Battlefield Dance Floor -Show of Hands ( Proper Records)
Released September 27th 2019
This review published Folk Monthly October 2019
Virtually Folk Royalty, some statistics are essential when dealing with a band of Show of Hands stature.This is their 18th studio album,and their first in three years. Devotees will recall that their previous album “The Long Way Home” was critically acclaimed. There are thirteen tracks on this one,eight of them newly written.
Like many of you (I suspect?), I was looking forward to a new release with barely contained anticipation. On a first hearing I found it difficult to ascertain exactly where they were going with this one. I loved the very bones of “The Long Way Home.” For me it had a creative edge to it, with not one but several standout tracks such as Keep Haulin and “ Twas On an April Morning” It was always a pleasure to play and listen to. I received an early pre-release advance copy of “Battlefield Dance Floor,” and I confess that after a few more plays the same kind of evolution occurred. The more I played it the more I heard and the more I understood. That's how clever they are. They don't like to stand still or rest on laurels and they haven't with this one.
Described in the promotional blurb as “authentic folk rock” by Jeremy Vine (not my favourite broadcaster),I refused to let that odd definition put me off. I long ago ceased to know what that overused label really means. It is for me, far too broad a category to just chuck stuff indiscriminately into. Whatever one's understanding of such a dated phrase I would suggest to Jezza that it is much more than that. Although I'd agree that they are straying away from sticking exclusively to the Traditional Folk category,and there are elements of (West) Country and Western (and Jazz) about this new release.
It is (as always),impossible to fault the musicianship. Phil Beer and Steve Knightley have a winning formula already and here they additionally beef up the sound by drafting Miranda Sykes back into the line-up and reintroducing Cormac Byrne's percussion skills. Matt Clifford adds keyboards, Gerry Diver plays several instruments and the Bridge Hill Shanty Men also pile in. Nigel Hopkins,Johnny Kalsi and Shahid Khan receive music credits too. Impressive.
Packaged and promoted as “ possibly their most commercial release to date,” I certainly wouldn't argue with that. My only worry is that by broadening their already considerable range to embrace new genres they run the risk of spreading their gifts just a little too thinly. It doesn't bother me at all but it might alienate a few diehards.
“ Swift and Bold” is in the “Keep Haulin'” mould. It starts with echoes of “Over The Hills and Far Away,” which is an appropriate lead-in as it is a track with a military theme. The title is the motto of the 6 Rifles Infantry regiment,based at Exeter. It is not merely a regimental homage to previous campaigns however- Basra also gets a mention. Stirring lyrics and vocals are enhanced by that Shanty Crew and some martial drumming. “Over The Hills” gently returns at the end after a very uplifting three and half minutes which certainly got me marching around the studio floor. Pick of the album for me-I'll be playing it on Anker Folk a few times.
The title track “Battlefield Dance Floor,” has a generic military feel to it as well. It fairly romps along as one might expect with two dance genres entwined. Personally I always saw a link between Bhangra and bouncy Morris tunes,so the collaboration with the Dhol Foundation seems a perfectly natural liaison here. I can already see well-heeled, well oiled party-clad audiences lifting up their skirts and kicking their heels to this in a Live performance. And that's just the blokes.
“No secrets,” “Make The Right Noises” and “Just Enough to Lose” have a definite Country feel to them. “Forfarshire” is a revisit by Steve Knightley to a song he first recorded on Kirsty Merryn's debut album, “She and I.” Like “Lost” it serves to fully explore a voice which is sometimes underestimated. He's a good vocalist.,is Steve.
“Dreckley” is a West Country inspired gert lush cross-culture piece. A witty, light hearted love song in Reggae time with some clever wordplay. It has a chorus which will get audiences bawling along, Grockles and the locals alike,from St Agnes to Starcross.
“First We Take Manhattan” is a jazzy cover of the spine-chilling Laughing Len original. It is a revisit by the band to the song as it first appeared on a previous SOH album. It showcases Phil Beer's expressive and passionate fiddle playing. “Next Best Western” is another cover-and another clever piece.
The production and recording are sumptuous:embracing modern technology whilst also bringing out the best in traditional sounds. To describe the overall effect as layered is an understatement. The Triplefold CD sleeve is an objet'dart too, with detailed lyrics,credits and background as a leaflet insert which makes a good read. Top marks to Stylorouge for that. Presentation matters.
It's a cliché but there's something for everyone here. The band are upbeat and justifiably defiant about what they have created and achieved.“ We are at last creating a sound which we've dreamed of making for 25 years,” Knightley enthuses,whilst the additional promotional material asserts that with “Battlefield Dance Floor,” Show of Hands are “holding an unshakeable position at the front line of Folk.” And maybe they are-time will tell. If I was in that second line and knocking on the door to move up a row,I'd be inspired,encouraged and not too downhearted about it