Becky & Rachel Unthank (The Unthanks) © Sarah Mason 2022
ANNOUNCE NEW UK TOUR FOR AUTUMN 2022
+ BAND’S FIRST FULL ENSEMBLE STUDIO ALBUM IN SEVEN YEARS
‘SORROWS AWAY’ – OUT 14th OCTOBER 2022
WATCH THE VIDEO FOR NEW SINGLE “THE OLD NEWS”
The Unthanks have already toured ‘Sorrows Away’. Perhaps you heard? The most important and best loved British folk group in the last 20 years have been on the road since mid-April showcasing their forthcoming new album.
And now the acclaimed North East band are pleased to finally confirm their brand new first full ensemble studio album in seven years, Sorrows Away, will be released on 14th October 2022 (via Rabble Rouser Music).
The Unthanks will also play a newly-announced autumn 2022 Sorrows Away UK Tour – full list of new live dates as follows;
12 October Sunderland – The Fire Station Auditorium
13 October Leeds Brudenell Social Club
14 October Brighton St George’s Church
15 October London Kings Place (evening & matinee shows)
16 October Coventry – Warwick Arts Centre
17 October East Grinstead – Chequer Mead
18 October Oxford Town Hall
19 October Chester Storyhouse
20 October Buxton Pavilion Arts
21 October Manchester Band on the Wall
23 October Hexham Queen’s Hall Arts Centre (evening & matinee shows)
Tickets for all above shows available now via www.the-unthanks.com/schedule
The anticipation for the delayed new record release is all the greater, after nights like last month’s London Palladium show, which climaxed with a mass sing. On many other nights too, in Edinburgh and Dublin, Newcastle and Nottingham, sold-out audiences already on their feet for a standing ovation, would sing the new album’s title, sonorously, defiantly, again and again, while the band presided silently, with wide smiles and the odd tear, before rejoining in chorus for one last time.
On the one hand, it shows that a band who have been making us cry for nearly 20 years, have done the unthinkable and made some music of joy and light! Inviting us after two years of Brexit, Covid and no live music to banish our ‘sorrows away’, The Unthanks have turned two simple words into a prayer – a cathartic incantation to sing at the top of our voices, from the depths of our souls – SORROWS AWAY! – sending us home feeling like we have seen off the past, welcomed in the new and reconnected with one another.
On the other hand, could it have just been a clever marketing ploy? It’s a remarkable feat by the end of each night to have the entire audience singing your new album title back at you, over and over! When it’s going to be a few months until the release, its useful to make sure they’re definitely not going to forget!
They’re not going to. The extraordinary response already from live audiences to Sorrows Away, is an early indication that the record is at the very least going to breeze the daunting task of following up 2015’s BBC Folk Album Of The Year, previous album Mount The Air. Described as “an epic that Sigur Rós or Elbow would be proud of” by Drowned in Sound, and “as good as it gets… music that asks you to consider everything you know and un-think it” by Folk Radio, Mount The Air was awarded 5 stars by The Telegraph, R2, fRoots and Songlines, and 4 stars by Mojo, Q, Uncut, The Times, The Independent and The Guardian.
In the seven intervening years, The Unthanks have scaled up to self-composed projects with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Hazelwood’s Army of Generals, and right down to their roots for the unaccompanied live record, Diversions Vol 5. They’ve created song cycles from Emily Bronte’s poetry on her original piano, created site specific theatre with Maxine Peake, paid an entire album and 8 track EP’s worth of devotion to Molly Drake, and created the light and the dark in soundtracks for 6 hours’ worth of Mackenzie Crook’s beautiful BBC adaptation of the Worzel Gummidge books.
Nevertheless, while The Unthanks have been as adventurous and prolific as ever since Mount The Air, after two years of lockdown and seven years since the last outing with their full 10 piece ensemble (now 11!), Sorrows Away is a long overdue and eagerly anticipated return to the main path of musical adventure!
In the first summer of lockdown, The Unthanks lost their studio to property developers. Producer and band leader Adrian McNally had to relocate home in order to find new space. Sorrows Away was recorded entirely at home near Hexham, Northumberland.
Sorrows Away is perhaps the most complete Unthanks album to date, showing greater contrasts between light and dark, joy and sorrow, intimate and epic, bitter and sweet. In microcosm, their command of scale and modulation is captured by new single, The Old News – a collaboration between Becky Unthank and Adrian McNally. “Friends and lovers, among all others, you belong to the air”. In yearning for something to hold on to but accepting the freedom of loved ones to choose their own paths, Becky looks to the ‘old oak tree’ for solace and certainty – to mother nature and the timeless truths. The piece has as many unexpected musical modulations at Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, yet in under four minutes! Confounding the band’s inclination towards the long form, The Old News races through its journey, starting with a fanfare reminiscent of Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, and closing with a wry and topical swing between the words ‘news’ and ‘truth’ before settling with finality on ‘truth’.
There is also archetypal Unthanks territory – rich, tender, exploratory and long-form. The Sandgate Dandling Song is perhaps Adrian McNally’s finest arrangement to date of what might be the finest song in the North-East folk song canon. The kitchen sink drama has been Rachel Unthank’s unaccompanied signature song all her adult life, and since meeting, Adrian has been back and forth to the drawing board to do it justice, resisting the pressure to commit until the right path emerged. It’s been worth the wait. There are touches of Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk from The Bairns, making the link between Sandgate and the band’s previous tale of domestic violence. Interwoven is the echo of a tune from the mountains that run between Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine that Adrian picked up from a Polish accordion player around 10 years ago. Sandgate also includes a new verse, written and performed by Adrian, as Johnny, the volatile father struggling to escape being just like his own father.
Opening the album with 8 & 9-minute tracks respectively, when Sorrows Away has been billed as more uptempo and uplifting than the average Unthanks offering, is a bold move! The album wakes up gradually, with The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry emerging slowly and still, like a sunrise, before bursting into dawn chorus. Sandgate’s rich musical and socio-political layers, command the listener’s attention while focus is still high.
Then it’s The Old News, bursting in and making the first two tracks feel like a prologue to the real beginning, as if Silkie and Sandgate are the link between the old and the new Unthanks.
For all its folk-orientated themes on the circle of life, The Old News is unashamedly rock-pop-tastic! Likewise follows The Royal Blackbird – even if it is a Scottish song from Jacobite times – racing through musical reference points – Steve Reich, Massive Attack, Anna Meredith, Isaac Hayes?! On paper, it sounds like dreaded fusion, but as true music lovers, The Unthanks show effortless sympathy and affinity with every musical touchstone they caress.
The Isabella Coke Ovens is a moment of light serenity amongst the cinematic drama, written by Rachel Unthank to capture a moment of optimism on a Spring day after that first winter of lockdown. The Bay Of Fundy offers a more guitar-oriented Unthanks, lending hypnotic touches reminiscent of Radiohead’s Street Spirit to Gordon Bok’s 1960’s folk song – watch the stunning video for The Bay Of Fundy
The Month Of January is classic, shimmering, glacial, austere Unthanks territory, linking the album via two Irish tunes, back to Felton Lonnin on The Bairns, Gan To The Kye on Last and Madam on Mount The Air. We remain in Ireland for My Singing Bird, bringing two long-term Unthank members to the fore – Niopha Keegan on vocals and Lizzie Jones on trumpet, blurring the atmospheres of misty Celtic airs and Yorkshire pit music. Another Unthank gets to shine on Waters of Tyne, with Chris Price’s guitar work reminiscent of Paul Brady’s in Arthur McBride, via McCartney’s Blackbird. Being so common as to be learnt by most school children in the North East, Waters Of Tyne was overlooked to this point, but Adrian persuaded the Unthanks sisters of its beauty and gave Chris a copy of Brady’s classic as a blueprint and a challenge – to make Waters Of Tyne sound as fluid, simple and beautiful as Arthur McBride, resisting the temptation to make something grand of the song that has been staring the Unthanks in the face the longest.
That leaves the closing title track. The Unthanks have combined two traditional songs – Sorrows Away (commonly known as Thousands Or More) and an Irish song known as Love Is Kind which can be traced back to Co Armagh source singer Sarah Makem, who sang the Gaelic Oíche Mhaith, meaning ‘goodnight’. The pronunciation ‘ee-hah-wah’ after passing through many hands, has turned into ‘heave-ah-wah’. Even before being released, Sorrows Away (Love Is Kind) has developed a life of its own, bringing audiences to their feet in chorus and deliverance.
The Unthanks tells stories that capture children. They make music cutting edge enough to be BBC 6Music regulars. They can be equally found on BBC Radios 2, 3 and 4, reframing history and drawing together the worlds of folk, jazz, orchestral, electronic and rock music. The believability storytelling is admired by some of our best storytellers – Mackenzie Crook, Maxine Peake, Nick Hornby, Martin Freeman, Robert Wyatt, Charles Hazelwood, Ben Myers and David Mitchell, to name a handful.
Sorrows Away is perhaps both the pinnacle and yet just the latest in their story so far.
The Unthanks – Sorrows Away (album)
Released: October 14th 2022
RRM024: Standard CD
RRM024B: CD Book (210mmx210mm ltd ed with 24 page booklet)
RRM024LP: Double LP Gatefold Vinyl (with laser etched 4th side)