On Diversions Vol. 3 The Unthanks return as delicate as ever, the beautiful sound of their regional accents piercing each note as a reminder of who they are.
This soulful album was commissioned by the Tyneside Cinema to accompany a film of the same name, ’Songs from the Shipyard.’ As most of you will know, this is the third of a set of albums released in the last 12 months, and follows the fabulous Diversions Vol. II which featured the brilliant Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.
The album opens with the industrial sounds of a dockyard, sea-gulls, and poetically rising piano, which works as a perfect prelude to the sultry, A Great Northern River whose main instrumentation comes from a smoothly lilting violin part, and is a musical and vocal description of the great northern river which leads us to the ship yards where we find these songs.
The Unthanks then move on to Black Trade, a beautiful list-like song about the different occupations of tradesmen, who at the end of the day are just ’black trade.’ We then move on to Fairfield Crane, a solo voice performance which is a highlight of the album, exhibiting an especially vulnerable vocal tone.
The spectral track Big Steamers, adapted from the words of Rudyard Kipling and music by Peter Bellamy, is especially haunting as the vocal harmonies merge with the one hand piano part into something more ghostly than the sum of their parts.
As we return to the riparian theme we are treated to a track called The Romantic Tees, which features a hypnotic sea-swell sound, and a spoken word layer whose rhetorical rhythms are fitted in wonderfully with the piano part ancreating a truly atmospherically spellbinding tune.
It is a set of three ’tunes’ (for want of a better word), and on the second of these musical thoughts, The Tyne Slides By, we hear the sounds of tug-ships, and gulls, whereas the vocals are sometimes reminiscent of the horns of a ship.
The Looking Back Song is probably the cheeriest number on this release as it celebrates the necessity of ships, but is tinged with an undercurrent of worry of the fact that ship-orders are coming in thinner, where the protagonist merely hopes he will build ships until he is dead - a lost kind of ideal, which is made to sounder further more archaic by the use of a brass band recording fading at the end.
This worry of the future, the kind of fear that never left the poor shipyards of the North, continues into the next track, Shipbuilding, which marks the generations of people who passed through the shipyards, and the dangers which they had to pass through on a daily basis. It is a truly striking portrait of mortality in the shipyards.
Another worry, the problem of unemployment as an industry dies, is reflected in Taking on Men as The Unthanks mourn the death of employment in the industry.
Ending on a slightly more uplifting note, we are treated to a version of the John Tams classic, Only Remembered. ’You might steal our future, but you won’t steal our glory’ is the lyrical embodiment of what one feels this album is all about. It is a celebration of the people who made the shipyards great, recognising the fact that the industry has rapidly shrunk but memorialising those who went before us.
On Occasion this album can be slightly more abstract than other release by The Unthanks, and if you are looking for an album which celebrates the life of shipbuilders in a simple way then this might not be the album for you. However, it is beautifully crafted, delicately put together and lovingly performed - a stunning testament to the shipyards.Rosamund Woodroffe
Released 5th November 2012 on Rabble Rouser Records.
1. The Romantic Tees (Prelude)
2. A Great Northern River
3. Black Trade
4. Fairfield Crane
5. Big Steamers
6. All in a Day
7. The Romantic Tees
9. Monkey Dung Man
10. Talking on Men
11. Only Remembered