I don’t get to as many gigs (of other artists!) as I’d like to (except at festivals), so when I finally get the chance to see an act I really like it is double the pleasure. So when my good friend and ex-Rumpus partner Ed Conway suggested seeing Afro Celt Sound System at Birmingham City Hall while I was in England last week, I jumped at the chance.
First, I will get the only negatives out of the way. They looked awful. Dressed in the clothes they did their shopping in and with (in the case of the piper, Griogair Labhruidh) a sweater your uncle wouldn’t even wear at Christmas, they hadn’t made an effort on the visual side. With the exception of the one (hugely talented) African member, N’Faly Kouyate, who donned a long colourful jacket, and the dancers, in their traditional Indian costumes. And Griogair rapped. Rapping is shite in any language – even Gaelic.
Right. That’s the negatives out of the way. The music more than made up for it. I had always considered ACSS to be a very electronic project, with the acoustic, traditional instruments laid over computer-based rhythms and synthesizers. The electronic side, actually, played a much smaller role than I expected and the bulk of the sound was produced by the pipes/flutes/whistles, guitars, kora, drums, percussion and bodhrán augmented by terrific harmony vocals. The synth was mostly providing bass (I would have preferred a bass guitar, but that’s just a question of taste). One of those who made the biggest impression on me was Rioghnach Connelly on vocals and flute. A hugely talented lady with great on-stage attitude. But they were all amazing, and took turns coming to the front before stepping back into the huge African, Asian and Celtic sound soup.
The set was mostly from the new album “Source”, but with a few pieces I recognised from the early Afro Celt albums. The members of the “other” band who share the name may be threatening legal action and disclaiming the project, but it was very much a Simon Emmerson project in the beginning, as I understand it, and he pulled off a spectacular show with this line-up, featuring all the elements we loved from the early records.