A Time and Place | Musical Meditations on the First World War

By September 12, 2014

Music. Leeds.

[Photo: Becky, Rachel Unthank and Sam Lee. Photography Sarah Mason]


On September 19th, Howard Assembly Room is set to play host to an evening of music inspired by the folk song, stories and poetry of the First World War, set against a backdrop of striking video design.

Mercury Prize folk artists Sam Lee, Rachel and Becky Unthank will collaborate for the first time in this distinctive project marking the centenary of WW1. Known for their ability to take traditional repertoire and reinvent if for contemporary ears, the trio will perform with an 11 strong line-up; performing original repertoire from the time, alongside new material inspired by personal stories and arrangements to WW1 poetry.

A Time and Place seeks to unearth the folk traditions set by young artists such as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Ivor Gurney, and revive the songs, tales and tunes for the 21st century. In the research and development stages of this project, Sam Lee spent time researching the wartime folk songs and personal stories from rural communities in the South West – this included meeting a 105-year old lady who remembers Zeppelins crashing in her local village. In turn, these stories, inherited poems and songs, inspired new material and arrangements which Sam performed as work in progress in each of the villages, before developing for the main show.

Mercury nominated The Unthanks are Tyneside sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, together with Rachel’s husband Adrian McNally – the band’s pianist arranger, composer and producer. For A Time and Place, Adrianwill arrange all of the material for an 11 strong line-up especially put together for the project, including a string quartet and brass. Becky and Rachel are creating new music set to First World War poetry as well as new arrangements of songwriters from the North East at the time of the War.

Definable only by their restless, peerless eccentricity, The Unthanks forge links between folk worlds old, new and other. Their admirers include Elvis Costello, Colin Firth, Dawn French, Nick Hornby and members of Radiohead and Portishead.


Sam Lee, Rachel and Becky Unthank credit Sarah Mason (1)

Sam Lee, Rachel and Becky Unthank. Photography Sarah Mason


Sam Lee 2012 debut album, Ground of its Own garnered instant acclaim, including an Album of the Year from the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. The recording was a musical manifesto, reflecting the unusual artistic journey Sam has taken so far. Since then, Sam has continued to reinterpret the stories and songs of the Scottish and Irish Traveller and English Gypsy communities. His recent EP More For to Rise received critical acclaim and Sam is working on a highly-anticipated new Sam Lee & Friends disc which is due to be released in early 2015.

Visually, the period of the First World War was incredibly modern, with the art of the Vorticist movement including Jacob Epstein’s futuristic sculpture The Rock Drill. The musicians are excited to be working with innovative video designer Matthew J Watkins (Gorillaz, Monkey – Journey to the West & most recently Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked). Matthew draws on the inspiration of this movement for his video design as well as the fact that so many men of the land had yet to encounter this age of modernity and the machine with such tragic results on the battlefield.

A Time and Place is visiting Birmingham (17th), London (18th) and Leeds’ own Howard Assembly Room on Friday 19th September. The show is co-produced by sounduk, Barbican and Opera North, funded by Arts Council England and PRS for Music Foundation, and is part of Imperial War Museums First World War Centenary.

Tickets are £15 and are available from operanorth.co.uk


For more artist information, visit the following links:


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