This was my first visit to the beautifully and tastefully renovated Royal Hall in Harrogate. It was also the second time that I have seen Show Of Hands live, but sadly the first since 2009! I promise I won’t leave it that long next time. My knowledge of folk and roots music is not vast but I do know a great band when I see one and Show Of Hands are undoubtedly a truly brilliant band. They are “not too folkie”, they are multi-talented musicians with an intelligent way with lyrics and their self deprecating humour and between-song banter is first class. The core band consists of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer and was formed in Devon more than thirty years ago. Folk singer and double bass virtuoso Miranda Sykes has been playing with Show Of Hands for more than fifteen years. In addition to that dynamic trio, they are now accompanied by an amazing and award-winning bodhrán player and percussionist for the current shows; Irishman Cormac Byrne.
There was no support act, rather inventively we were treated to a series of duo performances; Phil & Steve, Steve & Cormac, Miranda & Steve, Phil & Miranda, Cormac & Phil, and Miranda & Cormac! The sparseness of the music in these settings was beautiful. This is a group of musicians who really know how to use the space between the notes. Phil Beer’s guitar skills are extraordinary and he can move from straightforward folk to some rocking acoustic blues. Steve’s voice is close to perfect and his passion is evident in the way he sings. Some of the new songs, from their 2019 album, are a strong addition to an already magnificent set. Especially “Dreckley”, which is a Cornish word for later in the manner of mañana but not as urgent, and “Battlefield Dance Floor” which is about how soldiers used to party the night before a big battle. For me, the most beautiful song of the evening was the inspirational and empathetic “You’ll Get By”. That will be on my playlist the next time I get really down or depressed, it will provide a gorgeous spiritual lift. The cover of the late, great Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” was true to the Canadian raconteur and was among the most well-received of the evening. My favourite song on the night was probably “Santiago”. There were sing-alongs aplenty, the most rousing was probably the Show Of Hands classic “Cousin Jack”. All in all, this was a great musical evening and worked incredibly well even for a generally non-folkie like me. If you love good music you really need to check this band out if you haven’t done so already! There are still plenty of shows left on their Now We Are Four Tour 2019 (see the poster above), go and treat yourself!
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