It's been another busy year for The Unthanks as they continue to mix their brand of English folk storytelling with a range of other musical genres. They have also made the foray into movie soundtracks. Tales from the Shipyards is the beautiful and moving film tracing the story of shipbuilding, accompanied by a soundtrack performed live by The Unthanks. It's also the title of Vol. 3, a studio album containing the best of the music from the soundtrack.
We spoke to Becky Unthank about the band and taking over pubs in the North East for a singalong.
For those who haven’t listened to your music yet how would you describe what it is you do?
It’s tricky, but me and my sister essentially sing North east folk songs bit we are lovers of music in general so we always look for a great story to sing about and then try and tell that story with music using harmonies and pianos and string quartets and brass bands, whatever we fancy really. we like to have a go a different things.
You are often described as country and folk but it’s much more than that...
I’m proud of calling myself a folk singer and love to sing a great folk song but we don’t worry about being bound by what a folk band should sound like or any stereotypes we just love to play music and sing and we just find different interesting ways that stimulate us and find a good way to tell that story. The story is always king, that’s our role.
You originally started off as an all girl band.
It just happened that way but then we liked it. Me and my sister singing has always been the basis of the group. The reason we allowed boys to be in the band is because Adrian (our manager and Rachel’s husband) plays piano and would mediate what we wanted to the players with me and my sister not really being trained in music. Piano players left for various reasons and we said ‘why don’t you just do it instead of trying explain it to somebody else’ so we dragged him into the band kicking and screaming and it went from there and we let a few more boys in.
You have already collaborated with Robert Wyatt and Antony Hegarty. Is there anyone else would like to work with?
I like singing with my sister and we have loads of ideas of what we would like to do in the future but we are quite relaxed about it. I don’t know what I would say if I met some of my idols. We’ll just see what happens.
You have a big following in the UK how is it in other countries?
You never know what to expect. We do really well in Australia, the last time we went the amount of people had tripled and they just seem to really get it. we did quite a big tour of Europe and some places were quiet and others were brilliant so it’s hard to get your head around how your music gets out there. Obviously the internet is amazing for that.
You have started singing weekends, can you tell us about them?
We Absolutely love touring but one thing we miss is communal singing that we do to celebrate the passing times of the year, birthdays, folk festivals and things so we decided to try and recreate that and link it in with some harmony workshops and a passion of cooking. Basically there’s five of us and we invite forty people via our mailing lists first and then put it on general sale, but it never usually gets past the mailing list, we cook for everyone and we do harmony workshops but they are all about singing together not like a singing lesson. Then we walk along the beach singing and go to the pub and take over singing songs all night. It’s so much fun. We have one in November and another in December and four booked in the new year.
Any plans to take it on the road?
We thought about it but we have a really good spot in Northumberland and all of our parents get involved with the singing and that’s something we would miss but we have thought about doing them abroad which might be amazing so we’ll see.
The new album is a movie soundtrack, was it a different approach?
It’s a totally different album from what we would usually do because we wrote the music for the shipyard film. It was a really organic process between the filmmaker and us and us and what songs would dictate the images and what images would dictate the songs so we arranged that music and arranged the songs in a way that would complement the images and not override the film. So it wasn’t really about us performing as much, it was about the film. It was a different way of recording and it does sound different, it’s really calm. What’s really nice is we were able to use some of the sounds from one of the films by Amber films called The Romantic Tees. But yes it’s a totally different process, on the next studio album I wonder if that will influence how we make it.
Is it something you would like to do more of?
Yeah definitely, I loved watching the film. We spent a week sitting in the dark learning when to come in and get the timing right and you really get to know the characters that embody the whole film, those characters are the film, they are the people that ran the industry and made it what it was. So yes I would love to do more.
The Unthanks are at The Epstein Theatre - Saturday 3rd November
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