15th April 2017
Dunfermline Carnegie Hall
Very much a case of Right Gig:Wrong Venue, this one I feel.
To explain: Bwani Junction are a sort of second division Scottish Indie-band peddling their rather beguiling, often Jit-tinged tunes to, I am guessing, generally modest-sized but youthfully enthusiastic audiences out for a dance.
In the Summer of 2015, they had performed the whole of Paul Simon's Graceland album at a small Edinburgh venue. It was intended to be a one-off show, but proved such a success the chaps have, in their own words, been playing the thing on and off now for 18 months. Most significantly at the 2016 Celtic Connections festival where they had been joined onstage by a number of musicians who had performed on the original album (Not PS, though, in case you were wondering).
And, although the performance certainly raised their profile significantly (and may, coincidentally, for all I know, done no harm to their bank balance), it seemed to me to be quite a hazardous thing to do: to link the band's name, potentially inextricably, with Paul Simon's 1986 masterpiece. Time will tell.
Out and about on another short Graceland tour, the band must I am sure have been pleasantly surprised to shift so many tickets at a small town such as Dunfermline – the Carnegie Hall stalls looking pretty much full to me.
But there was clear bafflement on the band's faces as they took the stage to a sea of seated middle-aged wrinklies this evening; a faint whiff of Polo Mints and Werthers Originals in the air. “Is this really our target audience?”, one could see the mental cog-wheels working. What did the boys expect, I thought: performing music written before they were even born?
Clearly the good folks of Dunfermline had seen the ads in the local rag, and thought “Oh, I loved that album when it first came out thirty years ago. I may give the bingo a miss this Saturday, and totter along along for a wee listen”.
After their opening number, vocalist Rory Fairweather informed us: “This is our first ever seated gig. And I don't think I like it”. This none too subtle request we get up and dance met with unanimous indifference. “We've all got bad backs and dodgy knees, and we have been out in the garden weeding all day, and want a wee sit down now.”, I could hear the audience thinking. “I've just paid 20 quid for this seat, and I am gonna use it. And anyway, my varicose veins are fair nippin' the night.”
Introducing Gumboots – perhaps the most frantic tune on the album – Fairweather made another impassioned plea for dancers, and was rewarded by half-a-dozen or so mums getting up and migrating to the wings, where they jiggled around self-consciously for the rest of the evening. Don't get me wrong there was much warm and rapturous applause after each song, it was just that none of us wanted to stand to listen.
The place was not totally populated by crumblies though, for from the back of the hall could be heard a group of young ladies – girlfriends, liggers, groupies and nefarious camp-followers, who probably got in for nowt if they stood at the back – a-whooping and a-hollering between songs. And these pups, to their credit, did eventually migrate to the front during the encores, to probably half the average age of the dancing set.
|Bwani Junction - Dunfermline April 2017|
So to the music. Well, the Bwani foursome were augmented this evening by a couple of horn players, a young lady squeezing a box for all she was worth and a keyboard player tucked in at the back. And their rendition of the album really was rather excellent. Certainly not a note-for-note repetition, but I do not think any of us expected, or even wanted, that anyway.
Rhythm section Jack Fotheringham and Fergus Robson underpinned proceedings admirably, whilst the aforementioned Fairweather even succeeded in bringing a certain something of his own to the songs, which was no mean feat I felt.
But the real star of the business was guitarist Dan Muir who effortlessly floated across those complex-sounding Mbaqanga licks, seamlessly jumping between finger-picking and plectrum work mid-song. His work on Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes was just sublime.
It came as no surprise for me to learn afterwards, his father had once managed the Bhundu Boys back in the day, and one could imagine the young Dan growing up exposed to and absorbing the likes of Shabini, King Sunny Ade and all those Sound d'Afrique albums which were briefly everywhere.
The band wisely chose to steer clear of the Swahili a Capella portion of Homeless, but their sumptuous harmonies on this song were another highlight. A re-run of You Can Call Me Al (after a touch of on-stage confusion) served as the first encore, before the band closed their performance with a stomping rendition of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer.
Bwani Junction had chosen not to play any of their own material, which disappointed me a touch, for there are certainly a number of tunes on their debut album Fully Cocked, which would have not sounded out of place this evening.
I am thinking here of the likes of Two Bridges, Roots Too Deep and Bianco's. But I had noted their more recent recorded work had seen them migrate into what I suppose could be termed more typical Indie territory.
As the band sloped off stage I could not help but feel whoever was responsible for arranging their gig schedule was in for a bit of an earful. Yep, Right Gig:Wrong Venue, true enough.
The Boy in the Bubble
I Know What I Know
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Under African Skies
Crazy Love vol II
That Was You Mother
All Around the World
You Can Can Me Al