The Unthanks announce new Diversions album

The UnthanksLive And Unaccompanied is not a live album. Well, it is, but it isn’t. More of that later.

It’s notable for yet another incarnation of a band with many guises, for a show-stopping adaptation of a song by fellow Geordie Richard Dawson, for harmonies reminiscent of legendary Irish vocal trio Voice Squad, and for a sweet short film made by an award-winning family member.

The Unthanks, as a name, has been used to represent many different incarnations of a collective reaching back to 2005. On this record, The Unthanks means the unaccompanied voices of Becky Unthank, Rachel Unthank and Niopha Keegan. The Unthanks that includes Adrian McNally as pianist, producer and arranger, and Chris Price on guitars and bass, is still very much alive, but following the expansiveness of recent orchestral explorations, culminating in a BBC Proms, the obvious next move was for the boys to stand aside, to allow Rachel and Becky Unthank to go back to the beginning, which for them is unaccompanied harmony singing.

The Tyneside sisters grew up on the unaccompanied folk song form, and sang that way together before meeting McNally and putting together Rachel Unthank & The Winterset – the first incarnation of the journey that sees them come full circle with this record. Alongside Unthanks regular violinist and vocalist Niopha Keegan, they had already established a band within a band in The Unthanks, with the success of haunting harmony signature pieces like Magpie from Mount The Air, brought to wider attention by Mackenzie Crook’s beautifully poignant BBC4 series, Detectorists – a relationship further explored recently when Crook selected The Unthanks to score the whole soundtrack for BBC1’s Christmas hit, Worzel Gummidge. That soundrack is now available to download and stream on Itunes and Spotify.

On this record, they fully explore their rich and unique vocal combinations, with brand new pieces and arrangements. ‘Magpie’ is one of only three tracks on Live & Unaccompanied that has appeared on an Unthanks record before. For the rest of the tracks, The Unthanks would prefer us to regard the versions here on Diversions Vol 5, as the definitive recordings, captured live across a five week tour in Spring 2019.  Selected from 31 shows, the performances on this record were variously taken from shows in Newcastle, Dublin, London, Brighton, Durham, Bellaghy and Belfast.

This not a live album in the sense of having concert versions of songs that appear on studio records. If a studio is a creative tool in itself with which to paint all manner of 3D settings for sound and stories to exist in, we might in contrast prefer to see the directness and simplicity of unaccompanied singing, as a performance art, and one of storytelling, which requires an audience to tell to. That is the basis on which The Unthanks regard the live setting of these performances, to be the truest place to capture these songs on record.

The Special Film Edition of Diversions Vol 5 includes As We Go, an atmospheric and beautifully shot account of life on the road, through the eyes of filmmaker Ainslie Henderson. The film features concert highlights, behind the scenes footage, family life and special performances in found spaces, in and outdoor, during the tour.

A BAFTA award-winning animator and filmmaker, Henderson happens to be Becky Unthank’s partner, and father to their son. As We Go captures a unique moment in the lives of both Becky Unthank and Niohpa Keegan, who six months before the tour, each had a first child. On tour to look after baby as well as make the film (alongside Niopha’s partner who was also on tour looking after their baby), Henderson’s unique position within the touring party allows him to capture the realities of touring life for new mothers. He also paints a touching portrayal of fathers looking after young sons while their mothers travel, sing and work.

As We Go is only available on DVD as part of this special edition of Diversions Vol 5 – Live And Unaccompanied.

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