BBC Radio 6 Music Festival with Bonobo, Songhoy Blues, Thundercat at Barrowlands, 25/3/17

At the bandstand on the top floor, a lot of people are sitting on the ground so I join them.

The Barrowlands is smaller than I remember it; the stage is decorated beautifully – this seems a professional operation.

We are waiting for Thundercat to take the stage – due to personal commitments I wasn’t able to catch Loyle Carner – which is regrettable – but, like I always say; if you’ve only got four acts and the show is on till eleven o’clock, don’t put the first one on at twenty past five with nothing but hour long waits to enjoy between sets.

I get that there’s a lot to set up and that the show has to correspond with the live radio broadcast, but you’re not allowed to leave and come back except to the tiny smoking area and you can’t drink out of a glass or do anything out of the ordinary for the Barrowlands.

I also know that the ticketing system left a lot of fans upset, hundreds couldn’t get tickets because of touting, which is usually prevented at events like these.

There were no stalls, gimmicks or doo-dah’s atypical of the venue on the night – you would think they might have put something on for all these fans; needless to say, I smoked a million fags.

Thundercat dons his bass; the flagrant nature of the keys and the bass point to the loose and improvisational feel of the set.

Whilst the dust is blown off these instruments their synergy fails to land at this stage, with some of the instrumental work being out of time and tune.

As the set progresses and the crowd and band warm up, the bass undercuts the keys and the excellent drums with some seriously wacky lines – all six strings are under the constant stress of his mercurial fingers, which slide and slither over the neck of his instrument like a pile of funky serpents.

Thundercat and his drummer – the incomparable Thomas Pridgen – observe each other closely and frequently throughout the set, forming a well-oiled engine that powers an incredible act boasting excellent songs.

Pridgen is a crazy person, not a wild crazy person, but a cool, methodical, crazy madman with an eye for detail who doesn’t make mistakes.

The dynamic nature of the stage allows for the setup of each act to reflect the nature of the band.

Thundercat stands in the middle with his bass, facing each other are the drummer and the organist, allowing Thundercat to look at either of his two band-mates and for them to look at each other.

TC’s use of pedals to modulate the sound of his bass makes the instrument so versatile, in line with this, the keys – now sufficiently warmed up – lap over the drums and bass with profoundly intelligent musicality.

It is clear from Thundercat’s expression that he agrees – this three-piece band is beyond the pail.

The sound coming from this stage is insane, particularly at the low end – the bass is positively massive but not overpoweringly loud, reminding me why I love Thundercat and why I love the Barrowlands – may its doors stay open for a thousand years.

Let us not forget the drummer in all this, on ‘Lotus and the Jondy’, he is rightfully applauded after an utterly sensational solo which leads back into the funky chorus.

Thundercat dancing is hilarious, with the overall performance being exceptional; every time you forget about the synth, it chimes back in to take the drum and bass rhythms to another level.

Thundercat would make for an incredible instrumental act, but the soft, harmonious and technically impressive vocals elevate it above and beyond.

The omission of such tracks as ‘Oh Sheit it’s X’ seems conscious; though I cannot figure out why they wouldn’t play their bigger hits; perhaps they would have had the crowd matched their enthusiasm and effort.

It is disappointingly quiet throughout Thundercat’s set; most people I spoke to suspected Thundercat to be on second to last.

Songhoy Blues get a better reception from a larger crowd – since it is 8pm, a more reasonable time on a Saturday night for a live musical performance.

Songhoy Blues are a happy, funny, enthusiastic, talented and delightful band.

The lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist – Aliou Touré – drops the guitar for the second song and leaves it down for the majority of the set.

He dances and sings his way around the stage with both an ear-to-ear grin and a palpable love for life that is absolutely infectious – electrifying the crowd.

Three of the band’s original members were in Glasgow, their bassist was unable to attend, so a replacement – who had two hours to practice with the band – filled in well.

The lead guitarist supplements the joy provided by his counterpart with exhilarating licks of powerfully impressive blues guitar, his face is emblazoned with a similarly genuine smile.

The lead guitarist being able to play the guitar seems to me to be a minimum requirement, so it doesn’t even seem worth saying; but the lead guitarist, can play guitar.

Songhoy Blues are a talented band who mix familiar tropes with a whole new sound, they seem primarily driven by passion and love and this comes across in spades.

The singer says to us that “music is the soul of life,” and is “the universal language”.

He is a tremendous MC who knows exactly how to stir the crowd – his dance moves are highly sensational too.

When Songhoy Blues finish, they are greeted with a positively electric response, the sound of pounding feet pulses through the crowd who are as loud as they are insatiable.

After a good hour of standing around and five fags, Bonobo starts up.

Simon Green and his key player enter to the sound of ‘Migration’, the delectable opener to Bonobo’s latest album.

Two other musicians enter the fray; their sound is ambient, evolving, evocative, deep, heavy on the bass and above all beautiful.

One difference between Bonobo on record and on stage is the sensational incorporation of electric guitar.

Green is a musical mastermind, a dozen releases over 17 years taught me that; watching him transition seamlessly from bass guitar to a range of synthesisers only vindicated it.

Szjerdene joins on stage to accompany the band for their vocal numbers lending her delicate but pronounced vocals to a number of great songs.

Their rendition of the heart-stopping ‘Break Apart’ is wonderful to listen to and watch, while ‘Towers’ – on which Szjerdene sings on the record – is profoundly impactful.

Szjerdene, as well as various other members come and go from the stage as required, at most there are eight performers on stage at once, coming together as one dynamic system to bring about music much greater than the sum of their parts.

Crowd favourite ‘Kiara’ is played fast and with excess oomph; the live instruments certainly bring out the beauty of the music.

The rest of the band leaves Green alone to play ‘Ten Tigers’ and ‘Kong’, throwing down some excellent bass whilst producing live – impressive stuff.

He brings up the tempo with an interlude as the rest of the performers re-enter the stage to ready themselves for ‘Surface’ with Szjerdene.

‘Cirrus’ – appropriately augmented for stage – serenely wanders into ‘Outlier’ with the most affectionate attention.

Almost every track played is either from Black Sands, the subsequent The North Borders or the recent Migration, which makes sense since in my opinion Black Sands marked a turning point in Bonobo’s career.

It would have been nice to hear some older stuff, but it would be nice to be best friends with Simon Green and have him play bass to wake me up every morning, so I’m not complaining.

A drop of clarinet is brought to proceedings for ‘We Could Forever’, which is taken home by the brass.

This marks one of the high points of the set, the brass is hypnotic, exhilarating and touching, I never expect anything less of Bonobo and I am never disappointed.

As a collection of songs, this is one thing, as a live set, it is another entirely.

The ensemble knows every twist and turn of the music, Green curates, injecting and removing elements as necessary to best exemplify the sound.

The sheer density of the music just can’t come across on record, it is only here, live, that one can truly appreciate exactly what Bonobo offers; an immersive, personal, well-considered, evocative experience – fit for the Barrowlands.

Thank you Radio 6 for bringing these acts here for us to see.

A more house oriented version of ‘Kerala’ brings things to the boil about 15-minutes before the end, preparing the crowd before Glasgow’s Saturday night.

The infamous echo of “one more tune” bellowed through the ballroom does not fall on deaf ears, as a two song encore including ‘Transits’, and ‘Know You’ finishes the evening on a high, truly cementing tonight into the annals of Glaswegian music history.

Nobody will be in a hurry to forget this one; the stage has been graced by some of the most impressive and impassioned recording artists around at the moment.

The only thing that could possibly top it off would be a Bonobo DJ set at Sub Club – good thing he’s up for it.

Words: Paul Aitken
Photos: BBC/Sarah Jeynes

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