Steve Knightley

Steve Knightley

Knightley was five when his parents, both from Southampton families of dockers and soldiers, moved with their kids to Exeter, and 13 when they re-located to Exmouth. Although there was an old guitar and an accordion lying around the house, neither his parents nor his siblings - two sisters, a brother and stepbrother - were particularly musical.

His stepbrother, a soldier, was into folk music and Knightley, having picked up the guitar, learnt to play strumming along to his record collection. Hearing Martin Carthy at Sidmouth, Knightley was still in his early teens when he made the connection between English folk and the music he was listening to at home. Joan Baez, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, he realised, all played English songs collected by the Victorian folklorist Francis Child. And some of these could be found in his dog-eared copy of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

A constant throughout his work is his ability to root his songs in geographical place, notably the West Country where he still lives. "“I write the American singer-songwriter, emotional landscape thing," he said. "I can pen the occasional raucous, faux Celtic tale; I do the storytelling ballads; and I do the big ‘shouty’ sort of songs."

He first met his partner in Show of Hands Phil Beer as a teenager on the Devon folk circuit, when Knightley was gigging with his schoolmates Paul Downes and John ‘Bat’ Evans in their group ‘Gawain’, and Beer was in a duo with Colin Wilson called ‘Odd Folk’. Then, in 1986 Knightley was offered a spot at the Wimborne Festival and, calling on his old mates bass player Warwick Downes and Martin Bradley concertina, the trio duly appeared as Show of Hands, a name chosen by Knightley who liked its democratic associations.

Phil Beer was in the audience. Moved by Knightley’s song Exile, inspired by his experience in London teaching refugee children, Beer suggested they form a duo to give Knightley’s songs an acoustic folk outing on the local circuit.

Knightley agreed and Show of Hands was born.