Formed in 1987, folk duo Phil Beer (12 May 1953, Exminster, Devon, England; fiddle, mandolin, mando-cello, quatro) and Steve Knightley (b. 30 April 1954, Southampton, Hampshire, England; guitar, mando-cello) play mainly self-composed acoustic material. Beers multi-instrumental virtuosity is much in-demand and, besides playing a session for the Rolling Stones, he has toured with Mike Oldfield and Johnny Coppin, and was a member of the Arizona Smoke Revue and the Albion Band. Knightleys roots are in London rock bands, and he now writes much of Show Of Hands material and is their principal vocalist.
The first Show Of Hands releases were three cassettes, the best of which was subsequently compiled on the Backlog 1987-1991 CD. Show Of Hands was released in February 1987 to coincide with the duos first tour. The track Tall Ships on Tall Ships/Six OClock Waltz is a 22-minute work, initially commissioned in 1983 by Capital Radio and set in a small west country fishing village just after the Napoleonic War. Owing to other commitments the duo then performed only occasionally, but the 1991 release of Out For The Count marked their full-time musical partnership when Beer left the Albion Band.
The duo promoted themselves at prestigious festivals and undertook several gruelling tours, making their album debut with a live set recorded in Bridport. They also recorded and toured with the inter-cultural music project Alianza, which had a marked influence on Knightleys blossoming songwriting (Santiago, Columbus Didnt Find America). Following the release of their first studio album, Beat About The Bush, the duo teamed up with engineer/producer Gerard OFarrell for their live shows. OFarrell, by now the duos manager, produced 1995s excellent Lie Of The Land, considered one of that years finest folk releases.
Having by now built up a considerable fanbase through their mailing list, Knightley, Beer and OFarrell took the gamble of hiring Londons Royal Albert Hall for an evening in March 1996. The show, which featured various guest musicians, sold out in advance and generated the duos bestselling album to date (they repeated the venture successfully in 2001). Further studio albums have confirmed their reputation as one of the UKs finest folk acts. In addition to Knightleys songwriting ability and Beers instrumental virtuosity, the duos ability to take songs and make them their own is a particular strength. Two fine examples are interpretations of Radioheads Fake Plastic Trees and Jacques Brel / Mort Shumans My Death.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.