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Show of Hands
The backstage corridors of the Civic Theatre in Doncaster were treated to some fine Appalachian Mountain music tonight as Canadian Leonard Podolak and American Matt Gordon rehearsed their set in a small dressing room tucked behind the stage. I was hanging around waiting to interview Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, who along with double bassist Miranda Sykes, were busy doing their sound check on stage. The Duhks' 5 string claw hammer banjo player and his New York-based fiddle playing partner were standing in the middle of the room, not only playing like there was no tomorrow, but also simultaneously going through some step dancing routines as well. The backstage area was alive with energy as the duo worked out their set with various sound techs and stage hands milling around preparing for tonight's concert.
Shortly afterwards the three musicians that make up Show of Hands joined the North American duo in their tiny dressing room, Miranda squeezing her double bass through the door, undecided whether the tune required plucking or bowing, before the five musicians proceeded to run through the traditional Coo Coo Bird in a sort of mini-Transatlantic Session. The song would eventually close the show a few hours later.
It was encouraging to see a prominent acoustic music act kick off their Autumn tour at the Civic, a 90 year-old theatre normally associated with light entertainment such as the annual panto, an assortment of hypnotists and mediums, a plethora of tribute acts, not to mention Jimmy Cricket and Danny La Rue. Dumbing down has always been a major flaw in the local live scene and with recent appearances by Spiers and Boden, The Blues Band and now Show of Hands, the theatre's twilight years may just have regained some credibility with the efforts of the Hothouse Festival together with the exciting prospect of a new £20 million arts and entertainment building just around the corner ready to replace the old Arcadia in the Spring.
Leonard Podolak and Matt Gordon opened proceedings with a lively set, which included a variety of traditional Appalachian Mountain songs and tunes, together with some nifty step dancing or Appalachian clog dancing; I'm no expert in these things, but either way it looked energetic. With Leonard's seventeen-year background in North American Folk music, his father Mitch Podolak being a co-founder of Home Routes and the Winnipeg Folk Festival and New Yorker Matt's exciting fiddle and harmonica playing, the duo brought something of a contrast to the music of Show of Hands. The ancient hand-clap dancing known as ham-boning, which goes back to the slave days, also brought an element of fun to the set.
The bulk of Show of Hands' set centred around the new songs from WAKE THE UNION, the duo's new album release, which forms a musical bridge between their own British musical roots and that of their American cousins, hence the inclusion of Leonard and Matt on the tour. The set opened with the opening song from the new album Haunt You, co-written by Steve Knightley and Seth Lakeman and adopting the usual Show of Hands melodic drive, essentially a perfect opener. Other new songs included the wry Stop Copying Me, Cruel River Company Town and Home To a Million Thoughts, all pretty much getting a first airing.
In the spirit of the aforementioned Transatlantic Sessions, Leonard and Matt were invited on stage with Show of Hands a couple of times during the concert, with all five musicians performing Aunt Maria, the song that Steve Knightley and Leonard Podolak first collaborated on as part of the Cecil Sharp Project at last year's Shrewsbury Folk Festival and with Leonard doing an eerie walk-on coda to the haunting Chris Hoban song Katrina. Although the new songs made up the bulk of the set, some older songs are essential to any Show of Hands performance, audience favourites such as Country Life, Roots and Cousin Jack, as well as the topical Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed, all of which were performed with passion tonight and with no sign of just going through the motions.
Finishing with the anthemic Now You Know, again from the new record, despite the song having been part of the duo's live set for the past two years, the band returned to the stage this time with Leonard and Matt once again for a fine interpretation of Coo Coo Bird, which appears on the duo's album THREE THIN DIMES, before the headliners concluding with King of the World. A good start to the current tour and a fine night for music in Doncaster.