Show Of Hands – Battlefield Dance Floor: Album Review

Release Date: 27th September 2019

Label:  Proper Records

Formats: CD, DL

A new batch of songs from the new, expanded Show Of Hands. For now they are four.

We may be used to seeing the core pairing of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer take on board Miranda Sykes for their live shows and even strip things back to a duo, but adding ace percussionist Cormac Byrne to the line-up has been an inspired move. A regular contributor to the sounds of Seth (Lakeman) he’s defected along the South East coast to add his considerable talents and become the icing on the cake for Show Of Hands. And what a difference the patter of his rhythms can make.

Battlefield Dance Floor – a reference to the night before revelry that precedes a battle and where the title track sees their Bhangra meets Morris fusion – finds the bulk of songs emerging from the pen of Steve Knightley. That military theme is picked up with the solemn march of Swift And Bold as his trademark themes of displacement and despair combines with the poignant and the dryly observed.

The quartet comes supplemented in the studio by the keyboards of Matt Clifford, not for the first time,  giving the occasional song a radio sheen and Gerry Diver raids his instrument box to add his fingerprint to  Kirsty Merryn’s Forfarshire. It’s a return of favours as Knightley played on Merryn’s original version. As well as the rich sonic tapestry they weave, Show Of Hands indulge again in a crossing of cultures with Johnny Kalsi and Shahid Khan adding a vein of snaking Eastern magic that adds breadth and diversity to the more familiar rollicking choruses from the Bridge Hill Shandy Men on the title track.

Knightley’s confident, comfortable delivery dominates on his own songs and of course they’ve never been averse to a cover or two. Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan gets treated to a sprightly shuffle while Beer and Sykes both get their moment in the spotlight with lead vocals. The former taking on Richard Shindell’s classic road song, Next Best Western. A writer whose songs they’ve worked up in the past, the key line of “Good Lord deliver me to the next Best Western” is a wry comment on the American touring lifestyle. He also finds his voice on Adrian Mannering’s My True Love that gets committed to tape (or the digital equivalent) after years of being in the repertoire.

And then there’s the all-things-Cornish romp that is Dreckley – including the cream or jam first on the scone dealbreaker  – and we wonder why they didn’t seek that other well known Cornish pair of Hedluv & Passman to help them in doing it dreckley.

The bottom line is that the Show Of Hands longevity finds them as reliable as ever on an album that’s been hinted as having more of a commercial bent. Hang on though – let’s not deny the fact that Steve Knightley could always write a good chorus. He’s commented that Battlefield Dance Floor finds them “at last creating a sound we’ve been dreaming of making for twenty-five years.” Question is: what took you so long!?

Listen to Lost here:

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