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Show of Hands - 25th Anniversary Concert

Venue: Royal Albert Hall
Town: London
Date: 16/04/17

Show Of Hands is the gift that keeps on giving; where many (most?) bands have collapsed into internal rifts or musical black holes after a few years, SOH remain at the top of their game with a continuing output of inventively fresh albums, backed by a relentless touring pace that would exhaust many young bands, let alone a band that is celebrating 25 unbroken years together. 2017 sees the band with a busy summer Festival season, an autumn "Cathedrals" Tour and solo tours at smaller venues throughout the year, but the highlight of the year was always going to be the long anticipated Royal Albert Hall concert. 2017 is the fifth time SOH have played the Royal Albert Hall since first booking the venue in 1996 on something of a whim and then surprising everyone by selling the place out - surprising everyone that is but the fiercely loyal band of SOH fans (known as Longdogs after a Steve Knightly signature song). To no-one's surprise, 2017 was also a sell out well ahead of the date.

SOH have been on a productive streak since the last visit to the RAH, with two particularly strong recent albums to draw on - 2014's commemoration of the start of World War 1 "Centenary" and last years "The Long Way Home", thus expectations were running high and fans were not to be disappointed. There is always a sense of occasion at the "Kensington Village Hall", heightened by the buzz of a capacity crowd and it was immediately clear that something very special was unfolding.

Show Of HandsOpening the concert, Steve Knightley walked alone onto a darkened stage to sing "Widecombe Fair" with the lights then coming up to reveal Phil Beer playing his violin from the organ loft above the stage, giving the concert a very evocative start. Co-band member and bass player Miranda Sykes and the Lost Sound Chorus, a 30 strong choir from Dartmoor filed on stage for "The Old Lych Way", a song from the Long Way Home album and a darkly rich and haunting evocation of the burial pathway on Dartmoor that was given an additional dimension from the choral backing. Moving through a mix of older and newer tracks, the band played a number of older favourites - "The Keeper", "Blue Cockade" and "Roots" before a solo spot with Miranda singing a achingly beautiful Chris Hobarn song, "The Lily and the Rose" with Chris himself providing accordion accompaniment. The first half had maintained a fairly serious tone, and this was reinforced by actor Jim Carter's distinctively sonorous tones reciting Siegfried Sassoon's "To Victory" followed by "Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire", both from the Centenary album. The first half finished with "'Twas on An April's Morning", with a morris dance, signalling that the mood was about to change.

During the break, a charity raffle was drawn for a mandocello built and donated by family luthier firm David Oddy that SOH have favoured for their instruments for many years. As Knightley quipped later "you don't get a raffle at an Eric Clapton concert". Raising a sum of over four thousand pounds, the raffle proceeds were donated to MIND, the mental health charity and the Great Ormond St Children's Hospital.

Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak The second half was introduced by "Innocent's Song" with guests Philip Henry, Hannah Martin and Rex Preston bringing an Americana influenced vibe to the band and an increase to the energy levels. The three guests are well known as long term SOH collaborators and also work with Knightley as the Wake The Union Band. The Americana theme continued with one of SOH's best loved cover versions, Richard Shindell's "Reunion Hill", before a return to the more familiar west country backdrop that colours so much of Knightley's own distinctive writing with a rousing "Country Life" and the audience joining in the chorus with gusto. A new song (and shortly to be released single) "No Secrets", was followed by the "The Dive" and "Katrina". Returning to Americana with "Aunt Maria" with the stage becoming crowded as guests Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak joined the now 6-piece band on stage. Fiddle player Gordon from the US and claw hammer banjo player Podolak from Canada are well known "old time music" performers across the water and brought an almost manic level of intensity and fun to the performance. They went to perform "The Cuckoo Bird" before bringing the house down with their "Hambone" self-percussion duo. The band had found the rail and surged into the shows' climax with "Arrogance Ignorance and Greed", "I.E.D.", "Keep Hauling", before a finale of the classic "Cousin Jack". A well-deserved standing ovation was followed by the encore of "Galway Farmer" and "Santiago".

No-one ever goes to a SOH gig and comes away without a smile on their face, and after this one the Longdog Facebook forum was alive with plaudits. The band and their team can be justifiably proud of such a successful celebration of 25 extraordinary years.

Words & Pictures Andrew Wegg

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