The Unthanks at Vicar Street, 25 May 2017
The Unthanks have managed to cultivate a lovely sense of community about them, epitomised in the singing weekends they’ve run for the last seven years. It is a real delight to be in the audience at Vicar Street for this, the showcase of their album ‘Diversions Vol. 4: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake’. It’s an extraordinary evening, warm and convivial and celebratory, as well as being deeply moving in parts. The figure of Molly Drake smiles at us through the projected photographs; her poems are given voice by her daughter, Gabrielle; and her songs are lovingly reframed by The Unthanks.
The whole experience is like a live documentary film, and there is something particularly relevant and pressing in the sentiment of Molly Drake’s lyrics that comes across through The Unthanks’ guileless presentation. The song that closes the album, The First Day, opens the second half of the evening. (There’s something appropriately theatrical in having an interval. Something in the happy chaos of a few hundred strangers milling about a venue for fifteen minutes that builds a sense of togetherness. When we retake our seats and the lights go down again, we’re ever so slightly closer.) “This is the first day of the rest of my life, could be the first day of the best of my life…it’s only the first…”. Becky Unthank’s breathy high notes have a charming fragility to them that is contrasted with Gabrielle Drake’s recitation of her mother’s confident poem, “If I have a prayer for love, let it be this: that I love wisely and well and love what is.”
Rachel Unthank is possessed of a different voice to her sister, with less of Becky’s breathiness, and she takes the lead on the torch song Never Pine For The Old Love. Each stanza twists bitterly sweet on a diminished chord as the cautionary tale is told. The instrumentation of piano, double bass, violin, and clarinet is a compact but rich palette and suits the material very well.
This is certainly an evening to remember, and such a vivid enhancement of the Diversions Vol. 4 album that repeated listening will be all the more pleasurable.