THREE decades after first appearing together, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer are finally reaching the end of the road as Show of Hands – but what a long and fulfilling highway it has been.

The folk veterans – who credit Wimborne Folk Festival as the place where they cemented their musical relationship – are on the 75-date (and counting, probably) Full Circle tour to commemorate the completion of this particular era.

As one of the UK’s foremost folk roots bands, the duo (often augmented by the wonderful double bass player and vocalist Miranda Sykes) are exiting stage left at the top of their game.

They’ll be missed, obviously, by countless legions of fans as they head off on a ‘indefinite hiatus’ after a farewell seemingly longer than that of Elton John, presumably worn down by constant touring, 30,000 miles a year on the road, being away from home and the need to recharge their batteries.

But they’re not disappearing altogether – the still extravagantly maned Knightley (who, incidentally, taught PJ Harvey to play guitar) has already put a new band together, Dream in Colours featuring the Dhol Foundation’s Johnny Kalsi (plus Eliza Marshall and Bennet Cervan), while the sturdy but Vikingesque Beer is said to be working on putting a box set together.

Both Knightley and Beer have a string of solo dates lined up for the autumn after their grande finale two-day festival in Abbotsbury in early July and, while it probably won’t take hell to freeze over for them to reunite occasionally, it’s emotional to see them go.

They have always been a band of the people, both in their attitude to touring (big venues and village halls treated with the same respect), as well as having a large streak of humanity, compassion and empathy running through their songs. There is, of course, a goodly amount of welcome social commentary bubbling away too.

So, here we were at Lighthouse with Show of Hands, whose CV includes 25 album releases, two honorary doctorates, three BBC Folk Awards, four Royal Albert Hall sell-outs and tours in 14 countries from America to Australia.

This gig, number 51 of the tour, nearly didn’t happen with transportation problems en route from Taunton meaning they didn’t arrive until less than an hour before show time, but still managed to soundcheck and present themselves on stage at 7.45pm.

A simple setting, as usual, with just a few backlights and stringed instruments on stands greeted the casually dressed pair. Knightley initially seemed to be struggling a tad with his voice as they carved out a first set of very old songs, rarities and reworked classics.

Aiming to hark back to the beginning and reflect on years on the folk circuit, they began with Friends, a song Knightley wrote at 19, followed by the weed, whites and wine of Little Feat’s road song Willin’, then Beat About The Bush, about life in Bridport in the mid-90s and Cold Frontier, life in Britain seen through the eyes of a Roman soldier.

Namechecking the influential playing of Davy Graham and Bob Dylan, they proceeded with Sally Free And Easy and Ease My Mind followed by the slowed down version of Country Life, Knightley’s biting indictment of the loss of the rural idyll, was inspired, it was revealed, by a builder doing up Steve’s new Marshwood Vale property in which the builder had once lived.

The first half, tracks punctuated by what one might describe as the greatest hits of Show of Hands’ anecdotes (as was the second half), ended with the emotional The Dive and the earworm that is You’ll Get By.

Part two began with a somewhat underwhelming, unhurried version of the would-be festival anthem The Best One Yet, then Hard Shoulder, followed by Beer’s Blind Fiddler, then the combined The Setting and Mary From Dungloe.

The rarely heard Yeovil Town preceded the prescient Exile and then it was (how time flies!) the moment for the singalong regular set closer Cousin Jack which, to these ears, doesn’t necessarily need to be reworked.

One imagines the difficulty in culling 30 years of material into a two-hour set and this was very much focussed on telling the Show of Hands story, rather than playing the usual greatest hits – still, I missed Santiago, AIG, Haunt You, Now You Know, Roots, Cruel River, Old Lych Way, Blue Cockade, Preacher, Galway Farmer – and a lot more, besides, enough for multiple sets of great quality.

And that was it – apart from the rather odd choice of encore in the downbeat The Ride – and the boys were gone, for the last time. Thank you lads, it’s been a blast.