Ipswich Corn Exchange, IPSWICH, IP1 1EG
Thursday Nov 15 2012, The Orchard Theatre, DARTFORD, DA1 1ED
Friday Nov 16 2012, The White Rock Theatre, HASTINGS, TN34 1JX
Saturday Nov 17 2012, G Live, GUILDFORD, GU1 2AA
Sunday Nov 18 2012, Waterside Theatre, AYLESBURY, HP20 1UG
Wednesday Nov 21 2012, Theatre Severn, SHREWSBURY, SY3 8FT
Thursday Nov 22 2012, Lincoln Drill Hall, LINCOLN, LN2 1EY
Friday Nov 23 2012, The Sage Gateshead, GATESHEAD, NE8 2JR
Saturday Nov 24 2012, Floral Pavilion Theatre, WIRRAL, CH45 2JS
Wednesday Nov 28 2012, City Hall, SALISBURY, SP2 7TU
Thursday Nov 29 2012, St David’s Hall, CARDIFF, CF10 1AH
Friday Nov 30 2012, Town Hall, BIRMINGHAM, B3 3DQ
Saturday Dec 01 2012, Great British Folk Festival, SKEGNESS, PE25 1NJ