Nick Garrie was pretty sensational, taking to the stage with his acoustic guitar and a friend on lead acoustic, he had the audience (many of whom (including me), I presume, had never heard of him or his songs before) in the palm of his hand from the first song. According to online research he is best known for his 1969 album ‘The Nightmare of JB Stanislas’ that was out of print and only re-issued in 2005. Raised in France, Nick sang a beautiful duet in French with a girl called Sarah and was at ease talking with the crowd about his memories of writing and recording. I think I will check out the album.
On to the main event, the BMX Bandits. There was a real sense of occasion to the gig and frontman and lead Bandito Duglas T Stewart was in fine form, even more chatty and full of smiles than normal (and that is saying something). The ever-evolving Bandits line-up (with the exception of Duglas) consisted of Rachel (vocals), Jim McCulloch (guitar), Finlay MacDonald (bass), David Scott (keys) and Jim Gash (drums). Throughout the night they were joined by guests and previous Banditos; Norman Blake, Sean Dickson and Gordon Keen, along with Gavin from Randolph’s Leap.
They opened with ‘Students of Life’ before launching straight into one of my favourite Bandits tunes; ‘Gettin’ Dirty’. Duglas was already in top form with his hand actions, and his energy transferred to the rest of the band with everyone raising their game. The whole set was fantastic, but particular highlights for me included; Norman coming on to sing ‘Serious Drugs’, Duglas introducing us to his apples, a sublime ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘So Many Colours’ off the Bee Stings album, Rachel singing her heart out on ‘I Wanna Fall In Love’, fellow founding Bandit Sean Dickson joining in for the first ever song they wrote ‘The Day Before Tomorrow’ and a stomp through debut single ‘E102’.
A special mention must go to the song ‘Not Knowing You’ that Duglas sang on his own, accompanied only by the extremely talented David Scott from The Pearlfishers on piano. Introduced as a song about someone very special who Duglas used to work with, it really tugged on the heartstrings.
From tugging on the heartstrings with a soulful and emotional ballad, the Bandits were into disco mode with a sensational ‘Sing The Things’, another highlight from the Bee Stings album, complete with handclaps and whistles.
‘Disco Girl’ went back a few years, with Duglas sharing the story of how he had an unfinished song and popped a cassette through his good friend Norman’s door, only to receive a cassette with a start and finish supplied by Norman. I think that short story highlights how people respond to Duglas and his music, with love and support, with the knowledge that it will be returned to them without question. Looking around the venue you could see everyone with smiles on their faces during the songs, singing along with some, clapping to others and laughing at Duglas’ jokes and on stage banter. It was great to see and there can’t be many bands across the world that generate a real feeling of friendship and fun in the audience. Duglas’ natural charm, the loving and hopeful lyrics combined with melodic and warm guitar sounds had the audience at ease, everyone felt at home.
The Bandits left the stage only to be cheered back on for an encore, with Duglas even having time for a quick costume change, returning with a splendid Kermit the Frog green adidas trackie top to match his trainers. The encore was fantastic but over too soon, consisting of a beautiful heartfelt version of Daniel Johnson’s ‘Do You Really Love Me?’ and their traditional closer of ‘Witchi Tai To’ featuring soaring guitar from Gordon Keen. Not one to bask in glory, Duglas left the stage first, leaving an assortment of Bandit brothers and sisters from across the years to finish the song.
Ninety minutes of pure pop with songs about love and hope sent the crowd out into the cold January air with smiles on their faces and a warmth in their heart. BMX Bandits may not have had the record sales or recognition that some of their peers have had, but they have a place in many peoples heart and a documentary film planned for release later this year ‘Serious Drugs: The Story of the BMX Bandits’ could really raise their profile.