Passion. Anger. Humour. Superlative song-writing. Musicianship of the highest standard. The first performance of Show of Hands’ current tour at Taunton’s Brewhouse Theatre was everything I could have wished for. A friend said, ‘They just keep getting better and better.’ I’ve been reading ‘Born to Run’, and as I listened to Steve Knightley’s blistering lyrics about the dispossessed, I frequently thought of Bruce Springsteen’s ability to honour working men and women without sentimentality.
Steve writes and sings with power and integrity, fuelled by rage and love; rage on behalf of the dispossessed and exploited, and love of courage and decency. He skewers the toxic Blair legacy in ‘Crooked Man’. He chronicles the ruthless erosion of the countryside and its traditions in ‘Country Life’. He breaks your heart with ‘The Keeper’ and its haunting images of the Somme. He plays old songs which are as relevant now as when they were first penned – ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’ – and he sings new songs which are fresh and full of energy. He is a great solo performer, as are his fellow musicians, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes. Together they are astoundingly good, and their excellent sound engineers at the Brewhouse did them full justice.
I was watching Phil Beer drawing magic from the strings of his violin and concluded that he probably once sold his soul at the crossroads! He sang of Eddie Cochran’s death, and I remembered seeing Eddie and Gene Vincent at Bristol’s Colston Hall before the terrible accident. He covered Richard Shindell’s ‘Next Best Western’ (such restraint in rhyming ‘sinners’ with ‘truckers’…) and I was back with my beloved brother Mike being introduced to the work of yet another great songwriter.
Miranda Sykes sings like an angel and plays double bass like a demon. Her singing on ‘The Keeper’ is poignant and tender and it was a joy to hear a song written by her mother. She is a versatile musician with a rich, expressive voice.
It’s hard to list highlights when every song was a gem. The cover of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time after Time’ delighted me. ‘Santiago’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ moved me unbearably. ‘Galway Farmer’ made me smile. Three wonderful musicians, working together with wit and warmth, gave a show I never wanted to end. Not only that, they opened with the remarkable Megan Henwood. Her songs are striking, original and frequently disturbing. ‘Our Little Secret’ twists the usual perceived power relationship between a schoolgirl and, I assume, her teacher. ‘These Walls’ explores depression and lethargy without inducing either in the listener, and her almost-country break-up song, ‘Chemicals’ is almost-jaunty. I thought Megan’s blend of fragility and assurance was fresh and compelling. Her tribute to her Uncle Louis, ‘Painkiller’ was deeply moving. Her enunciation throughout was crystal clear. As I said, remarkable!
Steve, Phil and Miranda produce sublime music whilst being grounded and connected to their roots. From rock to requiem by way of folk, they are unmissable.