2017 marks the 25th anniversary of one of England’s best acoustic roots duos, and to celebrate their enduring musical partnership Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have announced a return to one of the world’s most famous stages – the Royal Albert Hall – on Easter Sunday 2017 (April 16).
Steve and Phil have already had four sell out performance at the venue over the past years – unprecedented for a band of their ilk. The triple BBC Radio 2 Folk awards winners (Best Live Act, Best Duo and Best Original Song, for Knightley’s ever topical Arrogance Ignorance and Greed), first played and sold out the Albert Hall in 1996, to the surprise of the sceptics. In 2001 their legions of fans from the UK and across the Channel descended on Kensington again, when the show was filmed by Carlton TV and, unusually, the Albert Hall witnessed a raffle! Five years later, they were back for a hat trick success in SW7 and, in 2012, followers were delighted when they returned for a fourth encore with guests including American singer songwriter Richard Shindell.
Knightley, who has been hailed as one of the country’s best singer-songwriters, says: “Hiring somewhere as high profile as the Albert Hall is obviously not something you undertake lightly but it’s a challenge we relish. We are lucky enough to have an incredible fan base, not only in the UK but in France, Holland, Germany and beyond and hopefully a lot of them will be there to help us celebrate a quarter of a century as Show of Hands!”
Beer, named “Musician of the Year” in the 2011 Spiral Awards and nominated for the same title at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, agrees: “We have had four hugely memorable nights at the Albert Hall and it will be great to see so many of our fans under one roof again in what will amazingly be our 25th year on the road!”
Show of Hands are known for their genre-hopping music, which focuses on strong narrative songs often touching on rock, blues and country. Their success escalated after they established an early internet presence and became a perfect example of a successful cottage industry, using many West Country-based people in their support team, including David Oddy, who hand makes their musical instruments, from guitars to cello mandolins and cuatros.
They grew up on opposite sides of the River Exe and still both live in Exeter but their appeal has seen them tour much of Europe as well as Canada, India and Australia. Their success lies in their unique sound, finely honed stage presence and consistently acclaimed, often acutely topical songs, most of which are penned by Knightley.
The enduring partnership has seen a marked rise in profile in recent years, bringing numerous prime time TV and radio appearances from BBC1-s Countryfile to The Andrew Marr Show and BBC Breakfast TV whilst Steve had a programme devoted to his song writing on BBC Radio 4’s Open Country and they made their Hyde Park debut, as part of the March for the Alternative rally.
This year, their latest critically acclaimed studio album The Long Way Home saw them returning to their musical roots and brought them a nomination for “Best Album” in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Travelling full circle to the songs and tunes that inspired them to start playing as a duo it revisits all the classic ingredients of traditional folk themes – songs of war, exile, invention, seafaring and loves lost and found.
The first album on their own Hands On Music label in three years unveiled five new songs from the prolific pen of Knightley, new twists and arrangements of quintessentially English traditional numbers and songs by collaborator Chris Hoban, a music teacher in the duo’s home town of Topsham.
Songlines Magazine said of it: “Since joining forces more than two decades ago, Knightley and Beer have become not only a major force in British folk but also a genuinely inspiring success story. It has not been frills or fanfares but sheer grit, craft, determination and diamond-hard songwriting that has brought them such a fiercely devoted audience and sell-out tours.”
Before the Albert Hall gig, Show of Hands have a characteristically busy year in 2016. Their festival season takes in Glastonbury, Aldeburgh’s famous Snape Proms, Shrewsbury and Sidmouth as well as their own signature festival at Dorset’s Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens on July 2.
In the autumn they embark on the significant 22-date “Walk With Me” tour (Nov 2-Dec 10) supported by award-winning singer songwriter Megan Henwood. www.showofhands.co.uk/tour-dates/
Royal Albert Hall tickets go on sale from Friday (July 1). The same day Show of Hands will perform a special concert in Exeter Cathedral marking the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. Playing material from their 2014 double album Centenary – Words and Music of the Great War they will be joined by top British husband and wife actors Imelda Staunton and Jim ‘Downton Abbey’ Carter who will read poetry by some of the leading war poets as they did on the album.
Royal Albert Hall tickets prices: Grand Tier £60; Loggia £60; Second Tier £55; Stalls £47.50; Front Arena £47.50; Rear Arena £45; Circle £35 (restricted view £30). Box office: 0207 589 8212 or 0845 401 5045.