Thursday, 5 June 2014

Home Grown

I've always had an appreciation of folk music, its stayed there in the background of my being (like a guilty secret) alongside my love of rock, heavy metal and prog. The old songs tell a story, and if you drop your modern pretence of  supposed sophisication, they will touch your soul and resonate still. As a people we don't really change; the technology around us might, but out hopes, desires and dreams are the same since when we first stood upright.
A few years ago I used to play in a covers band. As well as classic rock we would cherry pick modern anthemic crowd pleasers, but around ten years ago, such modern songs that grabbed me (and were accessible beyond my tastes!) seemed to disappear off the radar. Meanwhile deep inside an old sound in my soul stirred again and I listened.
I went to see a singer songwriter and was captivated  by the sounds and tales told and instantly became (shock, horror!) a "folky". I hasten to add that there were no thick woolly jumpers or fingers in the ears!  I now endeavour to see this singer, Steve Knightley, at least twice a year; either playing solo or in his band Show of Hands with the ridiculously talented multi instrumentalist Phil Beer and the double bass and sweet vocals of Miranda Sykes, as they perform old and original songs.
It was with pleasure that I learned that he was due to play a stripped down solo show in Taunton during his Grow Your Own Gig tour. A suitably organic form of bringing music to the people, organised, literally, by the grass roots.  I grabbed a couple of tickets in anticipation. It was an added bonus that I'd finally be able to take my wife as well; it would make a change from annoying her playing SoH CDs in the car everytime I get behind the wheel.
The gig took place in a newly built school hall. It was very civilised, instead of my usual cider I had a cup of tea... I've never had a cuppa at a gig before! We took our seats (in the front row no less!). Steve had a backdrop of a country kitchen with his hand made weapons of choice on stands - Guitar, Tenor Guitar, Cello Mandolin and Cuatro.
Steve came on, recovering from a summer cold but still strong of voice, testing the acoustics of the room without amplification or instrument, singing Low Down in the Broom. He seemed a little subdued at first, as he gauged his audience, but soon was in his stride regaling us with anecdotes that linked the songs together, as well as the inspiration he found as a young man listening to Bob Dylan. Some of the first half's highlights included Cruel River, a song of the River Dart (every year it claims a heart), Red Diesel a song of a Dorset man called Terry; the kind of down to earth countryman you'd want in your corner and  in your pub darts' team. We listened to the haunting Reynardine, a warning that not all men are of honourable intent, and the hillarious Yeovil Town, a true story of fear, threats of violence and fish & chips!
During the second half Steve reminded us that as West Country folk, under our modern facades, we are still looters and pirates with the song Napoli. We learnt of the ways of poachers with Long Dog, were treated to a Dylan/Pink mashup with Try/Boots of Spanish Leather which was really well done and seamless (we were even told that even his daughter appreciated it!). The usually angry Country Life (a SoH favourite) was stripped down, becoming instead a lament; where would Terry play darts, now all the pubs have closed down? Armed with his Cello Mandolin (hand made by David Oddy in Exeter) Steve performed an exquisite version of Twas on one April's Morning. Steve played one song as an encore, the seemingly ever resonant Arrogance Ignorance and Greed about the ongoing banking crisis. As an extra treat Steve managed to have both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen guest on a couple of verses... well if you closed your eyes it could have been them!
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and highly recommended. I'm forgetting a lot of the other songs performed such as The Keeper (very apt with the centenary of WW1 this year) and Home to a Million Thoughts (a song commisioned by Exeter Museum) but alas I didn't nick the set list from the stage which I usually do! We had heard funny stories, (not all at the expense of Phil Beer!) and a fine selection of traditional and original songs performed to Steve's usual high standard, some of which we were all invited to sing along to.
A personal highlight was that even my wife sang along too, as she said later "She knew the songs." Heh heh, and another secret folky is born!

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