Category Archives: Reviews

Live Review – Phil Beer

Phil Beer Solo 13/05/2014 Cambridge Junction
Live Review – Spiral Earth

Tonight Phil Beer is performing solo, just him, about five stringed instruments and an almost bottomless well of anecdotes and stories. Having just completed the fearsome Feast of Fiddles tour and his own band tour he takes centre stage. And what a presence, now I don’t mean that because he is a large bloke – in actual fact he is looking extremely well tonight, maybe that’s because it is his birthday – It is the tactile pleasure he takes in handling the different instruments, tuning up becomes the backdrop to another story or chords and riffs illustrate an anecdote about Davy Graham before he launches into one of his songs.
This isn’t just a guy on stage playing some songs – its a little glimpse into his world where folk, blues, hymns, the sea, the west country and a life spent in music combine to make a true show.

Phil has spent the past seven months working on the latest Show of Hands album (with a twist) ‘Centenary’ – It is a celebration of the poetry and music from and inspired by the First World War (a pet subject of his). There are two CD’s one of the spoken word by Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter and his wife Imelda Staunton, set to music by Steve and Phil. Then the second CD features songs of the period plus original material by Knightley.

The twist is that it is on a major label, they were invited by Ian Brown, who manages ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ who are on Universal – so then they were in the slightly strange place of working on it behind closed doors as the majors like the ‘big reveal’, so the usual interaction and insights their fans get during recording were not an option. Phil is at pains to explain that they have been beavering away in the studio and not idly sitting on their arses for the last seven months.

Beer has been interested in the First World War all of his life, so he knew virtually all of the songs that dated from the period. When he and Knightley have played in Belgium they played in a small pub in Flanders and also visited the Menin Gate and listened to the Last post being played. Phil plays a short medley from the album at the end of his gig. You can’t imagine a better combination of musicians and voices to capture the horror and sadness, yet also the vein of dark humour that soldiers find in the darkest of situations.

Phil is still in love with the music he makes, whether that is a Little Feat cover, an intricate fiddle piece or the latest song that Show of Hands partner Steve Knightley has written. He is a true multi-instrumentalist, revelling in the idiosyncrasies of each one, making a joke of the ukeleles provenance whilst plucking pure gold from it.

With Show of Hands being such a well known entity it is easy to forget that they both had careers before forming the duo. Phil talks of the impact that Davy Grahams playing style had on him in the late 60s, then touring with a band in America in the mid eighties supporting 10,000 maniacs – all things that make you realise just how much experience he has.

Talking before the gig Phil laughed that his career is almost about face to the normal route, he started off with many collaborations and is now doing much more solo stuff. He does self effacement very well, this is the guy that has sold out the Albert Hall many times with SOH and toured much of Europe and North America. What sets him apart from many is his generosity, he was at great pains to make sure I spoke to his support for the night Jess Morgan (which I did and will run as another interview!). He also launched Jackie Oates career with a brilliant and sensitive production job on her first album, I don’t think anyone has captured her as well in recordings since.

The guys have eased off the gas with Show of Hands to a degree, it is easy to get locked into a cycle of tour/album/festivals and repeat ad infinitum. With Steve doing his ‘Grow Your Own Gig’ tour you can see that the change of focus and pace is recharging their batteries, that will feed back into SOH and hopefully keep all the different aspects of their careers energised.

A Phil Beer gig is one spent in the company of a true craftsman, a master musician ad consummate performer.

Iain Hazlewood

Review – Phil Beer Band at Salisbury Arts Centre March 2014

Phil Beer Band @ Salisbury Arts Centre (09/3/14)

in LIVE REVIEWS – Folk Radio

When a band as consistently productive as Show of Hands announces a break from touring of almost a year, you can be fairly confident it won’t be because the members want an extended holiday. And, sure enough, there’s been a steady stream of news about their individual plans. Steve Knightley has embarked on his Grow Your Own Gig tour, encouraging anyone and everyone to make use of their local village and community halls to host a visit from him. Miranda Sykes is busy in her duo with mandolin wizard Rex Preston whilst Phil Beer will spend much of the summer afloat with his Folk Boat project (see video below) and is currently part way through both a solo tour and, that much anticipated treat, an outing of The Phil Beer Band.
The Phil Beer Band, in the flesh, exists for the duration of its tours and, given the extensive commitments of the people involved, it always feels like a minor miracle that the core of the band has remained so stable over the years. It’s a testament to the sheer enjoyment they generate when playing together that Phil manages to assemble Steve Cricket (drums), Nick Quarmby (bass) and Gareth Turner (melodeons) for the tours. For recent tours Miranda Sykes (guitar and vocals) and Liv Dunn (fiddle) have completed the line up. This year, Miranda opted to stick with her duo work and so the band currently on the road is a 5 piece.
Phil, with his trademark David Oddy acoustic guitar, kicked off the gig with a couple of solo songs, Randy Newman’s Dancing Bear and Reverend Gary Davies’s Cocaine, familiar material for anyone who’s been to his solo gigs. Looking around the packed hall one wondered if there were people here who only knew Phil from his Show of Hands and solo incarnations, maybe they were wondering what this band business was all about. They didn’t have long to wait as Phil, by then on electric guitar, was joined first by Steve and Nick to provide a back line for Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years and subsequently by Liv and Gareth giving a full blown country rock treatment to Steve Earle’s Devils Right Hand.
In the current line up Phil takes all lead vocals, with Nick adding chorus backup. When it comes to instrumental solos, though, Phil, Liv and Gareth are all equally capable of stunning performances and they come thick and fast for the rest of the evening. Phil’s electric guitar work brings out a different side to his musical personality, whether it’s driving out a blues rhythm, adding atmospheric slide guitar or picking out intricate solos on the high frets. Having the freedom to branch out into different guitar styles clearly sits well with Phil, throughout the evening he only once swapped guitar for mandolin and didn’t touch a fiddle at all. That is sure testament to the quality fiddle work provided by Liv Dunn.
It’s always a pleasure to see Gareth Turner on stage, surrounded by his collection of melodeons, or diatonic accordions as Phil prefers to call them, one suspects mainly so he can slip in the odd ‘diabolic organ’ quip. Melodeons/accordions come in all flavours, matched to musical styles from all over. Gareth’s roots may be in the English tradition but, whether playing a Springsteen song, traditional blues or any other element of the band’s eclectic repertoire, he produces solos that are a perfect fit. He doesn’t imitate a style, he bends it and shapes it to his playing. Gareth should be out and about this summer with his regular band, Little Johnny England, unmissable.
Sitting contentedly behind the front line, drummer Steve Cricket is the band member with probably the longest standing collaboration with Phil, dating back to the Arizona Smoke Review of the early 80s. The Phil Beer Band is Steve’s principal music outlet, his work is mainly in theatre, in contrast to bass player Nick Quarmby who been kept busy in Colvin Quarmby. Nick surprised many recently by announcing he was giving up playing live. He’s deadly serious about this, enrolled on a BSc(Hons) Natural Sciences degree with the Open University and says he’s giving the academic life his best shot. But when Phil is putting together the next band tour, I wonder how hard it will be to resist? Steve and Nick provide a back line for the band that’s such a solid, inspired foundation it’s hard to imagine breaking it up.
It would always be worth the trip to see musicians of this quality but it is the repertoire that makes a Phil Beer Band gig extra special. I’ve described the eclectic set list, but add names such as Big Bill Broonzy, Warren Zeavon, Lowell George, Bill Zorn, Robbie Robertson, Phil’s own compositions and many others. This is by no means a random walk through quality music, you are listening to the output of musicians who’ve been major influences on Phil’s own musical journey. Starting from Cocaine, he proudly tells you this was the first song he ever preformed in public (though admitting it might just have been rubbish), through to contemporary songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Richard Shindell, Phil provides a fascinating commentary to the journey. Labels such as roots, blues, country rock are easily applied but Phil slips in reminders, as much for himself as for the audience one feels, of what he calls his ‘folk credentials’. Nowhere were these better displayed than in the encore sequence, starting with Phil’s great treatment of Jackson Browne’s Before the Deluge, the instrumental coda develops first into a cracking tune, Mampy moose, from Edward II’s John Hart, Gareth’s melodeon taking the lead, and then into the traditional Quebecois tune, Philip Brunels, giving Liv’s fiddle a final opportunity to shine.
Phil had hoped to have two live albums ready to coincide with his spring tours. The album of his solo material is expected by the end of March but band material, recorded on their tour a couple of years back, is still in editing and release is likely to be held over until next year’s band outing. Partly making up for the lack of a new album, the classic album, Mandorock 2000 Live, has been re-pressed by Talking Elephant and is once more available.
The second half of the current tour kicks off at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham on Friday 21 March, check out the remaining dates and if you can, get to a gig near you, you’ll be giving yourself a rare treat.

Review by: Johnny Whalley

Review of Phil Beer at Lowdham

Review by Mark Salter of the concert held at Lowdham Village Hall on Saturday 24th March 2012. Photos: Ed Herington

BLIMEY this is like looking out on an airport runway,” exclaimed Phil Beer peering out at the rows of tea lights in Lowdham Village Hall, adding, “Where’s my Dakota?

Beer is a towering presence in the British music scene and Warthog Promotions pulled off quite a coup attracting him back to Lowdham. Beer has performed previously as part of Show of Hands who are due to play the Albert Hall for the fourth time on 7th April. “Monday will be bedlam. We’re doing the publicity round for the Albert Hall gig. That’s why tonight is so great.”

Beer’s repertoire centred on folk and referenced such luminaries as Nic Jones, Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Steve Ashley, Ralph McTell, Reg Meuross and Johnny Coppin.

During the evening Beer charts his route from a disastrous first performance at a PTA school event when he was pulled off-stage in the middle of a rendition of Cocaine Blues, via his involvement in folk clubs in Gloucester to the current Albert Hall booking for Show of Hands. In the process he regaled the audience with songs like Fire and Wine, The Warlike Lads of Russia, and The Innocents

But a Phil Beer solo gig is far more than a folk concert. He recounts a raft of fantastic anecdotes. One outlined how a far too technical electronic keyboard had been installed in a Methodist church. This burst forth with a heavy and loud ‘rap style’ drum back-beat during a funeral service. Further panic ensued as the old lady keyboardist hit every button in sight whilst trying to silence the drumbeat.
Phil Beer at Lowdham

In addition, Beer visited a range of American musical greats. These included Hoyt Axton, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and two blues legends, Reverend Gary Davis and Blind Willie Dixon. Axton is a particular favourite of Beer’s and this concert featured two of his numbers, Blind Fiddler and Gypsy Moth. Beer also admits never being drawn to Billy Joel until hearing Downeaster Alexa which he played with a tenor guitar backing.

In amongst the musical excellence was a mini ukulele workshop, with Beer demonstrating the versatility of the instrument. For this he used George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun, Irish Harp and dance tunes, and a version of Tom Lehrer’s satirical Vatican Rag.

The evening was rounded off by a poignant First World War medley with an instrumental of Flowers of the Forest segued into The Holy Brook, a Frank Mansell poem set to music by Beer’s friend Johnny Coppin, and finally trenches song, When This Bloody War is Over. Beer’s own Falmouth Packet was the encore that brought things to a close.

Acorn Folk Club 11th December Review

Thanks to Eileen and the AcornFolk Club: for sending this through.

The Acorn Folk Club presented an Extra Special Guest Night, hosting PHIL BEER, ambassador of Folk Roots Music, on Saturday 10th December in the Pier Room at The Old Ship Aground. Phil, as part of the duo Show of Hands, won best duo and best song in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2010, and they have filled the Albert Hall three times. However, Phil is such a genuine musician and charming person that he is truly delighted to fill the Acorn’s regular venue with some 70 people, and to sing and play acoustically using two guitars, tenor guitar, ukelele and fiddle, this last being the instrument for which he is perhaps best known.

He opened his two marvellous sets with “Jack Frost Away” (Steve Ashley) – very appropriate as we were blessed with a mild evening, going on to “In Young’s Town” (Bruce Springstein) with tenor guitar, and then fiddle for “The Devil’s Right Hand” – immediately taking the audience with him to sing the choruses. He then introduced the ukelele as being an important branch of musical history, using it in a unique way to play O’Neill’s Irish tunes, Beatles numbers and O’Carolan harp tunes! His program included the blues “Cocaine” influenced by David Graham, and the amusing “I Hold Your Hand in Mine” (Tom Lehrer).

Phil told us of sailing on the “Pegasus” with the late much-loved folk musician, Tony Rose’s son Didgery, and of how they had sung into the early hours, then giving us “Pleasant and Delightful” (trad) and filling the Acorn with song – a very moving experience. Throughout Phil spoke so naturally. describing his musical research and connected journeys, and mentioning Charles Causley (Devon) and Johnny Coppin (Songwriter).

There were 10 much appreciated floor spots to support this fabulous evening, including rousing carol singing from the Acorn Crew. Eileen Ann Moore and Jim Parham, Club organisers, who sing as a duo, enjoyed the greatest privelege when Phil picked up his fiddle and accompanied their singing of the Dorset traditional “Blue Cockade”.

Phil finished the evening with a medley, which featured the work of the Gloucestershire poet Frank Mansell “This War is Over” which brought tears to the eyes, and like his opening, was so appropriate to what is happening in the world today, when we all wish for “Peace and Tranquility” from Eileen Ann’s Song “Peace in Minehead” with which she opened the whole evening. Thanks to Steve Pledger who played soft guitar tunes for some twenty minutes as people were arriving, which created a very nice atmosphere.

Called back for an encore, Phil Beer, famous himself, enthused about playing “Alice” (Neville Brothers) with Little Feet at Trowbridge Festival, and said that he had loved being here at the Acorn Folk Club and would be pleased to come again. YES is the answer to that! Thanks to all who performed and attended and to Brenda Freshwater, landlady, her daughter Melanie and staff for the use of the great venue, so festively decorated for the season.


Review of Box Set 1

Many people will mainly know of Phil Beer through his work with Steve Knightley over the last twenty years in BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards “Best Duo” and “Best Live Act” Show of Hands. However, Phil’s musical career is much wider and longer than that and spans some 40 years, with all sorts of collaborations along the way. This box set is intended to be part of a series documenting the extensive body of work outside Show of Hands, although a few Show of Hands rarities are included.

Within Show of Hands, Phil is mostly to be heard adding richness to the vocals and intricacy to the instrumentals of the Steve Knightley and Traditional songs (“decorating” as The Dark One so aptly describes it). Here, in his own box, The Fair One gets to roam far and wide off-piste and away from the that particular sound and those constraints, and in particular to be much more in control of what he is choosing to sing. The material throughout this set reflects his own very wide tastes and ranges from traditional folk songs such as the old shanty Spanish Maidens and hymns to covers of Bruce Springsteen (Youngstown), Graham Gouldman (Bus Stop) and Lowell George (Willin’).

There are 3 CDs and one DVD in the box, together with extensive and thoughtful sleeve notes about how each recording came about and often why the particular song was chosen. At least there are when PB can actually remember!

CD1 is described as “Archive” and kick’s off its musical journey with a school recording of Phil and friends from 1968, then progresses through the Folk Duos OddFolk, Downes & Beer, the folk combo the Arizona Smoke Revue, the Albion Band and finally arrives at Show of Hands, with various Phil Beer solo diversions along the way.

CD2 is described as “Live” and contains some fine examples of live recordings between the 1970s and present day made with various bands and friends. CD3 is described as “Studio”. The collaborators on both these CDs include inter alia Mike Oldfield, Deb Sandland, Chris While, Julie Matthews, Miranda Sykes, Alianza, Jackie Oates, Jim Causley and Ashley Hutchings.

The DVD has an eclectic mix of films, ranging from a 45 minute set of the Phil Beer Band in action on a tour in the early noughties to a TV appearance with Ralph McTell at the Minack Theatre and various pieces of film from various outdoor and backstage locations.

It is a marvelously varied Jambalaya of material, voices, and arrangements. Some of it may not be to every taste, but with so much to choose from there is much to appeal to many. Highly recommended.”

Review of Phil Beer Box Set 1 on amazon, courtesy of keithofchester