Criticism | Hands raised at Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea: “Great all the way”

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Hands raised at Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea on November 26, 2021. Photo by Chris Broom

As long as you don’t mind sharing it with around 300 of your new best friends.

The stage is set up, apparently, like the interior of multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer’s home – complete with an enormous chest of drawers, a dining table (complete with a decanter of brandy and glasses), and a hat rack. All of this gives the debates a warm but slightly surreal tone.

It was to be a tour by the four-person iteration of the group – with longtime bassist Miranda Sykes and percussionist Cormac Byrne joining the original duo of Beer and Steve Knightley.

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But financial woes over Covid led the founding couple to go it alone – their first duo tour of many moons.

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The first half of the show is devoted to their new album, Singled Out, a compilation of singles from their three-decade career.

The irony being that they were never really a “bachelor act” – an irony that becomes a running joke as they introduce songs with less than typical themes for the charts such as The Battle of the Somme (The Keeper), how America was ‘discovered’ by Europeans (Columbus), or popular archivist Cecil Sharp’s visit to the Appalachians (Aunt Maria).

The first half wraps up a few “corporate greed” songs, before Knightley invites us all, in knowing laughter, to spend the money in the meantime on the merchandise booth.

The whole closer to arrogance, ignorance and greed, written 13 years ago about the banking crisis, is only too relevant, lines like: “You are on your yacht , we are on our knees, ”still burn with righteous anger.

The second half takes us overseas to Ireland, with a nod to early fan and folk legend Ralph McTell, and to Cajun country via Knightley’s lovingly bastard approach to the genre.

And the clean-lined version of You’ll Get By from the 2019 Battlefield Dancefloor album is a beautiful, tender moment.

They end the main set with The Best One Yet – a song Knightley wrote specifically to be released on June 19 of this year to coincide with “Unlock Day” so much heralded as a hymn of optimism for the summer of 2021.

Of course, the summer didn’t quite go as hoped with the release delay and the subsequent cancellation of many festivals.

The song is, however, Knightley at its most enjoyable and uplifting level, and (Covid volunteer) intended for soundtrack festivals next year.

Both musicians are in great shape throughout, with lots of silly jokes and jokes along the way, and the sold-out audiences are enjoying it.

So here is 2022 and may it be the best yet …

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron

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