Rychard Carrington reports on The Unthanks and Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell – The Junction, Cambridge, 21 October 2009

The Unthanks
Junction 2, The


It's not often that the star of a show introduces the support act. It's certainly a good start to a concert, as it gets the audience on the side of the support from the beginning. Tonight Rachel Unthank introduced Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell in her personable way, and immediately our attention was rewarded by their utterly superb rendition of the traditional Hares On The Mountain. Lucy has a very beautiful voice, while Jonny plays a delicate guitar. With Lucy's fiddle thrown in, and some great songwriting by Jonny, it all amounted to a quite brilliant short set, testifying to the power an acoustic folk duo can achieve through gentle balladry, when everything fits together just perfectly. This was the best support act I've since for a long time. They should become major stars. Trust The Unthanks to patronise such promising talent.

I wrote this review of Rachel Unthank and The Winterset's concert at The Junction two years (and one day) ago, in which I declared them to be 'the greatest folk band of all time'. Was I rash? No, I wasn't, as far as my humble opinion is concerned. I still don't think I've ever seen better, at least. So how would they compare two years later, now that pianist Belinda O'Hooley, who made such a seemingly crucial contribution to their sound, has departed (and the name has been modified)?

Well, it can't have been easy to replace Belinda, but I'm delighted to report that The Unthanks have managed this most impressively. They have transformed into a very large band - ten players in all, quite a challenge for the Junction 2 stage.Singers (and clog dancers) Rachel and Becky Unthank take central position, Niopha Keegan is still present on fiddle (and what a good fiddler she is, too), Adrian McNally is now on the piano, while two other men and four other women play a variety of other instruments, mostly of a string and brass nature. I wasn't always convinced that the drums enhanced the sound (I prefer the percussion of the clogs), but in general the large array of instruments contributed with sensisitivity, verve and imagination. The exact combinations of instruments varied from song to song, and most of the players switched to different instruments as suited the arrangements. There was no settled groove, each number worked- and succeeded - differently. Of course the charming personalities of Rachel and Becky contributed further to the specialness of the evening, as did the selection of songs, taken from a wide variety of sources and songwriters - Anne Briggs, Alex Glasgow, John Lennon (Sexy Sadie might have seemed an incongruous choice, but The Unthanks naturally rise above any such preconceptions).

A large and appreciative audience knew that they were witnessing the very best of British folk acts. Absolutely the top of the tree.

Writer: Rychard Carrington