The testimony of Patience Kershaw

Here's the tender comingI’ll confess it, I’d been resisting the Unthanks.  They seemed too tailor-made for me – folk songs given 21st century reinterpretations, bell-like voices airing beautiful melodies and harmonies, the nods to Robert Wyatt, a song about a blackbird, and a singer called Rachel.  Well, now my resistance has well and truly crumbled.  It was finally hearing their version of ‘Sea song’ that did it.  But the song I keep coming back to is ‘The testimony of Patience Kershaw’.  It crystallises all that’s great about the Unthanks.  It’s beautifully arranged and sung, of course, but also dramatically and believably inhabited; it’s a folk song with folk roots but also the dynamics of a pop song (given the strings, I’m thinking of one very famous one in particular).  Written by Frank Higgins, it’s loosely based on the spoken testimony of the 17 year old Patience Kershaw to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment in 1842.  And it comes from an album with a perfectly chosen title – Here’s the tender coming – whose meanings proliferate the more you think about it.


3 responses

  1. I’ve been wondering whether they’re familiar with Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, which features an unforgettable city called Unthank. It’s such a good book. Concept album material for the intrepid!

    1. I think Unthank is a not uncommon place- and surname in the north of England where the group is from, and in Scotland. Lanark is a great book – but hmmm, I think I’d like to see what an equally intrepid film-maker made of it more than hear it turned into a concept album – though who better than the Unthanks should they fancy giving it a go…

      1. I think the person who pointed me towards the book fantasized about writing a screen adaptation, actually, but . . . that is a Big Project.

        I see we even have an Unthank Park here in the States. It is quite undystopian.

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