The Unthanks

Fire Station, Sunderland

12 October 2022

My first time seeing The Unthanks (and also my first time in The Fire Station, which is a great venue). So I wasn't sure what the show would be like, but I wasn't expecting what it actually was.

There were 11 musicians on stage. Apart from the two singers (Rachel and Becky Unthank), there was a pianist (who also sang and occasionally played guitar and harmonium), a guitar (acoustic and electric) player (who also sang and occasionally played keyboards), a drummer, a bass (electric and double) player (who also played guitar I think), a drummer, a trumpet player, and a string quartet (one of whom also sang). The point I'm trying to get across here is that this was a big sound, giving the set of mostly traditional folk songs big, bombastic arrangements.

And for the first couple of songs, I didn't think it was working. The singing was fine, and the music was fine, but I wasn't convinced that the two belonged together. The voices, good though they undoubtedly are, didn't seem like the right kind of voices for cutting through the big band sound.

And then, by about the third song, something changed. I don't know if the sound mix physically changed, or just my perception of it changed, but something clicked, and it was suddenly sounding perfect to me.

The arrangements really are amazing. Not every song uses the full band. There's every combination, from the full band down to just three voices in unaccompanied harmony. At one point, the singers leave the stage and there's a tune on just strings and piano. But it's the trumpet player that steals the show: every time she's on stage, her sound lifts the music to another level, and her solos are stunning.

From a shaky start, by the end I was stunned at how beautiful it all sounded. Just the best concert I have ever seen.