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SHOW OF HANDS - Battlefield Dance Floor 

SHOW OF HANDS - Battlefield Dance Floor 
Proper Music PRPCD156 

It’s over three years since the last Show Of Hands CD. Since then the twittersphere has been rife with rumours and speculation about a change of direction, unorthodox collaborations and an album which would surprise fans. Certainly, this elegantly packaged CD is different, most significantly it is different from almost every prediction. It’s an album which hangs together superbly because of (rather than despite) its many contrasts: laugh-out-loud humour shares comfortable space beside touching tragedy; history and tradition complement contemporary social comment; the distinctive sound of SOH fuses seamlessly with unexpected musical genres.

In a previous era of national division, The Specials symbolised the state of the nation with the phrase “too much fighting on the dance floor”. Show Of Hands, with their tendency towards social observation and commentary, similarly reflect the state of the nation herein. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mother Tongue, an insightful encapsulation of displacement taken to another level by the chanting of Shahid Khan. There is a definite waft of sea air across the album, from the opening tribute to Donald Crowhurst, Lost, through Knightley and Sykes’ impeccable reading of Kirsty Merryn’s Forfarshire, a moving retelling of the heroism of Grace Darling. That’s just one of the cover versions which shine a new light on songs that include Next Best Western and First We Take Manhattan. Make The Right Noises highlights a commanding authority of intelligent pop – an earworm reminder of how their original songs always have a depth which rewards repeated listens with their perspicacity.

It’s been a long wait but, boy, has it been worth it.

Nigel Schofield


This review appeared in Issue 131 of The Living Tradition magazine