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article imageReview: The Unthanks delight at London gig Special

By Tim Sandle     Mar 8, 2015 in Entertainment
London - British folk band The Unthanks played a sublime concert at London's The Roundhouse, playing new and older material in a delightful sonic soundscape.
The Unthanks are a British folk band, with the centerpiece being two sisters — Rachel and Becky Unthank. Over recent years the band have received several folk and pop music awards. To promote their recent, critically received album Mount the Air, the troupe have been playing a nationwide tour. In mid-March the tour reached London and Digital Journal was in attendance.
Prior to The Unthanks taking to the stage, support was provided by the folk-combo The Young 'Uns, who sang socially and politically conscious songs mainly a capella. The best was a cover of Billy Bragg's pro-collectivist anthem Between the Wars.
The Young  Uns performing at The Roundhouse in London. March 2015
The Young 'Uns performing at The Roundhouse in London. March 2015
The venue was a former engine room, built in 1847, now called The Roundhouse. It is located in Camden Town, close to central London. The largely brick building helps resonate music and sound a notch above many other venues. The acoustics were especially kind to the sister's delightful and distinctive vocals. Although The Unthanks veer on the side of melancholy, the voices of Rachel and Becky are, at times, angelic and often create a sustained, immersive reverie.
To support the sister's singing (and a little clog dancing) was an eight piece band. Central to this was Adrian McNally — also Rachel's husband — who plays keyboards and percussion. Layering upon these instruments were drums, bass, strings, and elaborate wash of piano, strings and drifting, jazz-influenced trumpet.
The Unthanks playing at The Roundhouse in London  March 2015.
The Unthanks playing at The Roundhouse in London, March 2015.
Some of the songs were traditional, and reflective of the roots of English folk music. Other selections were more left-field, such as a beautifully rendition of Robert Wyatt's Out of the Blue. There was also a gorgeous rendition of King Crimson’s Starless. Each song played was tight, played well, sung close to perfection, and firmly textured, and sometimes surprising the audience in the direction it took. The subject matter may have been bleak — cast off women, abandoned children, difficult pregnancies — but the music was luscious and harmonies sweet.
One of the new, stand-out songs was Magpie, a song about an old English superstition. Another wonderfully crafted song was Died for Love, as was Flutter, which was bordering on trip-hop through some elegant percussion. Another was the title song from the new album where the sister's alternated the verses, and sang the choruses in union. Here they radiated warmth and compassion as they wandered through the folk storytelling tradition.
Throughout the performance the sisters interacted with the capacity crowd, interspersing jollity and variety with the softly bleak songs.
Under different lighting  The Unthankls perform in London (March 2015).
Under different lighting, The Unthankls perform in London (March 2015).
The encore featured the song Last, which now stands as their signature song. It was a perfect way to end the evening.
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