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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, November 27, 2004
    Show of Hands
     
    This feels like 'real' music; relatively unmediated. Many of us at The Lowry's Show of Hands gig tonight were there because friends had brought us. We know, because the band sussed us out from the stage. And many others were there because years ago they heard two men singing songs in the best folk tradition - earthy, connected, raw, radical and deeply lyrical - but with originality and vigour. And kept coming back to see them again and again.

    This didn't feel like a folk gig, earnest and self-referential; nor a rock gig, showy and self-important. It felt like two hours to enjoy and appreciate music, with craftsmen Steve Knightley and Phil Beer well-complimented by bassist / singer Miranda Sykes, all seeming to be thoroughly enjoying playing to a full house on Salford docks.

    The Lowry's just across the canal from Old Trafford, a reminder that in one of their more recent songs Show of Hands sing, "Only back United if / It's where you're from or where you've lived." Which puts them into a commonsense category missing from much public discourse these days. Tonight they performed Cold Heart of England, hard words about the state of our small country towns - closed-down High Street family businesses replaced by grey out-of-town supermarkets, as they've seen first hand from their West Country homes. Common sense and common knowledge, which sadly few of us care enough to challenge. Thankfully through these artists the voice of protest still lives.

    They spoke respectfully through the evening about various people - long-standing fans, unsung heroes of our times, fellow-musicians. My heart jumped when Phil began speaking of Sydney Carter, writer of Lord of the Dance, who died earlier this year. As Phil pointed out, Carter did much more besides pen that celebrated, complex, hymn: he was a leading figure in CND and the folk revival movement of the 1960s. Show of Hands are keeping alive one of his finest protest songs, the haunting Crow On The Cradle:

    The sheep's in the meadow, the cows in the corn
    Now is the time for a child to be born
    He'll laugh at the moon and he'll cry for the sun
    And it it's a boy he can carry a gun
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    And if it should be that this baby's a girl
    Never you mind if her hair doesn't curl
    With rings on her fingers, bells on her toes
    And a bomber above her wherever she goes
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    Crow on the cradle the black and the white
    Somebody's baby is born for a fight
    Crow on the cradle the white and the black
    Some body's baby is not coming back
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    Bring me my gun and I'll shoot that bird dead
    That's what your mother and father have said
    Crow on the cradle what shall we do
    Now there's a thing that I leave up to you
    Sang the crow on the cradle
    Sang the crow on the cradle