Steve Knightley’s gig at Centre Stage in Bournemouth may have seemed like a strange experience for the average gig goer. There was no mosh pit, in fact, everyone was sat. There was no support act; Knightley played two sets himself. Oh, and I was one of only five people under the age of forty there. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic experience.
Centre Stage isn’t the biggest venue in the world (especially in comparison to The Royal Albert Hall, which Knightley has sold out four times as part of Show of Hands) and you could feel the intimacy of the show in the furthest corners of the room. The ambience was set by tea lights, which couldn’t even come close to matching the warmth of Knightley’s voice, as he played an all-acoustic set, featuring a few a’capella numbers which exemplified the versatility of his vocal range. He switched from mellow and delicate, to jumpy and energetic, all the way through to comic, as he played a number of original songs, covers and freshly arranged traditional material. The audience was in a state of captivated silence throughout both sets (other than when he got them to sing along to the more anthemic tracks, such as ‘Transported’, of course).
Knightley’s musicianship shone through just as much as his vocals did. This wasn’t a traditional acoustic set with just guitar and vocals. Like most folk artists he’s a true multi-instrumentalist and used harmonica, tenor guitar and what I found out after the show (as Knightley had the good grace to come out and speak to the audience) was a specially tuned octave mandolin. His playing was faultless on each of these, although his harmonica playing did verge on Dylan-esq careless abandon during one song.
However, music didn’t even seem to be the most important part of Knightley’s set. You’re probably expecting me to tell you that it was all about his appearance or some sort of pyro-technic display (as you see at so many pop gigs), but that simply wasn’t the case… he’s a 58 year-old folk singer, after all. No, storytelling was at the heart of Knightley’s performance. Aside from ‘The Hook of Love’, which was mainly emotive, each of Knightley’s songs gave a vivid vignette of rural life. It wasn’t just through the songs that Knightley told stories, though. Between each number he presented the audience with anecdotes which were consistently hilarious. It’s clear that in his illustrious professional career (which has spanned over three decades) he’s refined his stage patter – so much so that he could easily have been a comedian, not just a musician.
All in all, it was a brilliant show… it was just a shame that there wasn’t a younger generation there. The older audience, although appreciative of the set, just didn’t have the liveliness that a younger audience brings. It’s sad to think that, when artists like Steve Knightley are working so hard to keep folk music relevant and interesting, younger audiences just aren’t coming to the shows. I mean, it was only £8 a ticket…what’s stopping you?