A promise kept
Flossie, Darlo and l'exception française (1)

Hands together please

Picture: Brian_Miller

Show of Hands Roots: The Best of Show of Hands (Hands On Records)

If a fair measure of the worth of an artist is whether his, her or their work leaves people feeling happier, then Show of Hands are pretty much a class apart.

Seated at the Albert Hall, standing in an Oxfordshire field or (perhaps more rarely these days) jostling for space in a crowded pub, the listener invariably finds a great deal of happiness. And with each of these experiences, I am lucky to count myself familiar.

Who is Roots, a double CD trawl through a magnificent 15-year career, aimed at? Show of Hands fans are a loyal bunch. If they will fill a grand Kensington hall three times over, they are unlikely to find any song here that they do not already possess.

But they will still buy it in droves, partly because such followers have a weakness for completeness and partly because they will persuade themselves the new versions of We Alright?, Exile, Crow on the Cradle and Santiago make the purchase price worth paying in any case.

In my own case, it is much easier to want this pair of albums very badly. I own quite a lot of Show of Hands material but the collection remains patchy, not least because complex personal circumstances mean it is divided between three locations thousands of miles apart.

There is also something rather moving about sitting in a hotel room far from loved ones and being reminded of the sort of England that Show of Hands champion, or would if they could somehow bring it about.

When I listen to the superb title song, I am taken straight back to Cropredy and the profound impression made on me by the sheer enthusiasm of a tall bearded man, no younger than me, as I watched him belt out the great line: "It's my flag too and I want it back."

He wasn't the only person singing along, and that is hardly surprising when you consider the truly anthemic quality of Steve Knightley songs, Phil Beer's sensational musicianship and - lately - Miranda Sykes's exemplary support (what an inadequate word thinking back, and hearing her again now).

Let us also acclaim the striking interpretations of traditional songs; whether the Cockade was Blue or White, it's a fine song, delivered with real panache.

So the record is for me, just as it is for the want-it-all collectors. It is also beyond doubt a terrific introduction to the duo - band would be more accurate even if Knightley and Beer were on their own - for those less aware of what the fuss is about. And of course, in a deeper way, it's for Steve's little lad as he battle leukaemia. If only dad's music could cure as well as its inspires.

One mischievous West Country memory did occur as I listened to Cousin Jack. Knightley sings of tin miners scouring the world for work while the "English" buy their homes and the Spanish fish their seas. Back in the 1980s, it used to be said that the most common sights on the back of locally-owned cars in Cornwall were signs proclaiming "I'm not a tourist, I live here" - and caravan tow bars.

But I defy anyone to listen to the song and not succumb to the temptation to bellow out the chorus.


Sir Robert Peel

I think you have captured the essence of the Hands' enduring appeal, Sir Colin.
'Roots' provides a very good introduction to them, while pulling a few rabbits out of the hat for the discerning devotees.
The artwork and the accompanying booklet are topping, too. (If rather small for a man of my infirmities). Let's have CD liner notes reproduced on websites, I say.

Your humble and obedient servant,
Sir Robert Peel

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