A live album and short tour of a show that made The Independent's Gigs of the Year list 2010.
"I am flattered and mystified! Their voices are so pure." Antony Hegarty
"I love the idea. It makes me happy just thinking about it" Robert Wyatt
It was December 2010 that The Unthanks staged a concert that was at once both a slice of fun and probably their most daunting project yet. Over two sold out nights at the Union Chapel, London, their exploration of music by Antony & The Johnsons and Robert Wyatt was an irreverent joy, making The Independent's Gigs of the Year list. Those London shows are captured on a live album which will be available later this year, and to mark the release, The Unthanks will take their Robert/Antony show on a short tour of UK and Ireland dates, previously only seen in London.
The special pre-Christmas concerts will feature a set of Robert Wyatt music and a set of Antony & The Johnsons songs, either side of an interval, exploring two of the most adventurous songbooks of the last half-century. The shows feature The Unthanks full 10 piece band including string quartet. During the Antony set, Jonny Kearney will also join them on piano, while Unthanks pianist Adrian McNally plays drums.
"It was just a whim really, though we'd been thinking about it for a few years," says The Unthanks pianist and producer Adrian McNally. "We don't look at it as a major artistic accomplishment or statement.. we're just hoped to become more intimate and fascinated by music that we love and respect. It means the world to us to have the blessing and approval of Robert and Antony. We've got a bit of a nerve associating ourselves with such beautiful men, but it's the music and words we want to learn from and share with other people. Maybe it's not possible to perform without ego, but Robert and Antony exclude so much commitment and integrity in their music, their conversation with the human condition seems entirely selfless to me. There is never a spare note played or one struck to impress. They appear entirely consumed with the search for beauty and truth in a way that nourishes our philanthropic souls and reflects how we feel about folk music in its broadest sense."
Tyneside sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank have long found kindred energies in the proudly maverick English soul of Robert Wyatt. Their interpretation of his "Sea Song" was one of the real jewels of Mercury Music Prize nominated second album "The Bairns" and regarded by Wyatt as the finest interpretation by another artist of his songs. Robert does not perform live, so bravely, with Robert's blessing, The Unthanks will cherry pick from his indefinable and peerless repertoire they hope to do justice. Similarly, they have previously dipped their toe in the water with Antony Hegarty's music. "For Today I Am A Boy" was a showstopper in the early days of Rachel Unthank & The Winterset.
The Unthanks launch the live album (recorded last year at The Union Chapel) with a performance at St James Church, Piccadilly, London, moving on to back-to-back home shows at The Sage Gateshead. There are other two-night runs in Dublin and at Hebden Bridge Picturehouse, The Unthanks choosing to support the institution that is Hebden Bridge Trades Club rather than going to Leeds or Manchester (the shows are at the Picturehouse but the Trades Club are the promoters). The tour also takes in the splendour of Birmingham Town Hall, plus shows in Lincoln and Canterbury - the current and former stomping grounds of Wyatt.