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Show of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall

Link: Royal Albert Hall | Royal Albert Hall.

SteveandphilWhat a room! It was my first time there and I have to say that the Albert Hall is worth a visit in its own right.  Show of Hands put on a good evening's entertainment too, together with an assortment of guests (including Tom Robinson of TRB fame - an unexpected reminder of student days).

I went to see the concert entirely on the strength of Show of Hands' YouTube hit, "Roots" and their latest album, "Witness," but I enjoyed most of their other stuff too. Phil Beer is a great musician and Steve Knightley is a gently charismatic performer. The unofficial third member of the group, Miranda Sykes, is hugely talented. Her solo rendition of "Perfect" was an unexpected highlight. However, the evening left me with mixed feelings.

I have a weakness for folk music but am often repelled by the English variety. At its worst it tends to nostalgia, whingeing and naive soft-Leftishness. I love "Roots"  in part because it is an assertive, if not actually an aggressive, song, It's not the usual maudlin lament for poorer, nobler times.

Reading through the posts on various folk websites, I can see the song provokes strong feelings. Many folk fundamentalists cannot mention it without dark and unjustified references to the BNP. These are people who can only love an England that was never there. The unhealthy confusion of patriotism with xenophobia is one of the main things wrong with modern England. She can never prosper until her people can love her again, without shame.

I had briefly hoped "Roots" was a sign that might be about to happen. Certainly, when Steve Knightley sings

I've lost St George in the Union Jack; it's my flag too and I want it back

there is a real frisson. The song almost has the potential to be a revolutionary anthem against the Scottish Raj. One could imagine Gordon Brown being lynched from a Westminster lampost while an English crowd sang

Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than we'll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England

Any revolutionary fantasies were soon quelled, however, by the sight of the crowd. The SOH fan-base is made up of all the Guardian-reading aunts you have ever known. It's a family entirely composed of be-fleeced or be-cardiganned mumsy teachers. And that's just the men. Our relief when the house lights went down turned to amusement as acres of steel-grey hair shimmered gently in the footlights. And then, dear God, they started to move to the music. The song that brought us there poses a question;

The Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It's in their blood, below their belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?

The answer seems to be that they have rhythm, while we twitch in an embarrassing manner.

Mrs P and I felt like intruders. We had sat down, uninvited, in an enormous staff room during an NUT strike meeting. We had a childish urge to shout obscenities, not least because these kindly, boring people  were lamenting the loss of the country they had themselves destroyed. Is that harsh? Perhaps. But I would bet good money that a majority of those swaying spastically in the Albert Hall last night vote Labour. They were not girding their loins to retake England for free-minded yeomen, alas. I suspect their nostalgia is more for 1946, when the dreams of Labourism had yet to be shattered.

As we set off into the night to find a taxi, they boarded their buses back to the provinces, or picked up their Audis from the car parks. They were not comfortable in London. We know how that feels. We remember being just such awkward provincials once.We are glad we aren't any more.

They couldn't wait to get back to their England. The quest for ours continues.


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I saw SOH a couple of years ago supporting the Oyster Band, who are a bit leftie but they do dedicate one of their songs to Tom Paine.

The audience was a bit harder-edged than the one you describe but it was Kentish Town.


Not wrath - "folky wrath", i.e. corduroy-trousered crabbiness, not the wrath of God. The difference is rather like that between between honest-to-God sarcasm and your twee "my goodness" actually. B^)

In fairness to the SOH massive, I felt just as uncomfortable at a Rod Stewart concert among the blue rinsed mullets and foul-mouthed chaviness of his fans. I still like Rod's and SOH's music, despite not fitting in well with their respective fanbases. I am a big Johnny Cash fan too and though I enjoyed visiting with the folks there (and even bought a Stetson) I wouldn't want to live in Nashville.

It's about the music isn't it, not the tribalism? Or am I wrong?


My goodness, if those couple of comments qualify as "wrath" to you, you must have a thin skin indeed.


I have, predictably, attracted folky wrath over at the Show of Hands forum "Longdogs" ( They seem to have seen it as an attack on the middle-aged, middle class nature of the audience. The slightest attention to the text (how old do you have to be for Tom Robinson to have featured in your student days?) would have disclosed that my wife and I fitted right in, at least in that respect.

They are linking to Sabretache (, Guido Fawkes ( and myself; describing us as "loonies" from "from the same general part of the political spectrum." Also as "splinter groups." The general mistaken impression seems to be that we are from far right groups (although I was honoured with the faint praise "slightly less disturbing").

Is England so far gone that any dissenters from New Labour orthodoxy are "splinter groups" then? It's remarkable, too, that the people involved in the discussion are unaware that Guido is the author of Britain's biggest political website. You come away from the discussion with the distinct impression that he's some fascist nutter. Perhaps they work for Newsnight? B^)


Shame I missed it, some folkies have lost what England is about, whilst other have not. I remember bellowing out 'Babylon has fallen' with a hundred others in a pub in Northamptonshire twenty five years ago, an English Civil War song about England and the destruction of the Scottish Stuarts and the Court Party- it was good to be English then.

Ian Grey

I've just noticed that Phil Beer is performing with Miranda Sykes Friday week in Halifax, so I'll be going to that...

Ian Grey

The Albert is a stunning venue, full of history. I've worked there on shows a few times and have had the thrilling experience of standing up in the oculus of the dome, looking down through the mesh to the acres of seats below.

Witness is a cracking album, however I also bought the double album and felt it wasn't as good, having failed to warm to it after several listens. (On Witness, however, it gets better every time).

I vaguely considered going to the gig but the mini-cruise clashed. Having read your review, the audience sounds like the Viz "modern parents" outing and I would have squirmed to have been there.

I would have liked to have seen Miranda performing though, she appears to be very talented with a great voice & a great playing style.

Colin Campbell

Very touching post. I used to cycle over to the Albert Hall when I lived in London in the late 1970s. I saw a great variety of things, mostly from high up, where I could afford tickets. One of the highlights was the 1812 overture. Those people you describe sound like my parents, except that they are Scottish.

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