THE UNTHANKS – Diversions Volume 4: The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake / Extras (RabbleRouser Music RRM016/RRM017)

Diversions 4For this, their fourth volume of Diversions, the Unthanks have chosen The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake. Inspired by hearing the limited release 2012 CD of her works (a set of songs, accompanied by a booklet of poetry) and spurred on by a pre-existing love of her son Nick’s works, hindsight suggests there was a kind of inevitability to this project.

Molly Drake’s songs often offer poignant, emotional insights into some of the darker recesses of the human psyche. In my view, the songs generally work much better than the poems. Sometimes the poetry feels rather stiff, straining to perform within the chosen verse metre. Perhaps age has tarnished some of the phrases. The songs seem to give her more freedom, allowing her flashes of brilliance in observations, in the way she describes a feeling or a situation.

Of course, The Unthanks aren’t the only artists to have responded to Molly Drake. Eliza and Martin Carthy’s 2014 version of ‘Happiness’ featured a special live appearance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, by Gabrielle Drake, the stalwart custodian of her family’s legacy. The difference between their version and the one on this album is intriguing. The Carthys’ version seems more robust, whereas The Unthanks leave the song’s fragility nakedly exposed.

This album, too, features Gabrielle Drake, here reciting her mother’s lyrics. Look out for her – be quick! – at the final gig of the current tour at London’s Barbican Centre on 28 May. This will be her first live performance together with the band, as the recordings were all done separately.

Molly Drake’s song recordings were usually quite short and accompanied only by herself on piano. Recorded by her husband, at his insistence, they were not intended for public consumption and aren’t of studio quality. In fact, they can often sound decidedly quaint to modern ears, but they offer some delicately lovely melodies and quirky insights into dark recesses of the human psyche. But that’s not all and, as The Unthanks are at pains to explain, there is a dry humour and an unexpected optimism in many of the songs.

From this relatively raw material, Adrian McNally has done his usual stunning job of creating atmospheric, ethereal arrangements, either working with the original melodies or creating new and sympathetic ones. Becky and Rachel deliver their seemingly effortless yet otherworldly vocal performances with tenderness and care, supported by the other able musicians in the band.

‘Woods In May’ has been slowed down and made spookier; the added clarinet on ‘How Wild The Wind Blows’ emphasises the song’s wistfulness and ‘Soft Shelled Crabs’ – never recorded by Molly but given a delightful arrangement based on Gabrielle’s memories of her mother singing it – might, in our unkinder world nowadays, be retitled “snowflakes”.

‘I Remember’ seems like a wry take on ‘I Remember It Well’ from the musical, Gigi with its two souls not quite as united as they might like to imagine. ‘Never Pine For The Old Love’ is simply sound advice and quite a few of the songs deliver similar words of wisdom. By contrast, poems like ‘Night Is My Friend’ or ‘Two Worlds’ seem very raw, grief-riven and hollow-eyed, but their honesty is indisputable.

The Unthanks have delivered a beautiful album (and a half if you count the Extras – and you really should). It feels like a fragile thing, eggshell-delicate, something to treasure and keep for best.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the DIVERSIONS VOL4 THE SONGS AND POEMS OF MOLLY DRAKE link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist website: http://www.the-unthanks.com

Promo video:

THE UNTHANKS Live at Vicar Street, Dublin (25 May 2017)

Unthanks Live

The dark stage is bedecked with an array of lamps (of the standard and table varieties), interspersed with rattan chairs. The grand piano and elegantly wrought music stands suggest a more genteel era of afternoon tea dances – if you overlook the modern paraphernalia of cables and microphones.

The voice of Gabrielle Drake reading her mother’s poem ‘Time’ penetrates the gloom and is followed by a recording of Molly Drake herself, singing the engagingly humorous and self-referential ‘Funny Little Tune’. Without any preamble, The Unthanks launch straight into ‘What Can A Song Do To You’, as good an evocation of the power of memory as any.

In fact, not a word is spoken to the audience until around two-thirds of the way through the first set. Wisely, the band focuses on allowing these songs and poems to speak for themselves. When they do finally break the wall, it’s mainly to reassure us that they’ve now got “the cheery songs” out of the way.

It’s true that this album, the Molly Drake oeuvre, isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, and this is as introspective a set as they come, with more shade than light. Literally as well as figuratively: the set is deliberately kept low-lit throughout. As Molly Drake said, “The happy and enduring things do not evoke or provoke poetry”.

But these clouds do have silver linings. There is lightness and dry wit in the observations of life. There’s even a little optimism. ‘Never Pine For The Old Love’ is fine advice, as is ‘Dream Your Dreams’. ‘Poor Mum’ is a call to break the confines of a societal label. What’s more, the projections of stills and archive footage of Molly Drake encourage us view her as a person: a wife, a mother and – most of all – a woman of style and humour.

The set consists entirely of the ‘Diversions Volume 4: The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake’ album (plus the 8-track ‘Extras’), thoughtfully re-ordered to evoke different moods in the audience. The darkest part of the set is at the start, with a gentle lightening of mood as the show progresses. There’s no adornment from their back catalogue, nothing to break the spell. And a spell is cast, the crowd seeming to hold its breath while Rachel and Becky sing their impeccable harmonies. Although they always seem transported somewhere else entirely when they sing, they are still delightfully grounded performers, briskly and unfussily brushing off a couple of minor fluffs to delighted applause.

The only non-Molly Drake song of the evening is Becky’s encore cover of Nick Drake’sRiver Man, followed by Rachel taking lead on ‘Dream Your Dreams’. A brief reprise of this song leaves us with the image of Molly Drake smiling and raising a glass to us all in the final frame.

Having been reverentially silent during the songs, the crowd delivers a standing ovation for the band at the end, and one richly deserved for such a beautifully realised performance of an eclectic set.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the DIVERSIONS VOL4 THE SONGS AND POEMS OF MOLLY DRAKE link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist website: http://www.the-unthanks.com

The Unthanks announce Diversions Vol. 4

Diversions Vol. 4
The Unthanks – How Wild The Wind Blows
Performing the Songs and Poems of Molly Drake

Unthanks

A wistful mother in the 1950s makes some simple home recordings in her family sitting room. Little could she have known that decades later, her son would become one of the most poetic and influential songwriters ever, or that more than sixty years later, the dust would be blown off her own songs. On the surface, the 2013 release of Molly Drake’s work could easily have been perceived as just a curious footnote and jigsaw piece in explaining the enormous talent of Nick Drake. In the eyes of The Unthanks however, and increasingly amongst others, Molly’s work is extraordinary enough to rank alongside and independently of her brilliant son.

With encouragement from the Drake musical estate and the full blessing and enthusiasm of celebrated actress Gabrielle Drake (Molly’s daughter and Nick’s sister) The Unthanks are relishing the opportunity and will treat the challenge with the same love and diligence for their subject as they did when reinterpreting the work of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnson’s on Diversions Vol 1.

Never intended for public release, Molly Drake’s recordings, made by her husband, were made at home and are of the time. In a climate where films, stories and music are being rehashed for spurious repeat exploitation, if ever a body of work actually merited reappraisal and fresh presentation, surely the work of Molly Drake is it. Her songs share plenty of common ground with her son’s – charming and bittersweet, yet dark and pensive.

A tour of Molly Drake’s work, reimagined by The Unthanks, will be accompanied by the release of Diversions Vol 4. – The Unthanks Perform The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake.

Artists’ website: http://www.the-unthanks.com/

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016 winners are…

Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016

The winners of this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards have been announced at a spectacular event held at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Now in their 17th year, this major event in the specialist music calendar saw accolades presented for Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year and many more, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards for songwriter Joan Armatrading and traditional folk legend Norma Waterson.

Also on the night some of the most exciting acts in the folk music scene took to the stage for magical performances to celebrate the vibrant folk music scene in the UK and beyond.

John McCusker Band

The evening kicked off with an electrifying performance by the John McCusker Band, and throughout the evening the audience were treated to performances by Grammy Award and BRIT Award nominee Joan Armatrading; British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and film score composer, Mark Knopfler; Mercury Award nominated Sam Lee, Dublin folk band Lynched; a special tribute to Sandy Denny by Rufus Wainwright and many more. The evening culminated in a rousing performance by acclaimed Northumbrian group The Unthanks.

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright performed a special tribute to Sandy Denny who was inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame. For the rendition of Sandy’s classic ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, Rufus was backed by musicians including some who were members of Fairport Convention alongside Sandy in the 1960s and 1970s.

Awards were presented by a host of famous folk fans, including actors Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, The Office) and Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, House of Fools), musicians Richard Hawley and Graham Coxon from Blur, War Horse author Michael Morpurgo and 1960s star Sandie Shaw.

The night also saw the presentation of the annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, which has been finding and championing young folk talent for 18 years. The four nominees in this category also performed live during a special interval programme presented by Radio 2’s Simon Mayo and top folk musician Kathryn Tickell.

Bob Shennan, Controller BBC Radio 2, 6Music and Asian Network and Director BBC Music, said:

“What better way to celebrate the thriving folk music scene than a wonderful night in the impressive surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. It was a fitting way to recognise the huge wealth of talent and I’d like to congratulate the winners of these prestigious accolades. Here’s to next year!”

The awards will be available to watch on the BBC iPlayer from today and will be broadcast on the BBC Red Button from Saturday 30 April until Thursday 5 May.

The full list of winners:

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR
Rhiannon Giddens

BEST DUO
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

BEST GROUP
The Young’uns

BEST ALBUM
Mount The Air – The Unthanks

HORIZON AWARD
Sam Kelly

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
Andy Cutting

BEST ORIGINAL TRACK 
‘Mackerel’ by The Rheingans Sisters

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK 
‘Lovely Molly’ by Sam Lee

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD
Brighde Chaimbeul

Gift Band 2016

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Norma Waterson

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Joan Armatrading

GOOD TRADITION AWARD
John McCusker

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Sandy Denny

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Well, if that was not exciting enough, then why not create your own Albert Hall replica out of those discarded food/ electrical cardboard boxes lying around the house, sit on your favourite cushion, grab a glass of something special and re-live it all again here at:

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – 2016: Full Show

Sam Lee at the Radio 2 Folk Awards and singing with Nightingales

Sam Lee

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards returned on Wednesday 27th April 2016 and was held at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London. The event featured live performances from ground-breaking folk singer and song collector, Sam Lee, as well as the singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading and Northumbrian folk act The Unthanks.

Since bursting onto the folk scene at the end of the 1990s, Sam Lee has blazed a dizzying trail as an outstanding singer and song collector but also as the driving force behind the eclectic, award-winning folk club, The Nest Collective, which has brought traditional music to younger audiences, to all kinds of new stages and venues.  In the past few years, Sam has taken his dynamic interpretation of ancient songs worldwide, to more than 20 countries. Awarded the prestigious 2011 Arts Foundation prize, nominated for the 2012 Mercury Award for his debut album, Ground Of Its Own, Lee’s most recent album is The Fade In Time which was released to critical acclaim in 2015.

If you would like to order a copy either of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.




As well as a varied career (which has included working as a part-time Burlesque dancer), London born and bred, Sam Lee, is an experienced naturalist. In marked contrast to the Royal Albert Hall performance, during the spring of 2015, saw Sam providing small audiences with a very special opportunity to join him and guest musicians in Sussex woodlands, to sing with Nightingales.

Sam Lee hosted a series of these outdoor feasts at a secret location in East Sussex at which music, stories and folklore celebrated one of Britain’s rarest birds – the nightingale.

The idea for the celebrations grew out of a sell-out event Sam ran in 2014 for the Brighton Festival and listener reactions to his award-nominated radio programme marking the 90th anniversary of the BBC’s first ever outside broadcast, featuring a nightingale and cello duet.

As yet we have not had any word from Sam if he plans to run this again in 2017 but details about the original event can be found via this link: http://thenestcollective.co.uk/shows/singing-with-nightingales-sam-lee/

Rachel Hamer Band record debut album

Rachel Hamer Band record debut album EFDSS Grace Smith Graeme Armstrong Graeme Miles Martyn Wyndham-Read Mike Nicholson Rachel Hamer Rachel Hamer Band Robin Dale Sam Partridge The Keelers The Unthanks The Wilsons The Young'uns

A Newcastle folk band with strong links to Teesside is set to record its first album, thanks to a bursary in memory of one of the North East’s most acclaimed songwriters.

The Rachel Hamer Band has been named as the latest recipient of the award made by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and the award winning band The Unthanks in memory of Middlesbrough songwriter Graeme Miles who died in 2013.

This is the second memorial bursary, worth £1,200, to be given. The scheme is administered by EFDSS and supported by The Unthanks through fundraising concerts.
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