THE UNTHANKS – Diversions 3 – Songs From The Shipyards
As I mentioned in my last review of an Unthanks album, this series of Diversions is throwing up some superb music, and this one is no exception. As the title suggests, these songs are all centred around ship-building, and an obvious song choice is therefore Elvis Costello’s track of the same name, which does indeed make an appearance. Before that, though, we get a collection of songs which were put together as the soundtrack to Richard Fenwick’s documentary about the shipyards of the North-East. Not having seen the film, I can’t say how the songs fit in with the images, but as a stand-alone album it more than lives up to any of their preceding work. After a short introductory piece ‘The Romantic Tees (Prelude)’, we get an ode to ‘A Great Northern River’, a heartfelt tribute featuring just violin and piano, and of course the beautiful voices of Rachel and Becky. Jez Lowe’s ‘The Black Trade’ tells the story of the men who worked on the ships, listing all the trades that used to be so essential to the industry, while ‘Fairfield Crane’ is a solo vocal piece by Rachel, and is all the more affecting due to the stripped back nature of the song accentuating the lyrics, which explore the harrowing life that these shipbuilders endured. ‘Big Steamers’, Rudyard Kipling’s children’s poem set to music by Edward Elgar, is just the girls delicious harmonies and a sole piano, delivering another touching ballad about life on the docks. ‘The Romantic Tees’ is a three-part suite, penned by Adrian McNally, and featuring Becky and Rachel’s father George Unthank intoning poetry over a lushly orchestrated piece. McNally takes lead vocal on a slightly re-written version of the aforementioned ‘Shipbuilding’, and while his flat delivery is in keeping with the downbeat feel of the album as a whole, I would have loved to have heard the girls’ take on the song. The album winds down with two more offerings by Tyneside singer/songwriters. Jez Lowe’s ‘Monkey Dung Man’ is the tale of the men who died working on the ships, due to diseases such as asbestiosis and scilicosis, and Bob Fox’s ‘Taking On Men’ details how the community felt when news of a fifteen month contract was announced at the yards. ‘Only Remembered’ closes the album with the most up-beat song here – that’s not to say it’s dancing a jig, but it is lyrically defiant, with it’s ‘you might steal our future but you’ll not steal our glory’ refrain. Well, as far as I am concerned The Unthanks can do no wrong, and even though this album is classed as a ‘diversion’ from their normal work it still stands alongside their other albums with its head held high. Another superb collection of Northern folk songs from undoubtedly the best folk band in the country.

      A Great
Northern River