Show Of HandsShow Of Hands
Album: The Long Way Home
Label: Hands On Music
Tracks: 12

There can't be many albums that open with spoken Saxon, folk's Show Of Hands latest release "The Long Way Home" does just that courtesy of Michael Wood historian and presenter of the BBC TV series "The Great British Story".

"Breme Fell at Hastings" tells the story of a Saxon Farmer and freeman whose death epitomised the loss of Saxon culture and the following subjugation to Norman rule. A cruel blow after the historic rout of the Vikings days earlier at Stamford Bridge. Musically you immediately notice the opening Cajon of Jack Knightley along with the normal trio of dad Steve, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes on Double Bass. Together it's a sound that owes much to the impeccable production of Mark Tucker. And whilst you're taking all this in the track ends fittingly as it began with guttural Saxon words.

It's a track which fixes the tone of the album, being firmly rooted folk music from the heart of England.

"Hallows Eve" from the pen of Topsham Teacher Chris Hoban lightens the mood with a catchy chorus that will have you singing along before the end as we celebrate the end of a season and the readiness of the preparations for winter, a far cry from the Americanised trick or treat approach to Halloween.

Hoban contributes "The Old Lych Way" too, a haunting and reverent telling of the hardship and pains that meet those who had to take their loved ones to a final resting place in Lydford along the Old Lych Way. It brings back memories of the "Ridgeriders" an album of songs based on the old ancient trackways in South England which featured Phil Beer, Ashley Hutchings and Chris While amongst others, made in the wake of a similar series shown on Meridian TV.

Jackie Oates guests a two tracks, adding beautiful harmony and counterpoint vocals to Steve's on "Hambleton Fair" as well as violin on the closing song "Mesopotamia" a love song about a daughter leaving to be with her intended in a war zone far away which also features a vocal landscape from the high acclaimed Ange Hardy.

Phil Beer takes lead vocals on the trad songs " 'Twas on One April Morning" and "Virginia" set to a new tune it's a tale of British convicts being transported to America rather than Australia and being sold as slaves to harsh masters.

Masters and minions, know your place, a theme indirectly covered on "John Harrison's Hands" where the British Government took advantage and denied the man his true worth by withholding the prize offered for the achievement of being able to measure longitude on long sea journeys. Written by Dick Gaughan and Brian McNeill, the "clock that changed the world" proves to be in safe respectful hands.

"Sweet Bella" adds a touch of Dart Delta Blues to the proceedings, whilst the title track is a story of love the second time round, sweeter perhaps because of the distance and time in between as "we took the long way home".

Another highlight of this release is the sea shanty "Keep Hauling" written by Andrew Cadie (Broom Bezzums) which is given a rousing treatment with the addition of the "Bridge Inn Shandymen" (Paul Downes, Chris Hoban, John Redmond, Mick Ryan and Mark Tucker), it seems destined to become a firm favourite on the live circuit.

But the standout track for me is Knightley's "Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down)" written for a documentary film on Sidmouth's Folk Festival. After shunning his earlier songs (as for the moment not appropriate) he intones "I didn't want to make you think, I didn't want to make you frown. But in the heart of a quiet little English Town, Walk with me when the sun goes down". Sometimes the simple things in life are the most important. It's a jaunty uplifting song aided by Hannah Martins' Fiddle and Phillip Henry's Dobro which match beautifully the expected Mandolin, Tenor Guitar and Bass of Show Of Hands.

To conclude, "The Long Way Home" is an outstanding album of superbly crafted songs featuring magnificent musicianship and sympathetic production. It's Show Of Hands returning to their branch, stem and shoots roots.

Ian Cripps