A musical gift for the new year

Another year almost gone! I’m sorry I have not posted many stories this year, but you know how it is. Nobody told me that time speeds up the older you get. Dirty trick if you ask me. Anyway, whether you are a regular reader or you have just stumbled on this blog, please accept my best wishes for 2020, and many thanks to those who have contributed comments and “likes”.

My prezzy is a recent memory – one of my personal 2019 highlights, an evening with the Unthanks. (Who? Read on….) I hope you like it. It might cheer you up in these nightmare days of Trump, Boris, Brexit and other insane causes for depression. Escapism? You bet.

The Unthanks?

If you don’t already know, The Unthanks are a traditonal music group from the North East of England, featuring the sisters Rachel and Rebecca Unthank, often together with Rachel’s husband Adrian McNally and other accomplished musicians.

If English traditional (folk) music is not your bag, please just humour me. If you can’t stand it, bail out now and Happy New Year anyway, and if you are already a besotted fan like me, just wallow in my Unthanks fest. So, try this for starters, “The King of Rome”. Warning: it is about a pigeon……..

But not just any pigeon: ” (he) was a successful racing pigeon, winning a 1,001-mile race from Rome, Italy to Derby, England, in 1913. Bred and trained in England, it was owned by Charlie Hudson of Derby. It set a new long-distance record for a racing pigeon of England.” Other versions are available.      

I’ve been an Unthanks fan for a few years now, so imagine my excitement when one sunny day last July I managed at last to see and hear Rebecca and Rachel Unthank live on tour, performing their genial stage celebration of the life of Molly Drake, poet and mother of Nick and Gabrielle.

This home movie footage of Molly and both of her children was projected on stage behind Rachel and Rebecca as they sang to an enthralled audience in the rural town of Spalding, Lincolnshire, only a week before they were due to perform at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall.

I really don’t have the words to capture the atmosphere that eveninng at the South Holland Arts Centre in Spalding. You had to be there.

The back story of this ingenious show has been explained by Rachel in a recent Guardian article: “Molly never performed in public, nor was any of her writing published in her lifetime. Her work shares her son’s dark introspection, but in Molly we get a clearer sense of how those who understand the depths of despair can do so only by understanding happiness and joy, too. Through Molly’s work, we see the soulful, enigmatic, lonesome Nick as a person who was also a member of a loving and fun-loving family.”

If you don’t know about Nick Drake (I didn’t…..)  Wikipedia describes him as “…..an English singer-songwriter who died young from an overdose of antdepressants. Although his music did not find a wide audience during his lifetime, he gradually achieved wider recognition and is now considered among the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years.” Before I went to the Unthanks concert I read a bit about Nick, and listened to some of his songs. I’m glad I did; it made sense of the Unthanks tribute to his mother. (Happily you can check out much of Nick’s music on YouTube.)

Rachel continues:

“The Unthanks have a penchant for melancholy. But I have never known audiences to have such an immediate, deep connection with material. Molly is powerful. She is wholly relatable. Strength and hopefulness run through her work, reminding us to embrace life and not miss “the tide’s magnificence”. She is both pragmatic and wide-eyed. “Dream your dreams,” she writes, “if it’s the last thing you do.”

When I first read about the Unthanks tour, the name Gabrielle Drake rang a loud bell for me. I recognised the mame as that of the actor who played one of the sexy silver-clad ground-control girls in the long-lost TV series UFO. I now learn she also appeared in the 1970s in The Brothers, Crossroads and Coronation Street, and has also had a stage career. Gabrielle reads her mother’s poems interspersed with new songs in the Unthanks stage show, such as “Do you ever remember” and in this promo video:


By the way my current favourite Unthanks track is Magpie, a traditional song based on the children’s nursery rhyme “One for Sorrow”. According to an old superstition, the number of magpies you see determines if you will have bad luck:

Anyway, if you like my gift, here are some Unthanks links to follow at your leisure:

The Unthanks website
The Unthanks (Wikipedia)
Rachel explains (Guardian article – a must-read despite the ads.)
The Unthanks on YouTube
Spalding Today concert review
Nick Drake (Wikipedia)
Nick Drake on YouTube
Gabrielle Drake (Wikipedia)
Gabrielle on the Nick legend (Guardian article – interesting)
Molly Drake (Wikipedia)
Guardian review (Album)
Rodney Drake (Father of Nick and Gabrielle)

Stop Press: Watched the new BBC version of Worzel Gummage on Boxing day and yesterday. Guess who did most of the music…….

Worzel Gummidge 2019 (BBC i-player: UK only.)



3 thoughts on “A musical gift for the new year

  1. The Unthanks I have been following their music for years – even had their version of “Starless” on my funeral music at one stage.

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