At one point during their set at the Old Fruitmarket, guitarist and singer Emma Pollock noted that The Burns Unit experience a sort of reverse dog years effect, so despite the couple of years since their first proper performance which took place at Celtic Connections, it’s only really been six months of the band in existence.
So what happened in that deceptively short period? Well, primarily evident from this latest appearance at the festival was the welcome fact that the band have now gelled together as a fully cohesive unit, one now capable of being greater than the sum of its parts, which is no small order when you consider its constituents.
That was a quality perhaps lacking inaugural gig back in 2009, but nothing to be ashamed of when you’re a group comprising eight hugely talented musicians, many of whom have huge followings in their own right. That certainly applies to alt-folk figurehead King Creosote and (non-alt?) folk stalwart Karine Polwart, who duetted together mesmerically on opening number Since We’ve Fallen Out, which is also the first track on debut album Side Show.
But now there seems an added fluency to proceedings, which is remarkable when you consider the genres spanned within the space of an hour and a half. It was a dizzying run through a hugely varying range of styles, everything from haunting balladry to stomping cabaret numbers embraced with something of an indie sensibility. Searching for an appropriate catch-all description seems entirely pointless when dealing with a troupe of disparate characters who, despite their differences, have located a shared sensibility that beautifully crosses musical boundaries.
With various members pretty much all being allotted their time in the limelight (though Mattie Foulds and Future Pilot AKA were content to provide the propulsive rhythm section throughout from the rear of the stage), it can be assumed that fans may have their favourite that they’d like to see more of. The sporadic incursions of Glaswegian pocket rocket MC Soom T were always memorable, Kim Edgar’s sweet subtleties were warmly welcomed, and jaunty Canadian keyboardist Michael Johnston’s stage banter seemed at time the glue to hold everything together, always providing a fun and arresting focal point whenever things might have risked becoming too earnest.
A particular stand-out was a remarkably delicate duet between King Creosote and Emma Pollock, the two Scots blessed with such remarkable voices that the evocative melodies that without fail seem to summon up would remain laced with poignancy even if they were singing about the latest contestants skating off of Dancing on Ice. (Though you’ll be glad to know that they weren’t.) This brand new collaboration seems part of an approach where a couple of the band’s members will segment off to work together and see what sparks fly in the process, before bringing the results back to the group as a whole to be further honed into shape. (Working out the maths, that seems to open up a rather large amount of potential opportunities…)
And thankfully, as it turns out that mentioned freshly coined track was one of a handful of new numbers, each of which was full of raw potential, boding well for the future of this already cherished Scottish/Canadian “supergroup” of sorts. Though that mentioned “reverse dog years” effect may mean it’s a while before we can expect a second album, from tonight’s showing it’ll be well worth the wait. Oh, and thankfully for those unable to make last night’s performance, it was revealed during the show that future dates are being lined up for the summer. I guess for The Burns Unit those gigs are but a day away, according to their logic. Lucky them, and lucky us too.