The Unthanks have never been an act to shy away from a challenge, especially in their occasional Diversions releases, which so far have seen them work with a brass band, soundtrack a film about the shipyards and interpret the work of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons to singular and powerful effect. So it should come as no surprise that the latest Diversions volume, The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake, is not only one of their most intriguing releases yet but also, according to their musical director and pianist Adrian McNally, might even be their best work
So can I first ask how the idea for the Molly Drake project arose? Was it on the back of the 2013 album or had it been on your minds beforehand?
“Our relationship with the Drakes goes back beyond the release of Molly’s work in 2013. The actress Gabrielle Drake, Molly’s daughter and Nick’s sister, had already been to see us perform years ago, having been made aware of our readings of Nick Drake songs, by the man known only as Cally, who runs the Drake musical estate on behalf of and alongside Gabrielle. They’re sweet, smart, brilliant people. Both of them. From time to time, Gabrielle tours around with Cally, talking generously to those of us still engaged with the enigma of her brother, who in his lifetime, she was at least if not more famous than. Cally sent us the Molly Drake record when it came out, but it wasn’t the first music he’d ever sent us. He’s sent us lots of bits and bobs. Had we known each other twenty five years ago, I’m sure we might have sent each other compilation tapes. We’re all music mad, and he is music madder. So whether he meant to plant a seed by sending us Molly, I don’t know, but I don’t think we got through our first listen without that feeling that would have to do something with these songs.” [ . . . ]