Hollie McNish brought new work from her third collection Plum to the Unity Theatre to a sold out audience. Opening the evening was the coolest funeral party ever in the form of The Unsung, a musical poetic celebration of people who gave their life to music or ‘the musicians we never heard of’. Fronted by Sheffield poetry star Genevieve Carver the shroud of sound fits each song perfectly. The stories are moving in their detailed inspection of these lives; from Lina Prokofiev, Sandor Feher, the victims of the Bataclan concert hall attack or Sheffield’s own Shifty Mick. Genevieve’s writing is graceful and honest as it scores these complicated characters.
The band, consisting of Sarah Sharp, Tim Knowles and Brian Bestall, are impeccable – they feel spontaneous and alert and in a moment I feel like I’m at a house party or wake, with a sense of improvised musicianship summoned through instruments you might have lying around. What I mean to say is it feels authentic – the journey we make through the music is one they believe in, and dignity upholds the framework of the performance. It is at times suitably eulogistic, but on Lady In A Van and the Fiery Angel we begin a stompingly defiant march that fits these wronged women more than a sombre reflection of their lives. It is haunting and raucous, a surge in the tide of the album.
The Unsung is an exercise in delightful, demanding language. It enthrals its audience and compels them sit back and enjoy. From the start to the finish The Unsung are a fitting tribute to the beauty and melody of life, and how it ends.
It was a wise compliment to Hollie’s chatty, cheeky sense of humour. The night felt like it had different speeds to it, varying levels. Hollie has a distinct and recognisable style, which feels matured and refined on Plum unlike previous works. This doesn’t shove humour or fun out of the way, Hollie manages to be funny and dignified on poems about handjobs, about Grand Design depression, on listing how many names she can think of for vagina, but it’s in poems like Oasis and others where a line or phrase strikes quite powerfully in a quiet sense of purpose.
This collection looks at friendship, family and the funny way we find our way through life. In it we are able to see change, to see the consistencies that occur throughout a life and the little moments that keep us going like this one, from Hiccups;
“you had hiccups after pasta
You asked me to frighten you
I told you:
WATER IS BEING PACKAGED INTO PLASTIC BOTTLES EVERY DAY
WHICH IN THEIR MILLIONS
ARE TOSSED AWAY AND FLOATING
INTO FRIGHTENED SEAS
THAT FISHERMEN ARE FISHING THESE
INSTEAD OF FISHING DISEASED FISH
That’s not the fype of fear
That helps get rid of hiccups.”