The Unthanks at St James Church Piccadilly, Dec 2nd 2011

To my shame I’d never seen the Unthanks play before (except on the tele) and this in spite of being quite awestruck by their music.  And the fact that in their album released this year, “Last” they have produced an extraordinary set of songs. The title track just haunts you and stays in your head long after the notes have died away.  They were great on Later in April doing that. But, but, but…it’s not the same as being in the presence of people singing right there for you, or indeed with you…

I had this feeling of having already missed out on many stupendous gigs featuring their own material down the years and I still don’t know how that happened when I do have folk on my musical radar (and I usually agree with Paul Morley who lavished such praise on the spine-tingling Bairns album and its even better follow-up Here’s the tender coming).  Anyway, that was the feeling as  I approached a sold out St James Church in Piccadilly last Friday night for the start of their tour singing the songs of Antony and the Johnsons and Robert Wyatt. And, as it turns out, a lovely New Year’s song written by Rachel and Becky’s dad.  I would like to hear their material but these cover versions might be quite good, I was thinking…

Unthanks St James

And I’m sure the purists would have preferred the things they usually do but…I needn’t have worried; the arrangements of these songs by other people (including Robert Wyatt, one of my heroes) were gorgeous and the sound of the sisters’ voices hung beautifully in the air.  Never mind the lack of beer or the very restricted view, this was great music from first to last, soothing our slightly weary souls.  Compelling music played by people with real heart.  It’s the sisters, for sure, but it is also the tremendous arrangements of Adrian and the sensitive playing of the whole band that it all comes together.  If you can get in anywhere to see them play these songs, you really should.  From the first songs, through the stories, the small snippets of clog dancing, the feeding of the baby (whilst the band played Alfie), the jokes, the childhood stories, the mentions of the fabulous sounding singing weekends ( I wish for one of those), the gorgeous playing, right up to the New Year’s singsong at the end, it was a healing evening, great company and great music.  They just create an atmosphere full of the warmth and mystery of great music and song.  We arrived in a bit of a state, after one of those weeks. We left much, much happier. 

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