Gig review: LAU and The Unthanks
A mixture of the ancient and the original from LAU and The Unthanks
Who would have thought clog dancing could be so emotional? In the hands – or rather on the feet – of The Unthank sisters, who regularly change in and out of their party shoes to demonstrate their hoofing skills, it’s a hypnotic thing – something about their steady synchronisation on the boards, contrasting beautifully with the tender integrity of their harmonising voices, Becky all breathy, Rachel more earthy, and the point in their songs at which they choose to break out the moves, usually to give extra heft to the swelling climax of yet another of their immaculately arranged songs.
For that, they also have their band to thank, including a string quartet, trumpeter Victoria Rule, who sounds like a one-woman colliery band, all noble melancholy, and particularly Adrian McNally on piano, who takes care of most of the arrangements and has been responsible for introducing the sisters to the joys of pastoral prog.
Their repertoire is a mix of ancient and original, although the highlight of this Celtic Connections set, the haunting pagan prayer 'Magpie', is a more recent addition to the folk canon. Their own jazz folk odyssey ‘Mount the Air’ closed the set in transcendent style, but Rachel and Becky were back onstage post-interval, adding devotional harmony drones to Lau’s opening number.
This multi-award-winning fiddle, accordion and guitar trio are Celtic Connections stalwarts but sought to push the boat out a little with this main arena show, giving over much of the second half of their set to a muted mood piece with string embellishment from players who were poorly silhouetted behind a screen. The lack of musical hooks was thrown into relief by a reprise of 'Mount the Air' which involved the full Unthanks ensemble joining them onstage for an emotional finale with, yes, more clog dancing.
Seen at Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 28 Jan.