The Unthanks are a headline act at Harrogate International Festivals this July. Last night, the folk group won the BBC2 Folk Awards, album of the year for Mount The Air.
The Unthanks closed the ceremony, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, by playing the 10-minute title track, complete with clog dancing. The Unthanks were handed their prize by Sherlock star Martin Freeman, who said: “Their original material is already very close to being classic.”
Adrian McNally, pianist, musical director and record producer for the band – is married to the music in more ways than one – Rachel Unthanks is his wife.
The face of The Unthanks is a beatific one – the sisters, Rachel and Becky. Their accents root the band as the face of the North East, but there’s a strong Yorkshire influence behind the scenes as Adrian and Chris Price, bassist and guitarist, grew up in a mining village in South Yorkshire.
The Unthanks have garnered remarkable critical acclaim in the music press, and are notable for their legion of celebrity fans.
Adrian Edmondson said of their music, “It hits you in your soul rather than your head. I love them.” Actor Martin Freeman gushed, “They make my heart beat faster. I’m glad to be around at the same time as them.”
We’ve met Martin, and his equally brilliant partner, actress Amanda Abbington.
They have been immensely generous to us… We do have a surprising amount of famous fans, but prefer to think of this as being appreciated by fellow artists, rather than dwelling on associations with celebrity. Being at our table at the Mercury Awards, with Robert Plant on one side and Radiohead on the other was pretty cool though!
The lack of sales keep us grounded. If our critical acclaim and famous fan count was mirrored in our sales, we’d be platinum sellers! We’re very proud of our success and we do enjoy sales greater than most who present traditional music, but having a 10 piece band means that the success doesn’t go far, financially. Rachel and Becky would probably be financially better off if they sacked the band and went to sing unaccompanied in the folk clubs. That’s not even an exaggeration! But we do what we do to push ourselves and the music creatively and to communicate traditional song to a wider audience…
As to Harrogate, he’s expecting to attract the usual diverse audience.
We really do seem to pick up fans from across the spectrum: kids who are fascinated with the story of Patience Kershaw, young women who identify with Rachel and Becky, old men who identify with the size of my record collection (or rather relate to our musical vocabulary), trad folkies who have spotted the root of our truest love and motivation, listeners of experimental, jazz and neo classical music who can hear the leftfield influences that our much more accessible music only hints at… and of course, the young men with beards, but they’re everywhere now, right?
Our main interest in folk music is the exercise in shared human empathy it affords, so if you don’t like to think and feel, I wouldn’t recommend it!