REVIEW: Show of Hands, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

It’s three years now since the album Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed brought Show Of Hands to the masses – a success which, as singer/songwriter Steve Knightley says, made even the folk sceptics sit up and take notice.

In that context, it was always going to be interesting to see how the folk/roots trio would move on, and move on they certainly have – in the shape of the terrific new album Wake The Union, an album which manages both to bring out the trio’s latent Americanisms while, more importantly, continuing to emphasise surely their trump card, their essential Englishness.

Their Portsmouth gig opened with the new album opener, Haunt You and also featured Home To A Million Thoughts, tracks destined for Show Of Hands’ hall of fame – instant classics both and right up there with the sublime Are We Alright, a track they also delivered in a perfectly-balanced set which struck exactly the right note between new material and celebrating the band’s 20-year history.

But alongside the ballads there’s still the bite which marked AIG. Stop Copying Me is singer/songwriter Steve Knightley’s wonderfully well-phrased swipe at all the nonsense which these days purports to aid communication while actually negating it.

A couple of the other new tracks probably require further listening, but it’s clear that wider, more commercial acclaim most certainly hasn’t robbed Show Of Hands of their spark or energy.

Their songs are songs about things that matter; Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed is just as relevant now, and Country Life and Roots still go to the heart of a world that rarely seems to change for the better.

As ever, a massive strength is the on-stage chat which doubles up as proper contextualisation of the songs they play. Just a shame that double bass player Miranda Sykes is never more than a bystander when the Steve Knightley/Phil Beer banter gets going.

Support on the night was from Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak, an Americana duo from Canada – which you will either like or you won’t. Their little dances and samey tunes don’t cross the Atlantic particularly well, and while it’s great that they and Show of Hands are such big mates, support acts generally aren’t acts you want to see back once the main attraction finally takes the stage.

Phil Hewitt