London’s Union Chapel
This was my 15th or 16th time seeing Becky & Rachel Unthank and like other artists I have seen many times it’s the fact that each time can be different which keeps me coming back and keeps their live shows fresh. Over the years I have seen them a 5 piece, ten piece, with an orchestra, the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band and The Army Of Generals. Their constant search for the new and unearthing their traditional folk roots to a wider audience brings Becky, Rachel with violinist Niopha Keegan sans fiddle to “one of our favourite places to play”.
The Unthanks often joke onstage about their mournful and depressive reputation with songs of lost love, unhappy marriage and death but god I adore proper melancholy. Their opening trio of tunes are soaked in dark duende, sung in the half light of the setting sun through the chapels large stained window. Niopha takes lead on ‘Weary From Lying Alone’ showing off a deeper tone than the sisters – and as they point out as she intros the song “we don’t usually let Niopha speak cos people realise she’s nota Geordie’.
The uptempo ‘Sandgate SongGreedy’ was a glorious blizzard of northern slang that Becky admitted they perhaps should have done a glossary in a programme for – particularly in metropolitan Islington but the energy and joy was infectious even if you only caught every fourth word.
The performance that stuck out for me was ‘Honey Bee’ where the slightly swing pop harmonies they produced were superb and unlike anything that came before. Throughout the night it was astonishing how their voices blended, the ebb and flow of sound and the seemingly effortless richness of tone. We ourselves got to sing a three part harmony during ‘Sea Coal’ with Union Chapels superb acoustics making us sound better than we deserved.
Despite having seen The Unthanks so many times I think only 4 or 5 of the songs in tonight’s set I had heard them perform before. ‘Poor Mum’ from their album of Molly Drake tunes, the ribald ‘Where You Been Dick?’ and for Detectorist fans the bewitching ‘Magpie’. The set like a reflection of
their and several generations of tales, songs and social history in the political ‘Bread & Roses’ as much a statement of women’s rights and ideals than any Beyoncé hit.
Tim Dalling popped in to lead us in a gospel banger with The Unthanks as his soul sisters before it was ‘back to the misery cos we wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression’ and ‘Underneath The Blackthorn Tree’ with its mesmeric ‘the wind, the wind, the rain, the rain’ and welcome use of the word “squall”. It was all over far too soon of course but we left that we’d witnessed something truly unique.
Told to not film, take photos or generally be wazzocks. To a man & women they obeyed – not a phone screen to spoil the intimate mood
It made me think..
Shows on the tour were being recoded to produce an album and if it captures even a tenth of the magic of this gig then it will an absolute cracker. A suitably religious experience indeed.