'Acoustic Sessions at Stanley Halls' 2017 season continued its strong opening run with a welcome return appearance from Show Of Hands' front man, Steve Knightley. A one off gig in 2014 by the singer had kick started the development of Stanley Halls as an emerging Folk and Acoustic venue in South London and the compere noted that that previous gig had been a major shot in the arm for the team which had then only just taken over management of the venue from Croydon Council following funding cuts.
Knightley, for all his star quality in the folk world, is a relaxed and informal solo performer and quickly formed an intimate connection with the capacity crowd. Set over two sets, the audience was led through a warmly humorous walk through his musical career, telling of a seminal moment at an early and sparsely attended pub gig where a disinterested darts player quickly punctured any pretensions towards being a heart-on-the-sleeve singer-songwriter. That anonymous darts player did everyone a huge favour, setting Steve on a course of writing his richly plotted narrative songs, full of memorable stories and characters.
Opening with 'All at Sea', Knightley worked through a diverse set list that featured both songs from the Show of Hands catalogue and from his own solo albums, mixing these with songs from the folk tradition such as an atmospheric 'Reynardine' and punchy 'Ratcliffe Highway' and standards from popular music, a wistful 'Dock of the Bay' being a highlight. With two and a half decades of material to draw on (this being the Show of Hands 25th anniversary year), a Knightley concert rarely covers the same ground, and there is also continued output of new product with the set featuring the title track of the current album 'The Long Way Home' and a new song, 'Make The Right Noises'. Even when playing his older songs, Knightley reinvents his music regularly and a Show of Hands standard 'Tall Ships' was played on the Cuatro, Knightley reflecting ruefully beforehand that a demonstration of how this Latin American instrument should be played properly at a recent gig had seemed more interesting to the audience than his own material, causing him to busk the song with a Latin flavour rather than lose the moment and this had worked so well he had stayed with the new version. This also led to a surprise from the audience – Knightley (and Phil Beer) often refer to their time in the early 90s when playing with Alianza, a band of exiled Chilean musicians and this had had considerable influence on their music, not least in their adoption of the Cuatro. Steve recalled how one of the musicians, Mauricio Venegas, had playfully chided him for “playing that Yankee music on our instrument” – only to find that Mauricio was in the audience; witnessing a meeting of these old friends was a fine conclusion to a wonderful evening.
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