Gig review: Sam Lee with Rachel and Becky Unthank at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Sam Lee with Rachel and Becky Unthank
Sam Lee with Rachel and Becky Unthank
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There have been numerous events commissioned to commemorate the centenary of World War One but few will be as affecting as A Time And Place.

Running for only three live dates, the Mercury Award-winner Sam Lee has teamed up with respected Tyneside sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank to present an evening of music that’s inspired by poetry, first-hand testimonials and folk songs that reflect life on the frontline and home front.

Reinterpreting traditional music for contemporary ears, the 11-strong line-up produces several genuinely moving moments. Jessie Pope’s patriotic recruitment poem ‘The Call’, acapella save for Nico Brown’s occasional bomb drop bodhran thuds, is given additional resonance when Rachel mentions her own two sons.

An elegiac piano and strings duet between Becky and Sam that’s based on the writings of soldier Roland Leighton and his fiancé Vera Brittain, meanwhile, is rendered all the more powerful when set against Matthew J Watkins’ video of handwritten script.

It’s a personal touch that’s continued when the recording of an elderly lady talking about her memories of the war is played over restrained music. This is the one aspect of the show that feels like a missed opportunity, as more first-hand accounts would have helped to span the evening across the generations.

Used sparingly, however, these recordings have added impact and the idea of reaching down the years is powerfully brought to life with the set’s finale: a fresh arrangement of Jim Boyes’ ‘Spring 1919’ that swells with a sense of instrumental optimism while telling of the scars of war that are transmitted through families and communities.

It’s a lyrical truth that’s simply and poignantly summed up when a final recording of the elderly lady intones, ‘I hate war’.

Gig date: September 19

Alestorm at Leeds University Stylus. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Gig review: Alestorm at Leeds University Stylus