Album Review – The Burns Unit


Burns Unit -‘Side Show’ (self-released)

Every so often, there’s a collaborative effort in Scotland that shows just how wide the talent is here, and how people from different musical backgrounds can come together to produce a standalone classic. In the early part of the last decade, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody put together two albums under the heading of The Reindeer Section (featuring members of V-Twin, Belle and Sebastian, Arab Strap etc..) for two excellent albums Y’all get scared now, ya hear and Son of Evil Reindeer. Later on there was a collaborative effort between music and literature that saw the likes of Edwyn Morgan, Ian Rankin and A.L. Kennedy collaborating with artists as diverse as Mike Heron to Aereogramme to produce Ballads Of the Book.

And in 2010, there’s Side Show by the Burns Unit. Not only because it’s a fine collaborative effort involving the cream of Scotland (with some help from two Canadians) but also because the end result is very much at least equal to the sum of its’ parts. Eight of them, no less. First up, there’s the high priestess of Scottish indie, Emma Pollock; King Creosote, Future Pilot AKA (Sushil K. Dade, who has been a member of (deep breath) the Soup Dragons, Telstar Ponies and the BMX Bandits), folk royalty Karine Polwart; multi-instrumentalist Kim Edgar; Canadians Mattie Foulds and Michael Johnston, and last but definitely not least, the fiery MC Soom T.

I’ve been really enjoying this album over the last week or so; it was an album I expected to find at the very least interesting and worth hearing -but it’s an album that works. The idea of an album that is a fusion of styles and could be described as organic is enough to make many self-respecting music fans want to scream, but here, it really, really works. Watching the band live on stage at the Queen’s Hall on Monday, eight very different personalities. I did find myself almost imaging it as eight different classroom personalities, but I won’t reveal who was who here. I’ve interviewed both Emma Pollock and King Creosote and they’re lovely people -and Scotland’s too small to wind the wrong people up.

There’s a lot of great songs here, the opening ‘Since We’ve Fallen Out’ is a gorgeous duet between Karine Polwart and King Creosote (Kenny Anderson to his mum, well, presumably). ‘Majesty of Decay’ is sublime and ‘Trouble’ is as good as anything Emma Pollock has been involved in over the last decade and a half. But live and on record, the highlight of the album for me is ‘Send Them Kids To War’ led by MC Soom T’s furious rapping. She’s collaborated with the likes of the Bug and Asian Dub foundation, amongst others, though I think she’s got plenty of her own style. I promised not to let the classroom analogies slip through, but she is the small lass with the big mouth, the big heart and the big talent who steals the show (did I hear her tell Michael Johnston to ‘Shut it, posh boy?’ No, can’t have done…) With the underlyling harmony from Kim Edgar and Karine Polwart while messrs. Creosote and Pollock are having serious fun with their guitars this is a tune that will stay with you for long, long time. And one of the highlights of this year.

Catch them live when you get the chance. Go and buy the album now.


Stream the entire album here

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