Review: Unthanks get boost from talented band

The Unthanks, Warwick Arts Centre, March 8

In a time of rapid change it is not surprising that popular folk band The Unthanks have moved on.

The singing sisters Becky and Rachel Unthank from Tyneside came to the arts centre several years ago and won many fans with their distinctive traditional songs from the North East.

On their return visit on Sunday their popularity was proved by a large audience of about 800 in the Butterworth Hall. But this time their band had grown with a string quartet, double bass, a pianist, drummer and trumpeter. They mixed great musicality with some of their haunting traditional folk songs as they performed many of the tracks from their new album Mount the Air.

They have certainly jazzed up their music with some very talented people. But in the first half of the show the band occasionally drowned out the sisters’ beautiful voices. After the interval more traditional folk songs like Magpie and The Testimony of Patience Kershaw enabled the sisters to play to their strengths by singing with minimal accompaniment.

The folk tradition of singing with no musical backing was exemplified by the evening’s warm-up act, the Young’uns, three men from Stockton on Tees, who won loud applause singing sea shanties and a folk songs from the North East.

There was plenty of talent on show all evening. Rachel’s husband Adrian McNally, the pianist, producer, arranger and composer of many of the Unthanks’ songs has contributed to much of their success. Trumpeter Victoria Rule brought a jazz influence to the band especially on Mount the Air’s excellent title track. Violinist Niopha Keegan led the string quartet well and the sisters showed their all round skills with some entertaining clog dancing.

Rating 9/10

By Peter Gawthorpe

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