- 06 Feb 20
Cool Cats. These BPs Got Soul.
I was knackered. I had asked those beautiful, intelligent, and lovely people at MCD for permission to cover the gig, but when it came through a few hours before showtime, I racked my brain for some acceptable excuse. The dog ate me notebook? No. Have I any grannies left who might fortuitously pass away? At the last count, I’ve managed to lose twenty-seven grandparents. There was nothing else for it but to drag my tired carcass to The Academy. Here’s another lesson in the power of music. Once Black Pumas took the stage to a massive roar, I started grinning and all weariness instantly washed away.
Before I get into the music, let me say a word about lead singer/focal point Eric Burton. He struts on stage in a leather jacket with a palm tree print on it and a beanie hat set at a rakish angle, looking for all the world like Nile Rodgers’ younger – and much better looking -brother. How good looking is he? Have you ever been out at a do, plámásing some young one/lad with a load of meow, hoping for the best, only for someone to walk in who is so pleasing of visage that you down your drink and immediately head for the door, grumbling and cursing your hideous ancestors? That’s how good looking he is. That would surely be enough to sicken anyone, but the man also has a voice that would have given Christopher Hitchens religion.
“Dublin, Ireland, how are you?” smiles Mr Perfect as the Pumas go into a groove that’s as deep as your socks for ‘Next To You’. Tony Brereton, sticks man with the mighty Sack, is stood next to me, and reckons the drum sound in this room is the best in town. He’s not wrong either, and that bass player sounds pretty good too. The man behind the kit goes a bit Motown for ‘Black Cat’, there’s a nice tempo drop for the bridge and Burton - the wattage of whose star power is of such a magnitude that I dare say it could keep the lights on for a week – goes down into the crowd to throw a few shapes and press the flesh. This is only the second song.
‘Old Man’ – “Dublin, can we kick it together?” – YES! – and ‘Know You Better’ – “Dublin, can we turn it up?” – YES! – pass by through the prism of an audience who came to get down, and they’ve come to the right place, because this band are tighter than John Holmes’ underwear. ‘Black Moon Rising’ is driven by near military drumming, ‘Mrs Postman’ throws out a bass groove that the deaf could two-step to and when the backing singers croon at you that “Every little thing is alright”, it is no idle boast. ‘Stay Gold’ has the kind of psychedelic soul swirl that The Temptations would have nodded approvingly at, in unison. Adrian Quesada, who looks like he’s auditioning for the Dexys Midnight Runners that gave us ‘Geno’, throws out a stinging guitar solo, in a vain attempt to drag eyes away from Burton. Let’s not forget that this is the man who was partially responsible for birthing Brownout’s Fear Of A Brown Planet, one of the funkiest things known to man, so he deserves our respect, but we are only human, Burton is just too magnetic. Johnny Handsome is also a dab hand at the guitar, as evidenced by his shimmering intro to ‘Confines’. Is there nothing he can’t do? Some people need a kick.
Look at him, dancing with his beautiful backing singers. I’d love to tell you he had two left feet and fell over, but no, it was all graceful, swan-like movement. Bastard. Then he got the audience to sing along to Bobby Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’, and covering Bland - B.B. King once said there was “no better singer” - takes balls the size of watermelons. Burton then does something that you rarely see. He dedicated ‘Oct 33’ to Roisin Erin Fitzgerald, an integral part of the Kilkenny and Irish music scene thanks to her roles as the lighting engineer in the Set Theatre and in the beloved Rollercoaster Records – a bastion of rock n’ roll in the south east - who sadly passed away recently. She was a fan of the band and their music played at her funeral. Not only did he do that, but he demanded a minute’s silence at the songs end, staring down a few “boisterous” heads in the crowd to get it. What a beautiful gesture. The band then finished out the main set with a positively monumental ‘Colours’ – there’s a wah-wah guitar break, a keyboard solo where the dapper man in the hat behind the 88’s threatens to become one with his instrument, and the song finishes with an almost completely a cappella verse. Marvellous.
But that’s not it, Burton comes out again to sing a song he used to do when he was busking with his Irish mate Pat Brosnan back in the day. It’s a testament to the man’s voice and talent that he can take a song like Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ – it’s never done anything for me, but other opinions are available – and turn it into something beautiful. The show ends with a suitably incandescent ‘Fire’ although the slightly prog-rock intro was a bit of a worry. The chorus scrapes the ceiling, Burton hollers “Come on right side, come on left side” to ensure we’re all waving, and Quesada covers for the missing horns with a twanging guitar riff that Morricone must have missed.
Black Pumas are rising quickly. A lot of this is down to Burton, who is a star all the way from his toes to the top of that hat I mentioned earlier, but couple that with Quesada’s nous and a completely fat-free debut album of sweet soul music, and it was all fairly inevitable. Run, don’t walk, and get those Olympia tickets. Now.