Exmouth? It needs a heart, says Show Of Hands' Steve Knightley...

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By PGStrange | Thursday, December 01, 2011, 15:49

FOLK LEGENDS Show Of Hands – featuring Steve Knightley who attended school in Exmouth – conclude their autumn UK tour this Saturday with a headlining show in Exeter. How's the tour been going for the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards double winners, what makes them tick, how are they coping after nearly 20 years together and what does Steve think of Exmouth? PAUL STRANGE caught up with the Show Of Hands' frontman to find out…

This Saturday's gig at Exeter University's Great Hall is the final date of your autumn tour. How have the shows been going?

They've been surprisingly successful, actually. I know some acts are suffering in terms of audience numbers, but it's good. We've been up to full houses and very well received so yes, we've been delighted.

Are you looking forward to Saturday's show?

Of course. It's the Great Hall, and that's a place I've been going to since I was a kid to see some really big names, so to go there and fill it up in your own right feels like you're getting somewhere…

What can we expect?

The usual. The pick of the songs, you know? A couple of new things. A fantastic support artist – Richard Shindell from America – playing first, and then us doing our usual festival set…

You were terrific at September's show at the Exmouth Pavilion with the Exmouth Shantymen…

That's good, because that's where I started playing – on Exmouth's seafront – so it's nice to be back there again.

Exmouth has quite a thriving musical scene…

Yes, I used to play The Famous Old Barrel a lot. I've been there with Chris Stuckey and a couple of the people who have been working with us – Phil Henry and Hannah Martin – they're based in Exmouth, so yeah, we know them. It's a good scene. It always has been…

You attended school in Exmouth. How often do you visit the town?

I'm down in the town every Saturday morning. I take the kids to the beach and walk the dog. I've got family in Exmouth – my sister is there, nieces, nephews and relatives.

What do you think of Exmouth?

It needs a heart to it, something like a Rolle College or an educational establishment. It needs some life to it, like the students, lecturers and the teachers brought, so hopefully that site will be developed along the right lines. I love coming to Exmouth, I still think the landscape is great, but it needs constantly refreshing with new businesses and new things… Exmouth is like lots of little towns… they are feeling the pinch.

Do you think the new-look Strand is an improvement?

I do actually. I wasn't convinced it was going to work, but we sat out there having lunch in the summer for one of relative's birthdays, and it was quite nice. It's not radical, but it's better than it was. I mean they could knock down the Magnolia Centre…  that would be the biggest improvement… start again there. It's the worst of urban development.., there used to be a lovely little market square there when I was a kid. I know it became a car park, but the potential you could have had for an open square… There used to be a music shop there I used to go to…

Next year you're celebrating 20 years of working with multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer in Show Of Hands. What have you learnt from working together over the years?

We've really learnt how to do this thing… how to play, stagecraft, how to put together a set, put together a business more than anything, how to cultivate relationships with people so that they continue to come back and see you. It's not for me to comment on the music – that's for the people to judge – but certainly we know how to organize this now. You have to be self-contained, you have to be a cottage industry … Just because the music is important to you, it doesn't mean it has to be important for anybody else, so you've just got to keep plugging away.

And what have learnt about Phil?

Oh, just to leave him alone… we just give each other space! We can go for a six-hour drive without saying anything. We don't rehearse as such, we just meet at gigs and socialize in Topsham when we see each other, so yeah, we know how to give each other space. I provide the bulk of the material and Phil provides the decoration around it, so we've got a good working relationship. I know what he'll do next… I can more or less predict his behaviour, but I haven't got a clue any more than when we were 15 why he does things, but that's fine… he has his life, and I have mine.

And what do you think Phil has learnt about you?

You'll have to ask him about that! He knows which chord I'm going to play next more than anything else, and yes, I think he knows how I'm going to react to things. We know each other's social and culinary skills… we don't party too much, we're very reliable and dependable, and we don't cancel gigs, so yeah, we're a solid team.

What have you learnt about the music business over the years?

Just to do your own thing really. It's full of idiots, full of people who are friends of friends of friends who promise you lots and lots of stuff and it never comes to anything. It seems to attract an awful lot of people who want to be associated with it. It's just about making money. It's best to stay away from it. Make your own business. Make your own music if you can, and just try and build a relationship with an audience. You're not passing through – there's no shelf life on this music. You're here for the long run.

Do you think the music business has changed over the years?

At the cutting end of it, there are still as many young people who want people to clap them. There has never been so much music around. Obviously there are different ways of disseminating it now – the internet, through digital – but there are still plenty of people who just want to stand on stage and make music for people and there's the petrol of the whole thing. You talk about the good old days. OK, bands were given more time to learn skills, but that was only so the record company could hopefully make more money from them at the end of the day. It's not a social service, and anybody who thinks it is, is in for a disappointment.

After 20 years' together, will Show Of Hands continue?

Yeah, of course… it's like jazz or blues, you can play this music forever, you can play it until you can't play any more. It's my job!

Show Of Hands play Exeter University's Great Hall on Saturday 3 December. Tickets are £17 and are available in person from the Exeter Phoenix (01392 667080), and online from Exeter Box Office.



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