I travelled to Kilkenny on Saturday for a gig at the lovely Set Theatre. I had been there once before, to see Frank Turner, and I liked the venue so much that I had been keeping an eye on their listings ever since. A concert by the Unthanks was a good excuse for a visit to the Marble City.
The last few times I had seen the Unthanks it had been their big band extravaganza with brass and string sections. This time it was only the core five members, and I liked it all the more for that. There would not have been room for more on the Set's tiny stage in any case.
The Unthanks are celebrating ten years as a band and were doing some looking back tonight. They played songs from the Rachel Unthank & the Winterset era, which suited the smaller set up. They also did a good few songs from 'Songs from the shipyards', a show I had missed when they toured it. In addition they did a song from Sting's shipyard project on which they had guested.
They talked about the fact that Becky had got to sing a duet with Sting (cue much joking from all band members and audience; poor old Sting..), but it was Rachel's song they performed: 'Peggy's song' was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Other standouts were 'Anarchie Gordon', 'The testimony of Patience Kershaw' and 'Here's the tender coming'.
For one song Rachel and Becky divided up the audience and taught us some three part harmonies, as they do in their workshops and singing weekends. The resulting singalong sounded great. There was then an interval during which people went to the bar and bought CDs. Rachel came over to say hello as she remembered me from a singing weekend a good few years ago. Her husband Adrian recognised me as well. Such nice people. We talked about the differences between the big band and this smaller set up. Adrian said they like to think that neither is better; just different (true).
Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill were in the audience for the concert, which was a good two hours long. In the queue beforehand I had talked with some musos who were grumbling about Ricky Scaggs' very short show as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival a few days earlier. One man spotted my Bruce shirt and commented that Ricky could learn a thing or two from the Boss. No such complaints with the Unthanks.
On my way back to the hostel I witnessed what I presume is a typical Saturday night in Kilkenny. Girls on stilts in swimwear and many folks in Kilkenny shirts. I came home with the Unthanks' 'Archive Treasures', which has rarities, demos and alternative live versions – a great collection.