Show of Hands

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Show of Hands
Show of Hands.jpg
Show of Hands performing at Harberton, Devon in 2009 (photo: Brian Marks)
Background information
Origin Devon, England
Genres Roots, folk, acoustic
Instruments Vocals, mandocello, mandolin, cuatro, fiddle, guitar
Years active 1987–present
Labels Hands On Music, distributed by Proper Music Distribution
Members Steve Knightley
Phil Beer
(Miranda Sykes)

Show of Hands are an English acoustic roots and folk duo comprising singer-songwriter Steve Knightley and multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer. In recent years, they have been accompanied on tour and in the studio by double-bassist Miranda Sykes.



The duo formed in 1986. Nonetheless, having known each other since 1972, they had performed before hand, for example Knightley's contribution to Beer's first live album with Paul Downes, Live in Concept (1980), and Beer's role in Knightley's pub rock bands of the 1980s, Short Stories, The Cheats and Total Strangers, when members of those bands could not appear. This is in addition to Knightley joining Beer and Downe's early 1980s band Arizona Smoke Revue. Beer joined The Albion Band in 1984, this halting collaborations between the two for a while. Nonetheless, Beer found some free time in 1987 and suggested to Knightley they form a duo. For the recording their first album, 1987's Show of Hands, they set up their own recording studio, known as Catsley Home. The album was recorded in January 1987 to coincide with their first tour, and was sold on the tour as a cassette. The tour and release brought the band local attention, and they followed it with Tall Ships in 1990, centred around an expanded song suite, "Tall Ships", which Knightley had written prior and used with the duo.


Beer left The Albion Band in 1990, allowing Show of Hands to become his priority, and the duo went on to record one final cassette release, Out for the Count (1991).

Their first CD-released album was a live album recorded at the Bull Hotel in Bridport, Dorset, and titled Live '92. It helped them break into the festival circuit of 1993, and later that same year they toured with Ralph McTell on his autumn tour.

During 1992 Knightley and Beer were invited to join an inter-cultural music project which involved working with three exiled Chilean musicians. Out of this the band Alianza was formed and an album made; the band toured throughout 1992 and 1993 and influenced the duo greatly. Some of Alianza's songs found their way onto the first Show of Hands studio album Beat about the Bush, which was released in 1994.

In 1995 Show of Hands released their second studio album Lie of the Land. Mojo said the album created "a powerful, fresh sounding music with both integrity and widespread appeal", while Q magazine called it a "startlingly good" album and went one further in voting it their folk album of the year in 1996.[citation needed]

In 1997, they released their third studio album, Dark Fields. They released Folk Music in 1998, which contains traditional songs.


Miranda Sykes at Harberton Village Hall in 2009 (photo: Brian Marks)

The studio album Covers (2000) contained covers from artists such as Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan and Ralph McTell. In 2001 Show of Hands celebrated their tenth anniversary with a show at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert was recorded by Carlton TV for network transmission and was shown as two dedicated half-hour programmes.

Show of Hands as a trio, in 2009 (photo: Brian Marks)

Their next studio album Cold Frontier was released in 2001 and was the first album to be recorded by Mick Dolan, who took responsibility for the Show of Hands sound after producer/manager Gerard O'Farrell returned to his native Australia. The following tour consisted of unreleased new material. The new material was presented in the live album Cold Cuts, as almost all of its tracks were never released as studio material. The Path, the first instrumental album by Show of Hands, was released in 2003. Each track is named after a different location, and creates an atmospheric musical portrait of the sea, and the seaside. In October 2003, the album Country Life was released.

Show of Hands won the Best Live Act award at the 2004 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The winning of that particular award was especially pleasing to the duo as for that year it was voted on by the public and not by the usual panel of judges. At the 2005 awards they were nominated for Best Duo and were part of the Oysterband Big Session group that won the 'Best Group' award.

For their extensive tour in autumn 2004 the duo temporarily became a trio when they were joined by Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals. As You Were, a live double album, was released in 2005 and comprised 22 tracks recorded at various venues during the autumn tour. In May 2006, Show of Hands released their ninth studio album Witness. The album was produced by Simon Emmerson and Simon ‘Mass’ Massey from the Afro Celts.

In November 2006, they were voted the "Greatest Devonians" in Devon County Council's competition, with more than a third of the votes. Other contenders included Sir Francis Drake, Charles Babbage, Agatha Christie and Muse.[1]

Recent work[edit]

Show of Hands played London's Royal Albert Hall for a concert on 8 April 2007, which was their third performance there. This was to celebrate their 15-year partnership as Show of Hands.

In July 2008 Show of Hands played at the first folk proms concert in the Welsh Proms season in St Davids Hall, Cardiff. On 26 July 2008, Show of Hands played at the Evolve 08 festival in Lodmoor Park, Weymouth, along with Miranda Sykes. Knightley returned to the Trowbridge Village Pump Festival in July 2009 without Beer, due to Beer's sailing at the time. As such, he played songs from his then-new solo album Track of Words - Retraced. Show of Hands returned to the festival in July 2010 with both members.

In October 2009, the band's tenth studio album, Arrogance Ignorance and Greed was released.

In February 2010, the group won both "Best Duo" and "Best Original Song" for the track "Arrogance Ignorance and Greed" at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Previously unreleased Show of Hands compositions before 1987 (and some from after 1987) appeared on Beer's box set, Box Set One, in 2010.

In November 2010, they released their eleventh studio album, Covers 2, also their second covers album after Covers from 2000. The album was credited to Show of Hands with Miranda Sykes, the first time for Sykes to get a leading album credit. Following the album's release, the band toured with Texan guitarist Rodney Branigan.

Their song "Roots" appeared on the compilation album "The Best of British Folk". But it was also used, without permission, by the British National Party in a campaign video. The band successfully had their music removed from the campaign video and showed opposition to the BNP by joining the "Folk Against Fascism" movement.[2]

The duo's next album had the working title Who Gets to Feel Good, the title eventually being confirmed as Wake the Union, and upon its release in October 2012, it is their most commercially successful album to date.

Show of Hands are patrons of The Sidmouth Folk Festival, St Ives Festival and The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Knightley is also patron of the Shrewsbury Folk Festival.



Collaboration album[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]



  • Columbus EP (1995)
  • "Crazy Boy" (1997) (from Dark Fields)
  • "Are We Alright" / "Crooked Man" (2004) (non-album single)
  • "Witness" / "If I Needed Someone" (2006) (from Witness)
  • "Roots" / "Country Life" (2007) (from Witness) (HMV Download Chart: #4)
  • "Arrogance Ignorance and Greed" (2010) (from Arrogance Ignorance and Greed)
  • "Arrogance Ignorance and Greed" / "Evolution" / "The Man I Was" (2010) (from Arrogance Ignorance and Greed)
  • "Arrogance Ignorance and Greed" / "The Keys Of Canterbury" (2010) (from Arrogance Ignorance and Greed)
  • "Company Town" / "Now You Know"
  • "Aunt Maria" / "King Of The World"

Videos & DVDs[edit]

  • Acoustic Workshop (1996)
  • Stairway To Devon (1998)
  • The Big Gig (2001)
  • Show of Hands on Film - The Video Collection (2004)
  • Tour of Topsham (2007)
  • Show of Hands with the Urban Soul Orchestra - Live at Shrewsbury Folk Festival + Making the Waking (2013)


Further reading[edit]

  • Yarwood, Richard; Charlton, Clive (2009). "'Country life'? Rurality, folk music and 'Show of Hands'". Journal of Rural Studies. 25 (2): 194–206. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2008.10.003. 

External links[edit]