Folk music, in its many guises, has always had an element of storytelling within it and The Unthanks certainly carry on that tradition, especially if Friday’s gig at St Mary in the Castle, in Hastings, was anything to go by.
Their two sets were punctuated with extended and often humorous explanations concerning the songs, their meaning and the stories behind them. So much so that this gig sometimes felt as if it were a small private show, but one that we’d all been invited to.
The Unthanks are a family band and they bring that atmosphere to their gigs, making them quite an intimate affair.
Rachel and Becky Unthank, yes that it their real name, were joined onstage by Adrian McNally on piano and inter song banter, Chris Price and Niopha Keegan. These interchangeable musicians often played a kind of musical chairs between songs, swapping various instruments to great effect.
The Unthanks are probably best known for the sisters vocal harmonies and that certainly came across on the evening. And what a perfect venue to help accentuate those voices too, one that could almost have been built for just such an act.
Apart from their own compositions, songs were featured by artists such as Anthony and The Johnsons, and this included a wonderful version of Elvis Costello’s classic ‘Shipbuilding’.
We also heard love songs and World War 1 poems, from the bands various musical projects, and to top it all we were treated to some clog dancing too. What more could you ask for?
The Unthanks seem to do things a little differently to many other bands, hosting singing weekends back in their native Northumberland, collaborating on those musical projects and managing their own career.
As if to prove that, the band are releasing a 10th anniversary retrospective boxset, ‘The Unthanks Memory Box’. Nothing unusual about that you may think, but this boxset includes a cookery book!
During the between set interval, the Unthank sisters came out to talk to fans and generally socialise at the merchandise stall, a nice touch.
In this modern era, in which Folk music seems to be just as relevant as ever, a different approach to a musical career is often the way to go, to get noticed and to raise your head above the industry parapet.
The Unthanks are one act who seem to be practicing that to great effect, by sticking to their artistic guns, being themselves, doing things themselves, but most importantly of all producing and performing some wonderful music in the process.
A real recipe for success.
The Unthanks can be found at: the-unthanks.com/home