The returning folk veterans find Britain’s past to be fertile soil in which to unearth songs both new and old
For the latest release on their own label Hands On Music, renowned folk duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have returned to their roots. Themes of war, seafaring and a lost England dominate The Long Way Home. It’s as if by looking back they have found a way to strengthen their resolve and forge ahead once more with a new collection of songs.
The songwriting is split between Knightley, collaborator Chris Hoban and reworkings of traditional tunes. Of Knightley’s compositions, the atmospheric Breme Fell At Hastings tells the tale of a farmer killed by The Normans and the loss of Saxon culture that followed. Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down) finds him seeking distance from his old material as he sings, “Don’t want to sing about greedy bankers / Don’t need another song about my life”. The striking Mesopotamia casts Knightley as a worried parent, with Beer’s longing mandolin there to accompany his troubles.
Similar subjects run through the album’s other tracks. The Hoban-written Hallow’s Eve is a rallying sing-along celebrating the British tradition of its title. Beer takes the lead, and the role of a deported convict yearning for home, on Virginia. Keep Hauling is a full-voiced shanty, supplemented by the spirited, and hastily assembled, Bridge Inn Shandymen.
Along with the many collaborators that show up on the way, Show Of Hands have laid down a lasting tribute to the past. That The Long Road Home is also a hugely enjoyable album, underpinned by Knightley’s songwriting and Beer’s peerless musicianship, is quite a feat.
Verdict: Show Of Hands returning to what they do best