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Review: The Unthanks, Corn Exchange, King's Lynn

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The Unthanks kind of transformed into the Unthank last night at this penultimate King's Lynn Festival night event as one-half of the sisters who lead the band was unable to appear.

Becky had tonsillitis leaving Rachel to shoulder the burden alone ... the first time ever she had appeared without her sister.

Presumably there had been some thought to cancelling but in the best showbiz tradition, the show must go on and she explained that less than four hours before the concert the band had been furiously putting together a set-list which they could perform. Other members of the 10-piece ensemble stepped up in vocal support at times.

Rachel Unthank, with Adrian McNally on piano. Photo by Gavin Bush. (58329483)
Rachel Unthank, with Adrian McNally on piano. Photo by Gavin Bush. (58329483)

The decent-sized audience (about three-quarters full) were very pleased they did as although the flow may have been a little disjointed at times as might be expected in the circumstances, the sheer quality of the musicianship shone through.

Rooted firmly in folk and in particular the heritage music of their native Northumberland, they feature sublime versions of songs by working class songsmiths of the 19th century such as blind Bobby Nunn, but there is definitely a fusion there too with a strong jazz influence as well, based around Lizzie Jones' sorrowful but powerful trumpet.

Highlights included The Isabella Coke Ovens, Gan To The Kye, The Testimony of Patience Kershaw, Lucky Gilchrist and Royal Blackbird and a great version of the Elvis Costello-penned song about the Falklands War, Shipbuilding.

New songs were played from their forthcoming album, including the anthemic Sorrows Away, which is set to be an instant favourite with fans.

The Unthanks love a minor chord, as Rachel herself told the audience, they'll take any happy tune and "make it miserable" but it is in that studied sadness that they express so much emotion of lost hopes, lost love and crushed lives.

In the second half Rachel was given a bit of a rest as first the band led by pianist Adrian McNally and guitarist Chris Jones, used backing tapes, first over a poem and then with a tape of Becky singing.

Refreshed by her rest, Rachel came back to do some wonderful clog dancing and the bang encored with a reprise of Sorrows Away and long applause.

The Festival has had one or two bumps this year with the Ruth Fermoy Memorial Concert guest Skampa Quartet having to be replaced at the last minute, but once again audiences have seen some brilliant talent on display.

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