EDINBURGH’S Bwani Junction are on the road to success. Just don’t call them the new Vampire Weekend, warns David Pollock
‘Are you a band, then?” asks a friendly elderly waiter of the four young gentlemen who have just told him – with as much excitement as possible nonchalantly suppressed – that they’re playing Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Concert in the Gardens this New Year. “What are you called?” Bwani Junction, they tell him. “I’m sorry, I’ve never ’eard of you,” he smiles back. It’s hard to resist the temptation to tell him that he surely will before long.
On an early December afternoon in the stately bar of Edinburgh’s Caledonian Hotel, Bwani Junction are settling into the unfamiliar position of feeling like proper rock stars in their home city. Lined up on a plush sofa in the corner of the room, they drink coffee and whisky on a bar tab that belongs to someone else, the quartet of (“roughly”) 21-year-olds getting through their press duties in advance of that main stage appearance at the Hogmanay event – a coveted support slot to The View and Simple Minds – that, it turns out, they’ve been trying to talk their way into for a while.
Strangely for a band who almost all live in Edinburgh, none of the band has ever been to the Hogmanay concert or the street party, although they’ve wandered the streets of the city in the aftermath. They ask what the main stage down in Princes Street Gardens is like and how many people fit into the space, although at no point do they sound nervous. They talk like old gigging hands. “I remember the first time I had something thrown at me,” says guitarist and singer Rory Fairweather, “I was heartbroken. It was a pint of cider.”
“The saddest thing was the waste of cider,” smiles guitarist Dan Muir, who’s from Queensferry. “It was in Wishaw, we were playing a club night. It was absolutely rammed but it wasn’t a gig crowd, they weren’t into seeing a band.”
The worst crowd, he jokes, is “the T in the Park crowd. You can even see your friends throwing things there.”
He’s reminded that the Concert in the Gardens crowd is genteel by comparison, and that in Scotland it’s often a term of endearment anyway. Besides, this group have played on both the Forth Bridges in support of their single Two Bridges, so Hogmanay should be a breeze.
Having grown up and started playing music together at Edinburgh’s Merchiston Castle School, a private boy’s school in Craiglockhart, Bwani Junction have perhaps had to overcome a stereotype on the local scene that they’re not the sort of lads who can handle flying pints of cider. Yet it doesn’t take long to overcome this image. In person they’re friendly and funny, having obviously built up the kind of intuitive sense of humour that comes from having shared a common room and a studio for so many years.
On record – namely the debut album Fully Cocked, which earned a nomination for the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year award earlier in 2012 and a citation in the NME as “a Glastonbury institution in waiting” alongside a glowing review – their sound is crisp and well-constructed. The band’s music echoes the adrenalised pop thrills of The Libertines and The Vaccines, as well as the adapted African influences of Vampire Weekend.
Muir is scathing about that last comparison. “I don’t hear it myself,” he says. “If it’s not Vampire weekend it’s Paul Simon. Well wait a minute, what about actual African music? We never get compared to African musicians, just white people who have ripped them off.”
Fairweather agrees. “It’s an easy comparison to say anything with an off-beat rhythm has an African influence, but it’s a lazy one.”
“We did get Fela Kuti once,” says bassist Fergus Robson. “That was nice, we’re huge fans.” Perhaps the reason for their reticence is the fact Muir’s distinctive guitar style has more authentic and less fashion-based roots than simply listening to one of the world’s bigger guitar-pop bands.
His father Gordon was the manager of Zimbabwean crossover band the Bhundu Boys and Dan has played with the band’s Rise Kagona since the age of ten.
“He used to stay just up the road from us, so I’d go over and jam with him,” he says. Add to this elements of Elvis Costello, prog rock and sometime pipe band drummer Jack Fotheringham’s unexpected obsession with Wolfstone, and the picture becomes much more textured.
Fairweather jokes that “the Bwani Junction sound still hasn’t come together yet, in all honesty,” but in that case they play with remarkable assurance for a group in the early stages of their career. None of them went to university, simply because they couldn’t all get on the same music course together (their favoured option was to go to Leeds), and instead they’ve been serving their apprenticeship working with the renowned Paul Savage at Chem 19 studio in Blantyre, with whom they recorded their first and now their second album, currently being mixed.
“We’ve learned a lot about songwriting from him,” says Fairweather. “When you’re 16 and writing songs on an acoustic guitar in your bedroom you can’t see how it will translate, but when you’re in a studio with someone who does it for a living you can see what works and what doesn’t. It teaches you to see the elements of your song like building blocks and to figure out what will grab a listener quickly.”
“For the first album we were excited about just releasing something,” says Fotheringham, “but this time we’re excited about the actual musicality of it. It’s more expressive and a bit more mad, there are things on there we would never have imagined doing two years ago.” He mentions metal, Fairweather namechecks Chic, and Muir hopes the Vampire Weekend references will stop. But they’re no bad thing if they’re meant as a compliment.
• Bwani Junction play the Concert in the Gardens, Edinburgh, on New Year’s Eve. www.facebook.com/bwanijunction