Celtic Connections: The Burns Unit @ ABC, 16 Jan

Article by Chris Buckle | 27 Jan 2009

Few bands making their official debut could hope for a rapt full-house in the cavernous ABC, but The Burns Unit aren’t some wet-behind-the-ears whippersnappers. Starting as a collaborative Burnsong project, the musicians involved decided that their creative chemistry was worth keeping alive beyond their last Burnsong paycheque. Making the 'leap of faith' by placing their solo careers on hold - no minor gesture for such Jock rock royalty as Emma Pollock, King Creosote and Future Pilot AKA - the eight-piece decided a public unveiling was in order, with Celtic Connections doing the honours.

Support from Drever, McCusker and Woomble (****) more than fulfils the “Celtic” part of the festival’s remit, with none-more-Scottish banter about tight-fistedness, Edinburgh/Glasgow rivalries and the inadequacy of First Scotrail, as well as a conventional sonic palette of traditional rootsy folk. The trio’s note-perfect renditions of debut album Before the Ruin’s best moments leave the teeming crowd in silent reverence; until, that is, fiddle-player McCusker turns a gentle ballad into an up-tempo barnstormer that gives everybody under the ABC's roof plenty to whoop and stomp about.

If the support embodies “Celtic” then The Burns Unit (****) - with a line-up completed by Karine Polwart, Kim Edgar, pint-sized “resident Weegie” MC Soom T and Canadians Michael Johnstone and Mattie Foulds - are the perfect example of cross-cultural “Connections”. Aside from their multinational membership, they demonstrate a canny ability to blend disparate styles: from tender odes to serendipity (the Pollock-penned House on the Hill) to jacked-up carnival rock; from Soom T’s MIA-esque melodica-backed protest song to a sinister, bloody ballad - the band fuse their contrasting talents and leave no signs of suture or ego. The Burns Unit due to enter the studio this week, meaning that tonight's gig gives us the privilege of a preview of that rare beast: a ‘supergroup’ that manages to be more than the sum of its parts. [Chris Buckle]