-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.