Show of Hands – Coventry Cathedral
By Pete Clemons
Concerts in cathedrals are usually extraordinary events. The acoustics, the lighting, the ambiance, you just sense in advance that the proceedings in hand are going to be very special indeed.
And this was certainly the case when one of the leading lights of the current British folk scene, Show of Hands, performed there recently. Singer song writer Steve Knightley, multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer and double bass player Miranda Sykes performed an impressive set that was both conducive and respectful of the surroundings. By that I mean there were none of the more raucous anthemic type tunes that Show of Hands are also capable of delivering.
Show of Hands was concluding a recent tour that has taken them into a mix of houses of sanctuary and other ancient buildings up and down the country. And this tour also took in the, relatively, more modern setting of Coventry’s ‘new’ cathedral.
The audience size, for what I saw beforehand as a weakly advertised gig, was quite impressive. There was a sizable crowd present to witness this performance.
The gig itself opened up in unique fashion as Steve Knightley slowly made his way up the centre aisle, toward the tapestry and stage, from the rear of the cathedral, with both Phil and Miranda approaching him from the direction of stage left and right respectively. Together, and acapella, they sang ‘The Old Lych Way’, a dark tale of Dartmoor. Their combined voices reverberated spectacularly around the cavernous building.
The band then took to the stage and went straight into a song about quarrymen followed called ‘The Preacher’. And this kind of set the theme for the evening. Set mainly in the corner of England that the band originates from you heard stories of lives and experiences, from a time when people lived and worked off the land and dug out the minerals.
But as always in folk music, there is also a time for compassion and love. And this came in the form of ‘Smile She Said’ and ‘No Secrets’ which also happens to be the title of a book the band have just released that celebrates the Show of Hands history.
During the concert song writer Steve Knightley clearly displayed an affinity with Coventry as he recalled his days of studying at the Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) where he gained a degree. He touched on the days when he ran the folk club there, his rooms of residence being a ‘safe house’ for other musicians travelling through the area. And he remembered well the ‘Parsons Nose’ fish and chip shop and surrounding area where he recalled that it was best to beat yourself up first before you got beaten up anyway.
The band finished off their set in a similar way to which they had started. This time it was an acapello version of ‘Keep Hauling’ where, to be fair, they did encourage audience participation with the chorus. It was a fine ending to a very memorable gig.
Credit must also go to support artist Kirsty Merryn who possesses a delightful voice that, not only accompanied Steve Knightley on one of his songs, but had him doing likewise on one of hers. Kirsty was plugging her debut album ‘She and I’ which celebrates the past lives of prominent women. And she also took advantage of the wonderful acoustics that our wonderful cathedral possesses.
Buildings like these were designed for singing and musical performance. We can only hope that the cathedral continues to further open its doors to encourage the more popular variety to a wider audience.