There are plenty of fabulous performers around England that play traditional tunes in the way that they have been played for generations, and of course there are plenty of great contemporary performers that are trying to rearrange chords and melodies in a way that no one else has thought of. The rarest of musicians inhabit that zone in the middle where they can play traditional tunes in a fresh and exciting way, and contemporary songs in a way that sounds as if they’ve been passed down for generations.
Rachel & Becky Unthank brings the songs of Northumberland to life. Often dark tales evocative of the windswept remote moors in that remotest of counties. Songs of death and lost love and disasters at sea sit with songs of courting lovers and beautiful landscapes.
Traditional merges with contemporary and their haunting harmonies and minimal instrumentation is more beguiling than sad. Percussion is often provided by the sisters who are also award-winning clog dancers. They are supported on stage by a changing array of performers that once included Jackie Oates, who has gone to be a successful performer in her own right winning the BBC Folk Horizon Award in 2009.
The Ironbath saw the Unthanks at the 2010 Cambridge Folk Festival and was raptured by their voices. But what he saw were performers that were not a fashion that would slide out of view after their time in the spotlight has passed. He saw a solid foundation who would take the Northumberland tradition into the next generation. Becky & Rachel Unthank are possibly the new Norma Waterson & June Tabor: Performers with the highest reputation who have shaped folk music in their lifetime by inspiring others to follow the tradition.