by / March 31st, 2010 /

The Unthanks – Whelan’s, Dublin

-Are you ready for some songs of misery?’ declared Rachel Unthank as the band entered the stage at an unusually seated Whelan’s. With their selection of harrowing story lines set to a blend of female vocal harmonies, The Unthanks (as they are now known) are both a part of the new age of folk and the traditional scene in equal measure. This English family band were performing to their biggest ever crowd in Dublin, downstairs, rather than Douglas Hyde Gallery or upstairs as they were in previous years. They revelled in this and took great delight in the presence of their mother who had come over to celebrate her birthday with them.

Playing for little over an hour, as a band with 3 albums out, they may need to extend their set to match their growing stage. That said, the tracks they crammed into that hour were excellent in their quality and selection. A great live version of -Lucky Gilchrist’ complete with a north of England Clog Dancing interlude was followed by a solid version of the folk standard -Annachie Gordon’. Such songs do highlight how, as a band they could be a more bawdy in their interpretations and less reverential of the songs they have placed on a pedestal.

Perhaps that is much the style of English folk, whilst their softly spoken manner and lighter interpretations are part of their charm. It could also be said that simply slowing everything down by a few bars (eg. Nick Drake’s -River Man’) doesn’t make it necessarily good version, the Beatles cover below being a good case in point. These, though, are minor observations – an off mike A cappella version of -Guard Your Man Well’ worked very well with the audience very respectful, and gave the song almost hymnal qualities. A beautiful evening that, some jarring sound problems aside, soothed if not stirred the soul.

Photographs by James Goulden.

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  • Alice Bentley

    Were you really at the same gig as I was? Soothed?
    I was both deeply stirred and given the raw emotions of some of the songs even somewhat shaken by this gig. The depth of understanding of the material, the humanity and the complex, playful and accomplished musicality of the performance made for a thoroughly moving experience.

    Added to the wonder of the Unthanks themselves was the support act of Lucy Farrel and Jonny Kearney who brough tears to the eyes of this member of the audience and achieved the unheard of accomplishment of reducing the crowd to silence.

    The gig provided what so few gigs manage: I left with my soul lifted and enriched and have been living my life with the tunes in my head ever since.

  • Declan Culliton

    Were we at the same gig? Unusually seated Whelans? I counted twelve seats at the front which is par for the course for Whelans.

    Played for just over an hour? 9.40 to 11.05pm to be exact, closer to an hour an a half.

    An excellent gig including what I considered to be a beautiful version of Nick Drakes ‘River Man’