Show Of Hands Biography

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. Beer’s 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. Knightley’s 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 duo’s first tour. The track ‘Tall Ships’ on Tall Ships/Six O’Clock 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 Knightley’s blossoming songwriting (‘Santiago’, ‘Columbus Didn’t Find America’). Following the release of their first studio album, Beat About The Bush, the duo teamed up with engineer/producer Gerard O’Farrell for their live shows. O’Farrell, by now the duo’s manager, produced 1995’s excellent Lie Of The Land, considered one of that year’s finest folk releases.

Having by now built up a considerable fanbase through their mailing list, Knightley, Beer and O’Farrell took the gamble of hiring London’s Royal Albert Hall for an evening in March 1996. The show, which featured various guest musicians, sold out in advance and generated the duo’s bestselling album to date (they repeated the venture successfully in 2001). Further studio albums have confirmed their reputation as one of the UK’s finest folk acts. In addition to Knightley’s songwriting ability and Beer’s instrumental virtuosity, the duo’s ability to take songs and make them their own is a particular strength. Two fine examples are interpretations of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and Jacques Brel / Mort Shuman’s ‘My Death’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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