The Unthanks at the One Touch Theatre Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 30th May 2016. A Review.

The One Touch Theatre at Eden Court was the venue for a sell-out concert featuring the Unthank sisters.

The Unthanks are a five piece group – sisters Rebecca and Rachel Unthank (mainly voices), supported by Adrian McNally (mainly piano/voice), Niopha Keegan (mainly voice/fiddle) and Chris Price (mainly guitar/voice).  The word mainly is used advisedly as all of the musicians are multi instrumentalists and swapped roles through the course of the performance.

The group are heavily influenced by the folk music of the area of north east England, particularly Northumberland.  They have been in existence for ten years now and this tour provided them with an opportunity to showcase their retrospective favourites from throughout their extremely varied career.

Folk music deals in the main with the brutal realities of life and this can make it a rather bleak art form. The subdued lighting and smoky/hazy effects in the theatre added to this atmosphere.  However throughout the performance the Unthanks managed to achieve a good blend of seriousness and humour.  The group are extremely thoughtful about their music, but also have a good sense of fun and this shone through during the chats between songs.

A wide range of subjects were covered including: weekend blues, unplanned pregnancy, ornithology, selkies, shipbuilding and socks.  There were some extremely poignant unstated links in the performance.  The group had just travelled down from the Northern Isles (Scapa Flow).  This, their links to Tyneside and the songs relating to shipbuilding were delivered almost to the day on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

This horrific event involved men and boats from all over the British Isles and included a large proportion of boats built on the Tyne and also men enlisted from the area.  The human waste of war and the vagaries of capitalism were neatly linked by the songs relating to unemployment and shipbuilding.  The people who built and manned the ships and made huge sacrifices having no protection from unemployment when the market dictated.

There were also a few local connections uncovered throughout the evening.  The group had brought their own sound person, but the performance lighting was provided one of the Eden Court lighting team.  She was pleasantly credited for her sterling work by Mr McNally at the end of the performance.  Also the group highlighted local artist – Natalie Rae Reid who designed the artwork for their Mount the air album.

The performance was split into two parts with a short break in between.  After leaving the stage at the end of the concert a “Wembley” style wall of applause from the audience brought the group back for a very moving encore.  During the introduction to this Mr McNally took the opportunity to publicise singing weekends run by the group.  These sound like loads of fun and take place in Northumberland and feature singing, walking and visiting pubs – with Mr McNally doing the catering – apparently he is a bit of a culinary expert.  Get on the group mailing list if you fancy participating in these.

The group also stated that the reception to this tour had given them the confidence to consider future tours of Scotland.  It is to be sincerely hoped that they will do this and we will see them back again – note to group – “haste ye back” – SOON please.

Thanks to the group and to Eden Court for hosting an extremely magical evening.