Event review: Steve Knightley plays Stanley Halls, South Norwood, Friday 17th March

By - Thursday 23rd March, 2017

A memorable night of folk music at Stanley Halls

Photo author’s own.

My husband Steve and I went to the Stanley Halls in South Norwood a few days’ ago to see singer-songwriter Steve Knightley, who we have known for years, doing one of his solo gigs. Steve is also part of the Show of Hands partnership, with Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes.

At fourteen, he began playing acoustic guitar at Exmouth school. It was there that he met long-time friend and musical collaborator Paul Downes. Together they began playing songs from the Penguin Book of Folk Songs.

From 1987, Steve worked with Phil Beer, when Beer was still in the Albion Band. and in 1991 what was to be the phenomenally successful collaboration, Show of Hands, was formed. In 1992, the duo got together with a group of exiled Chilean musicians and released an album under the name Alianza.

A gravel-voiced spokesman of the rural poor

Steve is renowned for his strong, trademark narrative songs which reflect the escapades, hopes and fears not only of people in his native West Country but beyond. He pulls no punches when writing highly literate songs about bigger, global issues. He has been described as ‘the gravel-voiced spokesman of the rural poor’ and possesses a vast repertoire of songs about those who live and work in the countryside. He has also written many songs of seafarers and wreckers, travellers and traders, pirates and smugglers and has produced a CD entitled All At Sea.

The first half of the evening was dedicated to maritime songs and in between these a lot of humour. ‘I’ll haunt you’ is a song that would fill one with dread. Here the man is at sea and after a year a letter arrives shattering all his plans. She has set him free and changed her name. He tells her he is going to haunt her. He will whisper curses in her ear and she will have to live in fear – scary stuff!

‘The Napoli’ is a song about piracy. The boat runs aground and the gangs come and help themselves to everything they can get hold of. No coppers on the shore either! Another song about wrecking is ‘Tall Ships’. People are looking for a storm in the sky and praying for a rich wreck, as they have no food or wine and the wreck is all they need.

The songs are still going round in my head

The second half was about rural things. I think the most exciting song in this set was ‘Galway Farmer’, which Steve sang unaccompanied. It is about a farmer from Galway who saves up £2,000 each year to cross the sea to England and put a bet on a horse. He always comes back a poorer man. One night he dreams about a coal black mare with a white star crest that crosses the line and beats the rest and enables him to go back rich to Galway. He arises the next morning and drives all day, gets to Cheltenham, spends three days in the viewing ring and then a coal black mare with a white star crest appears and its name is Galway Bay at 20 to 1. He counts out the £2,000 and makes his wager. The song describes how the horse eventually goes faster and faster and Steve’s singing becomes faster, so that one feels as though one is there, and the horse comes home a winner!

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and the songs are still going round and round in my head. We purchased the CD and are playing it again and again. Incidentally, Steve will be playing with Show of Hands at the Albert Hall on Sunday 16th April. They always put on a brilliant show. Please look him up. He is great fun!

Anne Giles

Anne Giles

I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the daughter of an Anglo-Argentine mother and English father. I went to an English school and worked for a British company out there before coming to live in the U.K. I spent many years teaching Spanish in adult education in various centres in Croydon Borough and have got to know so many different areas – North and South. We have been living in Selsdon since 1989 and I love it. I feel passionately about Croydon and have spent many years writing blogs – firstly for the Croydon Advertiser, then the Croydon Guardian, and eventually my own blog entitled “The Good Life in Croydon”. I am very much involved in the community, attending regular meetings with the Croydon Community Police Consultative Group and am also a member of the British Transport Police PACT (Police & Community Together) Team.

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  • Ian Marvin

    Great review of what sounds like an excellent night.

    • Anne Giles