Album & Single Reviews

Published on June 25th, 2014 | by Mike Ainscoe

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CENTENARY – Words & Music Of The Great War

The inevitable CD tie-in to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Great War is actually a rather splendid affair. Well thought out, tasteful and respectful, it stands as much more than just a collection of poetry and music of the era.  Spread across 2 CDs the combination of words and music is a unique tribute to add to the plethora of works based around the events of the Great War.

steve kThe first of the discs contains 22 poems read by Jim Carter, of Downton Abbey fame, and his wife Imelda Staunton, whose recognition may well come from her role as Delores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series. Simply out, their delivery on the selection of writing is exceptional. The emotional impact of the words of the war poets, the likes of who were writing directly from their own experience – words literally from the front – is both evocative and at times frighteningly chilling. Both Siegfried Sasson and Wilfred Owen are represented along with A.E.Houseman, whilst Laurence Binyan’s renowned ‘For The Fallen’ is reserved for the closing piece.  With only room for a small selection form the vast chronicle of literature, some of the strongest and memorable works are backed with some subtle musical accompaniment arranged by Jim’s former flat mate and musician friend, Steve Knightley.

Fans of the Blackadder series may  bemoan the  startling omission of Private Baldrick’s humble yet potent  ‘The German Guns’ (Boom, boom, boom, boom….) which appeared in the fourth series, but against the selections presented in Carter’s rich tones and the more fragile delivery of Imelda Staunton, there can’t be any complaints.

Having been involved in providing  narration for the ‘Tall Ships’ project  from Show Of Hands duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer some years back,  ‘Centenary’ proved a rare chance for Carter and Knightley to work together again. It is the second disc which showcases songs of both the period and some original material arranged and performed by Show Of Hands with their regular collaborator, Miranda Sykes and guests including folk luminaries Jackie Oates, Phillip Henry, Andy Cutting and Jim Causley.

Not only are there period favourites – ‘Goodbye-ee’, and ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’ amongst others, but the original songs by Steve Knightley are also in keeping with the theme and mood of the record. ‘Lads In Their Hundreds’ has a bigger arrangement in bringing to life Houseman’s words which are also represented on disc one. As well as Knightley’s own ‘The Gamekeeper’ which has been featuring in his repertoire in the past, there’s a touching low key take on ‘The Padre’, a song by Chris Hoban who teaches music in Exeter. Building up to the emotional big finish, the set closes appropriately with ‘Requiem’; the song including an excerpt from ‘For The Fallen’ read by the Carter/Staunton partnership which brings the set to a touching and poignant close.

Rather than the words and the music standing as two separate entities, they sit together naturally and remarkably well, providing an easy continuity across the whole package. Not to mince words, it’s a marvellous effort and one which pays tribute, or homage as we like to say at Sonic Bandwagon, to a time when such powerful sentiments arose from the terrible conflict. Lest we forget has never been more applicable. Prepare to be moved.

steve k 2Meanwhile………..somewhere in a village hall in deepest Lancashire on a warm early Summer evening, and having wrapped up his word on the ‘Centenary’ project, Steve Knightley could be found in the middle of his ‘grow your own gig’ tour. He’s currently on a mission to bring music to village halls round the country, eschewing the traditional theatres, and encouraging fans to find local venues to put on their own gigs. Hence the Langho and Billington Community Centre near Blackburn, which played host to our most local gig, and is one which gives hope and encouragement to the cottage industry which seems to be developing in the music industry, not only in producing recorded music, but in providing a platform for live music. Of course, there was also the ‘Off The Beaten Track’ Village Hall Setlist CD on sale for fans to take home a specially recorded memento of the songs played on the tour, but all power to the independent entrepreneur.

Regardless, the relaxed atmosphere and homely feel of the event made it seem quite special. While the likes of U2 may stick to their megadomes and stadia, there has to be much more artistic merit and gratification to playing music to the people as it was meant to be heard, albeit with a Dartmoor kitchen scene backdrop and through an impressive little hi tech PA system which doesn’t require several Edwin Shirley trucks to transport from town to town.

The performance from Mr K was as you (or at least fans of Show Of Hands) would expect superbly played on a variety of David Oddy’s beautifully constructed instruments and mixing the familiar with the less so; opening with his unplugged version of ‘Widdecombe Fair’ on the South American cuatro, a blast through ‘Longdog’ and  a slowed down version of the SoH anthem ‘Country Life’, delivering a couple of songs from the aforementioned  ‘Centenary’ album, and a couple of pieces from his solo work, most notably the marvellous ‘Cruel River’.  There’s always the element of realism and authenticity with Steve Knightley; his songs based round tales gathered from country pubs and larger than life characters from the villages and environs of the South West. With the tour set to continue well into 2015 and with a lengthy Autumn/Winter Show Of Hands tour on the calendar, the lot of this particular jobbing musician is in a healthy state of affairs.

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About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.



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