Review Archive

‘Wake The Union’ from acoustic-duo (latterly trio) Show of Hands

(May 19, 2013)

A resident of this planet for over 60 years I’ve learnt some lessons - there are constants beyond an Wake the Unionancient cliché about bread, butter and gravity. Junk mail perpetuates, lawyers bend the truth, traffic increases exponentially, politicians are in it for themselves and Steve Knightley doesn’t write a duff song. From the London pub circuit circa 1980, through the Alianza days, to Show of Hands with Phil Beer, I’ve listened to Knightley’s work and in my opinion, it remains up there with the best England has to offer.

The same constant holds true with ‘Wake The Union’ from acoustic-duo (latterly trio) Show of Hands. Between them Knightley, Beer and double-bass player Miranda Sykes serve up another fine course in the ongoing Show of Hands feast. This time with a soupcon of Americana added to increase the piquancy.

Possessing one of folk’s most distinctive male voices Knightley imparts immeasurable pathos to narratives of bleakness, tragedy and despair, and adds similar depth when walking paths of reflection, politics and protest.  From the acidic observations and thinly veiled disgust of ‘Company Town’ through the sad promises of ‘Now You Know’ to the tough poignancy behind the oft-repeated newsflash ‘… the family have been informed’ that encapsulates the pain of ‘Coming Home’, these songs carve a savage course, take no prisoners and cut to the heart. In familiar fashion, Knightley’s sometime-acerbic views on events and issues past and present are evident in his less than acquiescent examination of folk song gathering through ‘Aunt Maria’, the biting truth of ‘No Man’s Land’ and the unperturbed sarcasm of ‘Stop Copying Me’.

On ‘Wake The Union’ Show of Hands added songs from John Hoban, Richard Shindell and Bob Dylan to add to Knightley’s output. They recruited a ‘to-be-envied’ line-up of Seth Lakeman, Cormac Byrne, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, BJ Cole, Paul Downes, Hannah Martin, Phil Henry, Paul Sartin, Rex Preston, Leonard Podolak and Jenna Witts to play and sing. And with their 13th studio album produce another folk classic.

Reviewer: Tim Carroll

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