The Unthanks – Mount The Air

I’m a little ashamed to admit this but I dismissed The Unthanks for years. “Not for me“, I’d say to myself if I saw them listed in a festival programme or heralded in a magazine review.

I don’t entirely know why or how I’d arrived at such a position. Such was my stubbornness that I’m not sure I’d ever properly listened to them. Others would tell me that they were producing the most beautifully compelling music. I would tell others that they were wrong.

In 2013, I went along to the Deershed festival (full review here). It was a Sunday afternoon and there was little else on around the site. A journalist I thoroughly respected advised me I shouldn’t miss The Unthanks. I might have gone along to be critical but ended up saying this:-

“An hour later, The Unthanks take to the Big Top stage to perform their ‘Songs From The Shipyards’ show. It’s another history lesson supplemented with film images and it tells the story of the rise and fall of the Shipbuilding industry in the North East of England. The combination of perfect harmonies and poignant images leave many in the audience grasping for their tissues to catch their tears. Images of Thatcher elicit hisses of disapproval yet no tears are shed at this point. The hour ends and those in the audience who are sat stand to their feet to offer an ovation to a truly remarkable show. This is a show not to miss.”

If anything, I remember this show being better than I describe. I could have indulged in more superlatives than I did – but I was converted to their extraordinary power.

A couple of days ago, The Unthanks released a video; the title track of their new album, Mount The Air. For a band who you’ll often find in the ‘folk’ section of your local HMV (I have no idea if such a thing still exists on two counts), this is pretty expansive stuff. They know their roots but aren’t afraid to experiment as they branch out into a sound with jazz overtones and epic pop climaxes.

Apparently, ‘Mount The Air’ is based upon a one-verse traditional ditty found in a book of Dorset songs. Regular readers will know that I grew up in Dorset so this earns the tune extra brownie points. The video is a charming animation in which the main protagonist changes form (from woman to bird to fish). I don’t think it matters whether you understand the narrative or  not. 

Whatever, I’m glad that I’m no longer in the ‘Not for me’ camp. This is too good to miss.