INTERVIEW WITH THE UNTHANKS
What prompted the creation of the name ‘The Unthanks’?
It is the real surname of Rachel and Becky Unthank. We changed it from Rachel Unthank and the Winterset in 2009 because Becky was doing, and always has done, as many lead vocals as her sister, but at the start Becky was only 17 and unsure of her future, so the original name was designed to give her the freedom to come and go.
There’s something pure and delicious about English folk compared to say, Americana, why do you think that is?
America has it’s folk music just like we do, and the British revival may never have happened without the American one that inspired it. Purity in music is a bogus notion, or at least indefinable. It’s an on-going thing, constantly being refracted by each generation, the same in the States.
What other folk artists do you regularly listen to?
Lau, Alasdair Roberts, Chris Wood, Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, Martin Hayes, Sam Lee.. but we still draw more influence from local singers such as Johnny Handle, The Wilsons, The Keelers and The Elliotts of Birtley. Very excited currently to learn of the return of The Voice Squad.
Nu-folk was pretty trendy a couple of years back, with Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, do you think it’s had its day?
It’s still there I think and I’m sure that those artists don’t regard themselves as belonging to a movement, folk or otherwise. It’s really the vernacular stylings of folk music that have been in vogue, which has been an influence on fashion and corporate branding, as much as it has music, but I think that’s just been a natural reaction to our general distaste for globalisation and cultural homogenisation. We don’t really view folk as a style or genre of music, so much as an alternative on-going unwritten history. When we think about other artists, Mumfords and Laura included, our opinions are based on their songwriting, not on whether they’re using fiddles and accordions.
You’ve played Bristol a fair bit, what do you think of the city?
Love it. Playing the Vic a few years ago was a highlight, as was playing the now sadly defunct Venn Festival. The area has produced artists we love, such as Portishead, Get The Blessing, Zun Zun Egui and Keith Tippett.
And South West festivals…they love you, how do you feel about them?
Festivals are always tricky for us, because so much of what we do is so quiet, we’re usually drowned out by the sub-bass coming from another stage, but I guess we love festivals and we’ll keep trying. I went to Glastonbury six times as a punter in the 90’s. It’s hard to shake off the bug, even if age does make one less tolerant of a damp sleeping bag.
Tell us about your ‘singing weekends’…
We have 45 fans come and stay with us in on the beautiful coast of Northumberland. Chris, Niopha and I do the cooking, Rachel and Becky do the singing, we go for walks on the beach, singing in the pub, weird traditional games in the evenings.. the main idea is to promote the notion group singing as a joyous thing to do, which is something most people used to do before tv made our leisure time a passive experience. The weekends are only open to people on our mailing list, which you can join on our website!
What’s the biggest thing you take for granted?
Er, nothing hopefully. We are making music at a point for the industry that has never been more uncertain, but regardless of how successful we are, the privilege of performing to others who have made a choice to come see us, and of performing music passed down through the folk process, are things we relish with passion and never take for granted. In the wider sense, I think we all take our modern conveniences and standard of living for granted, and surely the resultant drain on the earth means that one day we’ll have some stark realities and choices to make, and we’ll look back on this period in history as the time we had everything. We should be thinking today about tomorrow.
The Unthanks play Bristol St George’s on Tuesday October 30, 2012. More info at http://www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/events/the-unthanks/
by 247 Magazine