Afro Celt Sound System

Afro Celt Sound System @ The Apex Bury St Edmunds, 26th October 2016

How many bands start their first tour after being in existence for twenty years? The Afro Celt Sound System are that band, and The Apex is the first gig of the first tour. So has twenty years of rehearsals paid off?

Happily there is a good sized crowd waiting to see the results, and for a band well versed in playing big festivals their entrance was rather low key – no theatricals or dramatic lights, just wander on pick up instruments and go. “Beware Soul Brother” matched the entrance, but by the gloriously ponderous end it became the perfect opener giving each member a chance to flex their muscles and briefly shine. “The Communicator” upped the ante and the groove was damn nearly hit.

But being a diehard fan of West African music my first favourite moment came when N’Faly Kouyate spoke about The Mandinke Empire and launched into a gorgeous Kora solo, there is definitely something about that instrument that stirs deep within the soul.

“Release” brought us back to the familiar groove that had the crowd dancing in a way that only the middle aged can muster, it also brought to the fore the vocals of Rioghnach Connolly, which are a joy. “Desert Billy” gave us a little touch of rock’n’roll, Griogair gave us a Gaelic rap and Johnny Kalsi did his thing on the Dhol drum, and the first half came to a thunderous end.

I heard no complaints but much excitement during my half time ramble. Expectation rose to a tangible level as the interval lights began to fade. Mr Emmerson, the leader of this disparate bunch, had promised an even more high octane second half, on balance this was a fairly accurate prediction. “Magnificent Seven” set the tone and even had a rare guitar solo, “Cascade” brought us a cinematic tribute to the late Angus Grant, the fiddler with Scots band Shooglenifty who was heavily involved with the inception of The Afro Celts. “Honey Bee” saw more vocals from Rioghnach and “Soul of a Sister” gave us the finest ensemble playing and singing of the evening.

More piping, rapping, drumming and electronic wizardry brought the evening to a conclusion much too soon, and, without encouragement, the happily dancing audience called for more. The ten piece band duly obliged with more  thunderous grooves with N’Faly, in his orange costume, dancing like a high vis Halloween pumpkin and a solo by Ged Lynch on drums, who held the whole evening together superbly, bringing the whole thing to an apt conclusion. Cue happy crowd slowly wandering out into the chill evening.

Finally, I must mention the sound man who, unexpectedly and very kindly, gave me a set list – top man, top sound, top night – please don’t leave it another twenty years.