Tonight we had a different mix The Unthanks always love to surprise as they refuse to be corralled into pure folk genre. Raevennan Husbandes was there to open and support The Unthanks not once but twice at the beginning of both sets; this arrangement balanced the concert so that the interval was in the middle. It is a re-mixing of the normal that worked, we had the chance to chat with the friendly songbird Raevennan and buy her debut EP Box of Innocence before finding our seats and enjoying her unique acoustic approach to folk more beatnik and afro-centric than barn dance – with her standout voice that made the hair at the back of your neck tingle with delight. Tonight was a showcasing of their latest album, Mountain Air creating an atmosphere of mists, another place and time and above all else the shadow of sadness and regret present in so many folk songs.
The Unthanks, with the Grand Piano, and ensemble of musicians filled the stage but centre of everyone’s attention were The Unthanks sisters, Rachel & Becky as they rework Northumbrian folk with moody, musical orchestrations. Tonight we saw the wonderful interplay between the musicians on stage and the music soared across St David’s auditorium, but I felt something was missing a bit of fizz could be nerves or the setting not comfortable, but this did not prevent the quality of the music shining through as the night went on they connected with the audience and especially after an amusing tale of making pots in Cardiff and the offer by Adrian McNally, writer , producer and pianist of perhaps raffling them which was decided as a bad idea as they were not so good they relaxed and the show hit a new high.
Opening with Hawthorn and Madam we heard the wonderful combining of melancholy and perfect instrumentation with the interpretation echoed by vocals trumpet and piano. There is throughout the renditions of traditional, self-penned songs a bleakness of moors and open spaces of the harshness of life, this though is never a dirge as the luscious sound from the quintet of strings, bass and trumpet adds a warmth like the sun peeping out from behind the cloud adding silver to a leaden sky.
Rachel’s, Last Lullaby is an uplifting song that engages and absorbs the listener as the first half is then closed with a ten minute number the title track of the album Mountain Air with its scarcity of words but fullness of sound with a glorious crescendo on the piano leaving the audience full of eager anticipation for the second set.
Refreshed, re-introduced to Raevennan, The Unthanks were soon back on stage picking up the folk fest that everyone was enjoying in Cardiff. Opening the second set with Gan To The Kye a traditional song given the Unthanks treatment everyone was happy that they had lots more of The Unthanks to enjoy tonight Wow is a simply description of Out Of The Blue this is an astounding re-interpretation of the Robert Wyatt song, intense sounds the viola intensifying the bristly feeling of a civilian returning to his house that had been bombed the emotional effects where thick in the musical air.
We were treated to Unthanks version of Starless, also covered by King Crimson. All too soon the encore was played with a trio of treats that fitted the mood finishing with and Adrian McCully number Last; with rapturous cheering, foot stamping and standing ovation Cardiff thanked the Unthanks and hopefully this is not the last time they cross the border into Wales.
Died For Love
Mount The Air
Gan The Kye
Out Of The Blue
The Wind The Wind