March 12, 2015 by Robb Powell
As important as listening to recorded music is there really is nothing that can beat the live experience. Even the most emphatic definition of the word ‘experience‘ couldn’t sum up or contain the magic of The Unthanks live at Warwick Arts Centre last Sunday. I really am writing this from so high up in the clouds I’m at risk of altitude sickness. Totally worth it though.
To whet the expectant audience’s ferocious appetite were the incredible folk trio The Young’uns who sang entirely a cappella. I felt like getting up on the stage to mount a full on investigation to look for the invisible instruments or to at least make an attempt to uncover the source of the mysterious enchantment behind the sublime sound. But no. It was just three insanely talented chaps with vocals so serene and powerful they hit you with the full thunderous force of a tsunami. Their harmonies are delivered with such precision it feels like you’re in the presence of craftsmen of the highest skill. It was a nice change to hear just the three songs from the support act before they introduced the colossal 10-piece juggernaut that would make up The Unthanks for the evening. Trust me, it isn’t because I was tired of hearing The Young’uns. I could quite happily have sat there for the next three full days and nights just listening to these guys but it was a different and nice way to run the order of play. The guys were back after the interval to warm us up again with another jaw-dropping display of their talents.
And so, to The Unthanks then. It is cliche to remark one is lost for words. Speechless (writerless) or ‘words don’t/cannot do justice’ etc, but these all apply. However, it would be a terrible disservice to not at least make an attempt to articulate the range of emotions this remarkable ensemble evoked from every single one of the people in that hall. With a string quartet consisting of two violins, viola and cello, a bassist on electric bass as well as jumping on a double bass, a drummer/percussionist and trumpeter as well as Adrian’s piano added to the sensational vocal ranges and harmonies of Rachel and Becky Unthank, is it any wonder we are all still in heaven? I’m not religious but devil, devil I defy thee to feel some kind of non-religious religiosity. Perhaps spiritual would be more appropriate. I’m having a goosebump overload just thinking back in order to write these words.
Part of the brilliance of The Unthanks is how they are something completely different. I’ve read elsewhere that you won’t hear their sound or anything like it elsewhere and that is right for the most part. The Moulettes come close but they too have their very own unique quality sound. They are both in the same top league and their folk connections as well as the classical and orchestral beauty they produce links them but each are their very own.
As well as the wonderfully down to earth interaction with the audience, the music moves you with an incredible force. Emotion flows, perhaps calm and serenely at first on some songs but it also gathers itself together from many tributaries until it rushes to a fearsome torrent. You want to smile, beam and laugh but also cry and sob in despair. Sometimes all at the same time. The Testimony of Patience Kershaw is a revelation, by the way. Take tissues I implore thee. I felt momentarily sad that the violin solo For Dad didn’t receive its own applause but this was not intentional as it did lead immediately into Magpie without any pause. This did work as it builds up a tremendous introduction to the latter. It is impossible to select any ‘best’ performed song across the night because EVERY one was utter perfection. The imagery conjured up by the slightly stripped back Magpie though, is a huge accomplishment. That devil was there. I felt the demon’s presence but The Unthanks rendered the malevolent spirit powerless, such is the might of their own power.
If you want to really feel and live the music I urge you to get yourself to see this collective quick smart! Is it any wonder they’re gathering a collection of celebrity fans and receiving standing ovations at the end of shows? The full on ten-minute plus Mount The Air was truly breath-taking! There really are not words enough to communicate the magnificence of the experience. If only there was some kind of scratch n sniff card equivalent I could send you all (scratch n hear obviously, ooh perhaps I should patent that concept!?). Yes, I am very much still in heaven and honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever come back down from this again.
PS – Following the wonderful clog-dancing parts to a few songs I had a really interesting if bizarre dream about said footwear the following night. Great stuff!