Show of Hands songwriter delivers an expectedly impressive solo live set.
Robin Denselow 2011-02-21
These are tough times in the music business, but the British folk scene is thriving because of its Do It Yourself spirit – and Steve Knightley is one of the most successful exponents of that DIY approach.
Knightley is best known for his work alongside Phil Beer in the rousing acoustic West Country duo, Show of Hands, who’ve built up their impressive reputation by playing hundreds of concerts, gathering such a devoted following that they have filled the Royal Albert Hall on three occasions. The duo plays a mixture of traditional material, cover versions and original compositions, most of them written by Knightley. When he’s not working with Beer, he also records occasional solo albums, and this live set was produced in typical SoH style. He hired a little venue in a Somerset village – The David Hall, in South Petherton – filled it with enthusiastic fans, and recorded the results for release on the duo’s own label. The result is a classy, varied set that provides another reminder that Knightley is both an impressive live performer and a highly original songwriter.
When he’s working with SoH, Knightley shares the vocals with Beer, who also plays a variety of instruments, from fiddle and guitar to mandocello, but here he performs solo for the most of the concert, backed by his own sturdy guitar. The best songs, it transpires, are his own. He specialises in writing about the hardships and realities of West Country life, tackling subjects that other writers leave well alone, and the standout track here is Transported, a dramatic piece of story-telling that first appeared on his 2007 album Cruel River. Here, this current-day tale of sheep-stealing is followed immediately by his arrangement of the traditional song The Oakham Poachers, a bleak reminder of the penalties that used to exist for such crime; the three brothers involved are all hanged.
Knightley may have his roots in the folk scene, but he has always admired great pop writers, and the latest SoH album, Covers 2, is a collection of favourite songs by the likes of Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen. There’s more Springsteen here, with a sturdy treatment of Downbound Train that segues into one of Knightley’s best-known SoH songs, Country Life. Elsewhere, he provides a solo treatment for other SoH favourites, including Cousin Jack and The Galway Farmer, along with a harmonica-backed re-working of Dylan’s The Girl From the North Country, and a new, self-composed West Country love song, Now You Know. It’s a predictably impressive and reliable set.