Up close & personal : Steve Knightley

PUBLISHED: 12:06 08 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:07 08 January 2014

Steve Knightley: “We’ve always wanted to have just enjoyable and rewarding days playing music, nice places, meeting people that you get on with, nice venues

Steve Knightley: “We’ve always wanted to have just enjoyable and rewarding days playing music, nice places, meeting people that you get on with, nice venues"


Show of Hands’ award-winning lead singer/songwriter Steve Knightley speaks to ALEXIS BOWATER about his new project

Ten things Steve loves about Devon

1:The large, extended Knightley

clan scattered up and down the

Exe estuary.

2:That wonderful rolling burr

of an Exeter accent.

3:Otter Amber Ale at The

Bridge Inn by the Clyst.

4:Listening to Nigel Walrond

and John Lockyer live from

Sandy Park when miles from


5:Sidmouth Folk Festival since I

was 14.

6:Phil B, Seth, Jenna, Jim C,

Phil H, Hannah, Paul D,

Miranda, Rex and the

ever-thriving Devon folk mafia!

7:Cappuccino mornings in

Topsham at Jane’s café.

8:The joy and wonder of a new

David Oddy guitar.

9:Leaving my car with Albert

then breakfasting opposite at


10:Stargazing at Soar Mill Cove

A little early for this interview, I am waiting in the Turtley Corn Mill sneaking a quick peek at Steve Knightley’s new website on my iPad when suddenly I begin to hear him in stereo.

For a split second I’m confused, then I realise the second voice is coming from the front door and with an entrance that brings a frisson to the room there he is: the great folk singer/songwriter has arrived.

He’s been described as the “gravel voiced spokesman for the rural poor” but that doesn’t really touch on the mellifluous loveliness of his voice in real life. It’s a real floorboard rattler. And he surprises me by saying he’s just come from a singing lesson in Buckfastleigh.

Why, after 25 years in the business, having packed out the Albert Hall four times and accrued thousands of devoted fans, does someone like Steve Knightley need singing lessons, I wonder? Well, the answer lies in this man’s precise attention to detail and utter devotion to his craft.

"‘I am missing out on too
many weekends with my
family. That is the reason
that I am doing this
- you have to think of
the work/life balance’"

It is as if instead of corpuscles he has semitones and quavers running through his veins. Storytelling and songwriting burst from him and the anecdotes come thick and fast. Of days on tour, of the pure joy of music, of high days and low days, juggling life and missing his family.

And that last is what has led to his new venture here in Devon and beyond. It’s a massive departure from his big gigs and touring, it is a reinvention of his music and a reconnection with his audience.

He’s going right back to grass roots, as far away from the Albert Hall as you could dare – to a village hall in fact, near you: and closer to his fantastically clever and beautiful wife, to whom he is clearly utterly devoted, and his three children.

“I am missing out on too many weekends with my family,” he says. “That is the reason that I am doing this - you have to think of the work/life balance.

Ten things you might not know about Steve

1:As a boy he used to

play in goal for Exeter

schoolboys and was

also a keen gymnast.

2:He was inspired to

become a songwriter

after meeting the poet

Ted Hughes in Beaford.

3:As a boy he lived

over a TV rental shop

in South Street and

used to play Cathedral

Square in Exeter.

4:He has a degree in

Politics and History as

well as a


Certificate in


5:His Mum and Dad

used to work part-time

at the Clock Tower

café in Queen’s Street.

6:He started playing in

public aged 14 in the

Deer Leap pub in


7:He has known Phil

Beer since he was 16;

they have played at

the Royal Albert Hall

four times and they

are also honorary

patrons of the Royal

Albert Memorial


8:He is married to a

local GP and they have

three young children

9:He used to play in

the centre for

Withycombe Rugby

club and is a member

at Exeter Chiefs.

10:His first band (with

Paul Downes and ‘Bat

Evans) was called

‘Gawain’ - they

undertook a disastrous

tour of Sweden when

they were 17!

“I know that it is a cliché isn’t it, but if you are in a position as a cottage industry to be able to alter things then it’s a bit unforgivable if you don’t. It is a never ending juggling session that I am not there for. She has been amazing, absolutely amazing, but I have a chance now to do something about it”

The gigs will see Steve getting up close and personal in village halls across the country, enjoying the audience rapport he is famous for on an almost one-to-one basis. They’ll be just feet away and the set is deliberately constructed to evoke a kitchen table concert.

We talk about the video on his Grow Your Own Gig website in which he is preparing to face the audience in a tiny echoing hall. “I like that video you have done, the soundcheck,” I say, “It’s so quirky, and intimate, and funny.” “Yeah, the bit about the scouts and the vicar and the class A drugs always gets a laugh,” he says.

And that twist of comedy: the dry, intellectual humour, bubbles around. The teacher and musician in him merge with a unique talent for musical poetry that has stood the test of time, bringing him the moniker of the folk world’s Bruce Springsteen.

So for now the Show of Hands gigs and the partnership with Phil Beer are on hold: “The fans are a bit, ‘a few gasps’,” says Steve, “but they are glad that they can see us doing the individual stuff - we hope that they can console themselves with the DVD.”

This month he is already booked into Modbury Village Hall, and Bow. In April it’s Ilfracombe; May, Exeter; July, Otterton and Uffculme. More gigs are being booked and the joyous interactive aspect of it is that music lovers can organise a live event in their local community venue and he will turn up and play.

“We’ve always wanted to have just enjoyable and rewarding days playing music, nice places, meeting people that you get on with, nice venues,” says Steve.

“So we found that The Albert Hall one week and a village hall the next is equally as enjoyable. That is why we can’t answer the question: “what was your favourite gig”, because people always expect you to say ‘oh, 20,000 at so-and-so’. It’s not, it could have been last week playing a house concert in someone’s house or a theatre but I personally have always enjoyed village halls.”

And I am sure the village halls are going to enjoy Steve Knightley. It’s been a true pleasure to share lunch with him and to see a star of his stature so determined to bring music right back to our doorsteps.

It won’t be like this forever though. As we are eating an e-mail arrives in his inbox from a friend who just happens to be one of the Army’s most senior officers offering to help with another, massive, impactful project. Now that will be global. You need to catch him round here while you can.


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