A dream opportunity

​Yesterday afternoon, in one of Berkeley Studios’ rehearsal rooms, Bwani Junction and their very special guests were limbering up for for tonight’s hotly-anticipated Graceland show, celebrating 30 years since Paul Simon’s seminal album, when the door opened, and in walked Kris Kristofferson. While some of those present – including Donald Shaw, as well as ex-Bhundu Boys manager Gordon Muir, who’s helping oversee the project – of course identified him immediately, but Bwani Junction themselves, being but young things, didn’t know who he was, though they recognised a personage when they saw one. “Is this the rehearsal?” Kristofferson asked, and when Muir nodded yes, the great man looked around enquiringly: “So, what song d’you want to try?” Muir went as far as proposing his own classic favourite, ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, and Kristofferson was good to go – but Muir then felt compelled, in the interests of fairness and professionalism, to forego this dream opportunity after all, and tell his hero that actually the Roaming Roots Revue rehearsal was in the room next door.

A packed house in the Festival Club was later treated to a stunning extended preview of the Graceland set, with an 11-strong line-up including the album’s original saxophonist Morris Goldberg - merrily swigging a bottle of Drygate’s Festival Brew, before delivering his celebrated whistle solo in ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – plus a rare appearance on the Art School stage by our aforementioned artistic director. One young Celtic veteran was later heard proclaiming it possibly the best Festival Club set he’d ever seen, which is certainly saying something.

Mind you, Friday night’s club line-up was pretty darned lip-smacking all round, if we do say so ourselves, with Rachel Sermanni on first, achieving the considerable feat of silencing its typically garrulous, boisterous crowd, before reappearing later to add more guest vocals to the Bwani Junction line-up. Orkney’s Saltfishforty, in their self-styled “Big Fat Band” formation – featuring guests Kris Drever, Éamonn Coyne, Rick Taylor, Billy Peace, Andrew Gifford and Erik Laughton – took the task of following Graceland serenely in their stride, with a set including a terrific Orkney/blues/New Orleans mash-up, as well as that old favourite, ‘Breadbin Blues’, whose cautionary evocation of morning-after hunger pangs failed to dent the enthusiasm of an all-but moshing audience, who positively roared every time the tunes kicked up another gear. Flautist Joe Armstrong was then on double duty, firstly with his own very tasty trio, evoking shades of Mike McGoldrick and Flook, before finishing off the night in suitably fiery style with Dosca.

Along at the Holiday Inn, meanwhile, after what was by all accounts an outstanding show in the Main Auditorium, none other than Senegalese icon Baaba Maal was spotted listening intently to the pure-drop tunes being played by two Irish traditional masters, piper Robbie Hannon and fiddler Dermot McLaughlin, following their own performance at the Piping Centre: apparently Maal is besotted with the uilleann pipes. Other luminaries in attendance included Davy Spillane, who’d featured with Moving Hearts at the Fruitmarket – yet another cracking gig, going by the ecstatic reports – and Breton flute legend Jean-Michel Veillon, warming up for his ‘And Friends’ gathering at the Art Club tonight. It it was a non-professional punter, though, who eventually brought the night’s music to a spine-tingling close, commanding pin-drop silence with an exquisitely desolate, a cappella rendition of bluegrass heroine Ola Belle Reed’s haunting lament, ‘Undone in Sorrow’, after which we nigh-on floated off to bed.