Date: Friday 23rd February 2018
He 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 and he pulls no punches when writing highly literate songs about bigger, global issues.
Attracted to acoustic music by the likes of Dylan and Baez, he started performing whilst still at school and was playing both guitar and mandocello at the age of 14. He learnt his trade playing folk clubs and bars in the Exeter area, joining forces with Phil Beer before leaving Devon to study politics and history in Coventry and take a postgraduate certificate in education at Sussex University.
He then moved to London where he was involved in the rock scene for six years before relocating to Dorset. There he worked as a supply teacher at a local school where he gave guitar lessons to Polly (PJ) Harvey.
From 1987 Steve worked again with Phil Beer, when Beer was still in The Albion Band and in 1991 what was to be the phenomenally successful Show of Hands was formed. Unusually their first album was a live one and the excellent reviews it garnered helped them break into the festival circuit and tour with Ralph McTell.
In the early part of their career, Show of Hands worked with exiled Chilean musicians in the band Alianza. This saw them soaking up new rhythms and learning the South American cuatro, now one of Steve’s trademark instruments. The experience triggered what many consider to be some of Steve’s finest songs – Santiago, Armadas and Columbus (Didn’t Find America).
They have gone on to record some 17 albums including the acclaimed Country Life, the Knightley-penned title song of which was recently used as the soundtrack for a film made by the Commission for Rural Communities, launched at Westminster.
The rock rant, a biting comment on the desecration of English rural life, was nominated as Best Original Song in the 2004 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
In autumn 2005, Steve gave a new Eastern-sounding treatment to George Harrison’s If I Needed Someone for the album Rubber Folk, the folk industry’s take on The Beatles Rubber Soul album, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Show of Hands’s 2006 studio album Witness, described as “a cinematic journey of the West Country”, has been widely acclaimed and notably features Knightley’s stirring Roots which became their best selling single ever, rising high in the download charts alongside mainstream artists and shortlisted for Best Original Song at the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Calling on the English to rediscover their roots and musical identity it was a direct riposte to minister Kim Howells’s comment that his idea of hell was “three Somerset folk singers in the local pub”. It has enjoyed widespread national airplay from the likes of Bob Harris and Johnnie Walker to Radio Caroline!
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The Acorn, Penzance is a small, independently run arts venue with charitable status, in the heart of Penzance, Cornwall.
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