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

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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

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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. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

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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.

A contemporary of Ewan MacColl, Graeme wrote his first song at the age of 14 and after hearing the traditional songs of Tyneside, set himself a 20-year task to create a collection for his adopted native Teesside. He wrote hundreds of songs about the area, finding poetry and beauty in the industrial landscape of Middlesbrough and the surrounding Cleveland hills and dales.

The young Newcastle based quartet will use the bursary to pay for studio time to record their first album.

Fronted by Rachel Hamer, whose family hails from Teesside, the band comprises of fiddle player, vocalist and clog dancer Grace Smith, guitarist and vocalist Graeme Armstrong, and Sam Partridge, a flautist and multi-instrumentalist, and is fast establishing itself as a major force on the traditional music scene in the UK.

Rachel Hamer, speaking on behalf of The Rachel Hamer Band, said:

“We are honoured and thrilled to be awarded the Graeme Miles Bursary. Graeme was a prolific songwriter and champion of North East folk music and we feel privileged to be a small part of his legacy.

“This award is invaluable to our development and we are excited about the award, our new album, and for what the future holds for us. The bursary is giving us the unique opportunity to pay for studio time to record our debut album.

“Our self-produced EPs have sold well at our gigs but we now feel ready to record our debut album. We are excited to start recording the album and the bursary is giving us an incredible start.

“We would like to thank everyone at EFDSS, The Unthanks, and the artists who gave their time to raise additional funds for this opportunity,” she added.

About The Rachel Hamer Band

The Rachel Hamer Band is made up of Rachel Hamer, 23, from Whitley Bay, a previous winner of the John Birmingham Cup songwriting competition. She has strong links to Teesside – her grandfather worked at ICI in Billingham and her father grew up in Billingham. The other band members are Grace Smith, 22, from Saltburn; 24-year-old Graeme Armstrong from Jedburgh, and Sam Partridge, 22, from Glossop.

Together they combine their passion for traditional tunes with Rachel’s extensive repertoire, having been born and bred on the local traditional folk scene, to arrange their innovative and exciting music. Each member brings their own unique approach to their diverse musical traditions.

Folk Radio UK:

“The magic of these four lies in their cutting-edge combination which, whilst steeped in the tradition, has a brilliant fresh sound”  

About the Graeme Miles bursary
The Graeme Miles Bursary scheme is open to artists or groups, aged 18 to 25, in the North East of England, which includes Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and the Tees Valley. The bursary is to fund a significant development opportunity, project or programme of activity that could have a lasting impact on their career.

Applications are invited from individual musicians, composers, and groups who are in the early stages of their professional career or final stages of advanced musical training with a genuine commitment to build a professional career in folk music.

Artists’ website: www.therachelhamerband.com

‘The Witchfinder General’ – live at the Davy lamp folk club:

THE UNTHANKS – Archive Treasures (2005-2015) (RabbleRouser Music)

THE UNTHANKS  Archive TreasuresThe limited edition Memory Box is all sold and we lesser mortals must content ourselves with these fourteen tracks to celebrate The Unthanks’ tenth anniversary. Actually, the last piece dates from 2000 but that is The Unthank Family Band so we won’t be picky. All the tracks are rare or obscure – live, radio sessions or demos – making this record a real treasure trove for fans.

The album opens with Chrissie Hynde’s ‘2000 Miles’, their 2015 Christmas single, and is followed by three live songs dominated by hefty piano. ‘On A Monday Morning’ is probably by the newly-renamed Unthanks with Adrian McNally at the keyboard but ‘I Wish, I Wish’ and ‘Blue Bleezin Blind Drunk’ feature Stef Connor, who otherwise went unrecorded with The Winterset as they were back then.

Now we have the full band with ‘Close The Coalhouse Door’, ‘Alifib/Alifie’ and ‘The Gallowgate Lad’ all live with Robert Wyatt’s long composition departing a little from their usual arranging style: a big drum sound and gorgeous brass fading into gentle piano and strings and building up again to a mighty finish. ‘Felton Lonnin’ and ‘Tar Barrel In Dale’ are radio sessions and ‘Queen Of Hearts’ is an alternative demo from 2009.

Then come the outside projects. ‘Sexy Sadie’ comes from the Mojo reworking of The Beatles and given away with the magazine. ‘A Dream Of A Tree In A Spanish Graveyard’ was recorded with Ian MacMillan for the concept album Harbour Of Songs and ‘Oak, Ash And Thorn’ is from the project album of the same name and is possibly guilty of stretching the song out too much. Certainly it’s much more solemn than Peter Bellamy’s original. The Unthank Family track is something of a novelty – I guess that’s George Unthank singing but it’s definitely Becky and Rachel clogging.

Archive Treasures is certainly a fan album with sufficient unreleased tracks to guarantee its popularity. Its division into more or less four chapters makes for a coherent whole and it is essentially a record of highlights from a long career that has made The Unthanks one of the top acts on the folk scene today.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘2000 Miles’ live at The Union Chapel: