LIVE REVIEW: The Unthanks’ Home Gathering @ The Boiler Shop, Newcastle (22.08.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Home Gathering felt like yet another significant achievement in what’s turning out to be quite a year for The Unthanks (after an apparently triumphant Pyramid Stage appearance at Glastonbury and a run of 10th anniversary shows). Every band probably wants to stage a hometown festival of some kind, and Home Gathering ended up being something very special, although it wasn’t without its problems – somebody had woefully underestimated how much these folk types drink (and how often they need to go to the toilet afterwards) and there was much beardy grumbling as the bar queue snaked out of the Boiler Shop doors and intertwined with the portaloo queue.

Twelfth Day never stood a chance really – their quiet harp/fiddle/vocals sound no match for the general hubbub, their music perhaps too precious and understated for an event of this kind. No such problem for Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra, now seasoned festival veterans, who came out swinging (literally) and were on cracking form at the end of probably their busiest summer yet. There were several new songs that bode well for the new album and – accompanied by some lindy hoppers on the adjacent second stage – they lit a fire under an initially sluggish crowd.

Throughout the day, that second stage hosted all manner of short happenings – rapper and clog dancing, singalongs (led on occasion by Rachel and Becky) and some fantastically apt DJ selections from Paul Smith. More than 100 of the festival goers were actually former attendees at the Unthanks’ Singing Weekends, and when they came together for an occasional song it would take a harder heart than mine to feel unmoved. Alasdair Roberts was in great but solemn form and again the increasingly lubricated crowd weren’t perhaps as receptive as they might have been to their set.

By the time The Unthanks took the stage, augmented by a string quartet, people were pretty boisterous and at times the drunken chatter from the rear of the Boiler Shop was frustrating. But it was a fantastic set that found a great balance between power and intimacy. While I’ve always preferred the sparser style of the earlier Winterset recordings and I’m not entirely convinced by the folk-prog direction Adrian McNally has introduced, the arrangement of some of the newer songs was rousing stuff, and it was often trumpet player Lizzie Jones who made the most impact with some beautifully melancholy solo lines. By the time they played King Of Rome and The Testimony of Patience Kershaw, I must confess that enough drink had been taken that it all started to get to me and the two interactive segments – a performance of Seacoal with dozens of Singing Weekenders spread out across the crowd joining in – and a final, emotional crowd singalong pretty much finished me off. Seeing hundreds of largely drunk people singing their hearts out in unison is powerful stuff – enough to make you forget the queues and the hubbub and stumble off into the city feeling extremely well disposed to your fellow man.

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