Town Hall, Birmingham
I know I may be writing here an invitation to hatemail, there being many who revere this wellonthewaytobeinganationaltreasure of a band. Indeed I like much of their material, if sometimes finding the saccharine taste in their salty-sour songs a little too cloying. So I was looking forward to the show, my first for them. Having seen clips of their shows when augmented with brass bands to be a delight, the idea of an orchestra seemed not too alarming. Wrongity wrong………
Arriving a tad late, an illness on the train ahead, a euphemism for on the tracks I feel, had meant a 30 minute wait at Erdington, I and others were kept outside in the foyer until a break in performance. You know, like in a real posh concert, not for folk-club hardened veterans used to bar banter as loud as they. OK, I’m harsh, but it annoyed me. That and the tutting of the grey-rinsed pillars of the community I had to squeeze past to get to my seat even more. Still I had but missed the, what do they call it, the overture. I was in time for the delightfully shambolic introductions of why and how from Rachel, repeatedly referring to husband Adrian McNally for clarification, as she battled with the fitting of her one shoe off and one shoe on clogs. Uncertain what the first song was, and already the orchestra were interfering, but it was at least an ensemble piece. Having earlier hoped for a play of Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk, a hangover, SWIDT, from their Winterset days, this came gratifyingly up second. Becky’s voice ascendant, generally a stronger instrument than her elder sister’s, this began well, before being destroyed by facile swoops and swings of the massed ensemble, the actual Unthanks band seemingly unoccupied, on and off stage. O dear. As the set continued, again following a prolonged homily as to how wonderful it was that this orchestra existed, from the Andre Rieu-alike at their helm, and an explanation from Adrian that this was one of the first times they had played this piece, it was into Foundling. On record a moving and emotional song, abetted by a subtle string quartet. Here? Boring and overblown pathos. Even the muted trumpet soliloquy from, I presume, Lizzie Jones, as on the disc, couldn’t keep this afloat for me.
Inside I was screaming. I pushed past those same tutting matrons and was off….
Couldn’t see them in daylight or in the bar, but it looked, in the gloom, like Symphony Hall on a R4 Friday Night is Music Night concert recording.
It made me think..
Leave it bloody alone. This is living and vibrant music on it’s own merits, not those of an illegtimate taste arbiter.