Rychard Carrington reports on Steve Knightley and Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin - The Junction, Cambridge, 23 February 2012

Steve Knightley
Junction 2, The


It's a sign of good spirit when the main act walks on stage to introduce the support slot. Steve Knightley (chief songwriter and singer for Show of Hands) informed us that for his annual spring solo tour he likes to bring with him an act from his home region of east Devon. Past guests have included Seth Lakeman and Jim Causley; tonight's guests lived a mere two miles from Steve's house: Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. This duo are getting known on the folk scene as a very promising new act, and rightlyso. Their set was one of musical intelligence, invention, good taste and sheer beauty. Phillip plays excellent slide guitar and harmonica, while Hannah is an accomplished fiddler and fine vocalist. Two highlights were the traditional Death And The Lady, featuring Phillip's extraordinary 'beatbox harmonica', and Hannah's moving tribute to her German great-grandfather, The Painter.  The duo look set to become very successful. (They play Acoustic Routes in CB2, Norfolk Street, Cambridge, on 10 March).


Culture Minister Kim Howell's comment in 2001 "listening to three Somerset folksingers sounds like hell" epitomised all that Show of Hands stand against (the remark was responded to in one of Steve Knightley's most popular songs, Roots - not featured this evening). Knightley's music unites folk tradition, rural life, sensitive humane sentiment and forthright, articulate political anger. Authentic folk music is the music of the people and is definitely on the side of the good: Howell's comment is a sad reflection of New Labour's detachment from its socialist routes. Knightley provides politics from the heart that contrasts with the politics from the marketing department delivered by our parliamentary representatives. His social concern naturally extends beyond the narrowly political, just as his desire to chronicle the lives of 'folk' moves naturally between past and present.


The set mostly featured Show of Hands numbers well-known to their many fans (the popularity of Show of Hands, spread gradually by hard gigging rather than high-profile media promotion, is heartening) yet with quite different arrangements. The Galway Farmer was performed solo a cappella, while Widecombe Fair was played with lights dimmed, away from amplification: both of these worked excellently. Other arrangements were enriched by accompaninent from Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Audience singing in choruses was frequent. Arrrogance, Ignorance And Greed was particularly stirring: a united expression of feeling about those responsible for our current economic woes ("You're on your yacht / We're on our knees").


The set ended with the tender Now You Know, followed by encores Cousin Jack, Country Life and Aunt Maria. A great, stirring evening. Hats off to Steve Knightley.


(Show of Hands will be perfoming at Ely Folk Festival and Folk By The Oak [at Hatfield House] this summer.)  


Writer: Rychard Carrington