If The Unthanks are nervous in their stripped back return to the stage after a well earned break following the orchestral tour another projects in 2017 then it doesn't show tonight. The six piece - or eight if you count the future members that Becky Unthank and violinist Niopha Keegan are carrying - presented a set that really emphasised the diversity that has flowered in their career of late
'We spent a month in Hull which is a long time for us to spend in one place' admits Rachel recalling the pubs, shortbread and hairdressers encountered during their stint appearing in Maxine Peake's play ''The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca' which covered her campaign for new safety measures in the fishing industry after the loss of three ships in 1968 and the public vilification that came when the industry began to die and jobs lost. The songs produced for the play will be released later this year on an EP.
They fit seamlessly alongside other nautical tales - 'The Romantic Tees' & a cover of 'Shipbuilding' from their Shipyards project, Robert Wyatt's 'Sea Song' from their album of his work, the Molly Drake material - all these diversions and adventures have broadened the appeal and imagination. The aforementioned Lillian Bilocca songs have a real cinematic sweeping feel to them along with the trademark melancholy that draws you in like an enveloping fog.
A cheer and great reception is given to 'Magpie' which no doubt bought the band to some of the audiences attention when it featured in the stunning BBC series 'The Detectorists' and it is eerie and foreboding in this hushed hall. A lot of times tonight the spine tingles and heart moved by primeval and ethereal moments. Song For Syria and its 'We should take them all' refrain is still relevant despite the news media having focussed on other matters
Yes there is clog dancing, self depreciating jokes and warm asides but most of all there is a feeling that The Unthanks are constantly respecting the old ways while bringing in the new. With other EPs planned on Emily Bronte's poetry , WW1 writings tonight's show was the perfect demonstration of The Unthanks really challenging expectations and that's so many tales are waiting to be told.