The Burns Unit, Jazz Cafe, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Though largely overlooked in last year's nu-folk revival, the Scottish folk-rock supergroup The Burns Unit's debut album Side Show proved one of the genre's more absorbing releases, and this first London show confirms how well their bustling diversity transfers to the stage.

Not that all eight of them can fit on the Jazz Cafe stage at once without a bit of a squeeze. During "Blood, Ice and Ashes", Kenny Anderson and Michael Johnston are virtually playing in each other's pockets as they double up on organ and synth, crammed in against the side of Kim Edgar's grand piano; and when more than a couple of the band are wielding guitars, it's touch and go whether they'll be jousting fretboards. To relieve the crush, members frequently absent themselves to let smaller aggregations perform more intimately, as with the new song in which Anderson and former Delgado Emma Pollock track the bittersweet lines of a co-dependent relationship with black humour: "We'll be always together/ Dead or alive, I don't mind".

Most of the band have musical day-jobs in other capacities – Anderson is better known as King Creosote, and Karine Polwart has a flourishing solo career, while elfin rapper MC Soom T releases material through various dub, house and hip-hop outlets – but they all seem to enjoy not having to carry the entire show on their own, subsuming themselves as part of the greater whole. The collective nature of the group makes for some intriguing musical blends, from the rousing Balkan-reggae singalong "What Is Life?" to the tinkling toy piano and meek mouse-choir backing harmonies that accompany the boozer's apologia "Sorrys".

Sometimes, there's a solid wall of sound, with piano, organ and accordion driving the infectious Cossack oompah singalong of "You Need Me to Need This"; at other times, a delicate web of flute and glockenspiel carries the harmonies of "We're Running Through the Fields".