I have the Unthanks albums, and have seen them live before, but how well would they translate their usual small string and horn section to a full brass band, even if that band is the national champion?
I needn’t have worried. Tori Amos’ “Putting the Damage On” proved that a brass section could add a real emotional ‘kick’ to a gentle pop song but, here, the Brighouse and Rastrick band showed just how subtle and restrained brass could be, even managing to achieve a dreamy lullaby quality on one song.
The Unthanks took a break from the stage to let Brighouse and Rastrick let rip, which they duly did, to full oompah effect on an Irish jig but they returned to restrained ways with the Unthanks back on stage for a four part suite, “Father“, newly composed for a Durham festival. They did the same in the second half, retreating to leave the Brass band to demonstrate versatility with “A Northern Fantasy“, a medley of northern English folk tunes.
Some songs were more successful than others. “Felton Lonnin“, which opened the second half, suffered from the loss of its lonely purity, but “Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk” revelled in woozy, boozy trombones and tuba. Other members of the Unthanks’ own band were also given the opportunity to shine, including a “swing” version of “Queen of Hearts” which let the band really go all out.
The purple and gold of the champion band (together with the trophy prominently displayed at the front of the stage) added to the sense of occasion in the magnificent Victoria Hall to make this a real “event”gig and a joyful occasion.