A year and a half on from Show of Hands Royal Albert Hall show in April 2017, the British folk titans returned to London midway through their 2018 winter tour to a venue perhaps slightly less famous, but no less atmospheric in Islington’s Union Chapel. Despite a slightly rude non-welcome from the venue staff and the discovery that the venue no longer allows drinks in the auditorium, the beautiful surroundings and atmospheric setting ensured that the almost-full audience were in for a treat as Phil Beer stepped up onto the stage as full of warm humour as ever to explain Miranda’s absence due to maternity leave, and welcome on Norwich-based support act Alden, Patterson & Dashwood (8). They began their set with some good harmonic vocal introductions, before launching into a musical line-up of violin, guitar, and dobro which worked well for an enjoyable string-based sound. They employed a good level of audience interaction, and a confident vocal delivery lead to a consistently bright and pleasant set from the support.
Cormac (Byrne) took the stage first for Show of Hands’ (8) headline set; a little unusual for the newest musical collaborator to the core duo to be the first up, but a steady percussion build-up with eventual mandolin accompaniment from Phil Beer got the audience used to the new sound quickly as Steve Knightley appeared on the other side of the stage to launch the band into audience favourite, “Cousin Jack”. The chorus singalong from the audience was as strongly boisterous as ever, before “Country Life” and other live staples were brought alive anew by the combination of Byrne’s percussion element and the setting of Union Chapel.
A little further into the set, the new material from an upcoming album due next year began to make an appearance. The new songs were received slightly hesitantly by the crowd at first, as is to be expected, especially with some more experimental Asian and Caribbean influences that the typical British folk audience would not be used to. However, by a few songs in the reception was still warm from the audience, and the banter onstage helped make them just as fun as ever from the musicians. It quickly became clear just how many new experimental things were possible with Show of Hands’ music with the addition of a more permanent percussion player, and their shows next year as a four-piece once Miranda Sykes rejoins the band should be well worth looking forward to if this tour is just a sampler of what is to come.
Show of Hands blasted through old songs, new songs, and even a tune set – experimenting as much as possible yet still remaining true to the core roots of the sound that has made them so beloved to many, something that many bands struggle to achieve but Show of Hands pull off seemingly effortlessly time and time again. Whooping and cheering from the rafters throughout all of Phil Beer’s solos cemented the prediction that a Saturday night in London would be a boisterous one, and the band responded with a particularly energetic performance of “The Galway Farmer” to finish off the main set before a slightly calmer encore of “The Train / Blackwaterside”, proving that even so far into their career, Show of Hands remain a band worth seeing live for anyone interested in UK acoustic music.