Image Credit: Bob Greaves
“If you only agreed to come along on the agreement it wouldn’t be “too folky” then at this point I apologise” quipped local singer-songwriter Steve Knightley as he played Exeter’s Phoenix on 26th January. The creative force and voice behind British roots band Show of Hands, Knightley gave a mesmerising performance as he continues to tour the UK as a solo artist.
The first of his “two-act” performance mirrored the theme of new album All At Sea which, surprisingly, is a work of maritime folk tales. Opening with the title track and a banner of the album cover behind him, Knightley stood on an otherwise bare stage surrounded by an array of stringed guitar-like instruments. This first half included songs from the new album and other works, some from previous solo albums and a handful of Show of Hands tracks. Upbeat tunes such as Napoli, a telling of the infamous salvaging of a run aground ship on Branscombe Bay, perfectly contrasted sombre works including Show of Hands classic The Dive, the story of an East Devon boy emerging from a dive to find his father’s boat has drifted miles away. Knightley’s focus on local tales engrossed an audience in total awe of his mastery of his range of instruments, which Knightley was keen to point out all came from an independent local craftsman. For those unaware of any of Knightley’s work, a slow folky cover of (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay was highly innovative and enjoyable.
As with all great performers, Knightley was comfortable on stage and his anecdotes were both funny and moving. He quickly moved from amusing tales of life on the road as a “folky” to a story regarding his work on the 19420 Shrouds Battle of the Somme memorial, leading into The Keeper, a song following a gamekeeper sent to fight in the WWI battle. These insights gave new life to Knightley’s songs, even for the oldest of fans who’ve followed him around his south-western tours. However, Knightley’s vocal skills don’t simply extend to engrossing speech, as an a cappella version of The Galway Farmer proved – a track normally using a frantic fiddle solo to capture the atmosphere of a horse race was carried expertly by Knightley’s gruff yet melodic tones.
Knightley concluded the gig with a string of well-known Show Of Hand favourites. After an amusing anecdote regarding the Devonshire poacher, the audience were led into an energetic rendition of Longdog. The emotional Cousin Jack then held the audience in total silence throughout the evocative piece. A short encore provided a medley of Bruce Springsteen’s Downbound Train worked into the highly political Country Life. The angry protest song was executed with its usual spite and hatred at the eroding of rural ways of life; “No one marched or subsidised/ To save a country way of life.”
Knightley once again reinforced his place as one of the UK’s best folk artists. His talented writing is made even better by his mastery of his instruments and confidence on stage. It is a combination which is rarely seen nowadays – attending a Steve Knightley gig is highly recommended next time he is visits your local venue.