Show of Hands if there’s a top folk band in town?

Show Of Hands

Show Of Hands

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My favourite fact about Show of Hands – the folk/acoustic band playing Blackpool’s Grand Theatre tomorrow – is that in 2006 they were voted Greatest Ever Devonians.

In landing this honour they beat off competition from Sir Francis Drake, Charles Babbage (considered the inventor of the computer) and Agatha Christie, not to mention the multi-million selling pop group Muse.

“Ah,” laughs Phil Beer, one-half of Show of Hands, “that result wasn’t quite as it seems.

“You know how it is, some bright sparks in the PR department at councils sit around thinking of ways to try and create a bit of public interest and they kicked off this thing about getting people to vote for their favourite ever people from Devon.

“But the thing is that we have always been pretty big on the internet. We were one of the first bands to really tap into it and get our own site up and we’ve got a huge following.

“So this thing goes out and of course all our fans reacted and started piling in votes.

“I’m not sure who was more surprised that we won – us or the people at Devon County Council. Actually, probably them because they’d never heard of us!”

If the folk at the council hadn’t heard of Show of Hands then they ought to be ashamed of themselves. They have been one of the most successful bands on the folk and acoustic roots scene for the last two decades and counting.

Multi-instrumentalist Phil and Steve Knightly – who writes and sings most of the songs – have performed around the world since the early 90s (Sharing stages with the likes of Ralph McTell), won folk awards galore, and have sold a huge number of records, albums such as Beat About The Bush and Lie of the Land rapturously received by the critics.

Unlike most bands, though, they seem, if anything to be getting even more popular as time goes by. Last record Wake the Union, their 12th studio album, was their biggest selling yet.

The band are now heading out on a tour of theatres that includes a night at the Grand, which leads Phil to let slip what he calls a guilty secret.

“I love Blackpool and over the years I’ve quietly slipped off there to spend a bit of time,” he revealed.

“Whenever I had three or four days free I would head there, stay in a funny little guesthouse, go on all the fairground rides, wander around, eat fish and chips – it is just a fun place and I also think it’s got some extremely interesting architecture.

“It will be nice to actually go there and play a concert because we’ve not been there for a long while, probably not since we supported Ralph McTell.

“I remember the Grand though, a beautiful venue, and I’m looking forward to getting back.”

For those not au fait with the band’s music, the early stuff was very pastoral, songs about where the band grew up (in the rolling countryside of Devon) and hugely influenced by traditional folk.

In recent years there has been more or a political edge to the band’s writing (go to Youtube and check out Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed for a good example).

Phil is 60, Steve 59 and they are joined on stage these days by double-bassist Miranda Sykes. It’s clear they still love what they do.

“We’re lucky because I think a lot of bands have a natural cycle of about five or six years,” said Phil.

“That’s when we had a sticky point. We were doing ridiculously long tours, 70 or so gigs in one go, and it felt like being on a treadmill.

“But we got through that and now we’re at a stage where next year, for the first time, we are actually in a position to be able to have a little break.”

Before that, though, there’s a tour to do. Catch Show Of Hands in Blackpool tomorrow. Tickets priced £19 and further information from www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk