Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Audiences at ‘Show of Hands’ concerts are accustomed to taking part. Every other song demands involvement in the form of clapping or singing along. Even so, the concept of ‘Hambone’ is a novelty. This is a type of rhythmic percussive noise generated by slapping your upper arm or thigh.
We’re introduced to this type of participation by the support act banjo player Leonard Podolak and fiddler Matt Gordon. They bring a touch of vaudeville, even ‘Riverdance’, to the show with ‘Hambone’ and ‘Flatfootin’’. The latter technique, largely performed by Gordon, is basically clog dancing that also serves as a type of percussion. You couldn’t say the approach is dignified but it is a lot of fun and certainly warms the audience up for the main event.
‘Show of Hands’ by comparison is almost sedate. The established duo of rhythm guitarist/ songwriter/main vocalist Steve Knightley and multi instrumentalist Phil Beer are joined by Miranda Sykes on upright bass. She adds depth to the music of the duo and has an undeniable charisma. It is a shame that the group do not make better use of her fine vocals as neither Knightley nor Beer have much character in their voices.
The group are touring to promote their latest release ‘Wake the Union’ which widens their style to include American Cajun and bluegrass influences as well as the more traditional English folk songs. The music of the group is excellent with Beer’s chiming, fluid guitar making the songs hard to resist. Lyrically, however, the songs are too literal. Tales of rural poverty and of arrogance, ignorance and greed lack ambiguity so that their content is predictable. The audience are certainly willing to take part but seem so familiar with the material that the show has an element of ritual; as if people can guess what is coming.
This is not to say that the music lacks variety or the show surprises. The group provide a shifting atmosphere with a brooding tale of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and an ominous festive tune. The ‘Wake the Union’ tour manages to combine unexpected and unusual music with old favourites in a way that ensures ‘Show of Hands’ keep their show fresh and their audience happy.