Gig review: Africa Express (Damon Albarn & Co); Glasgow Arches

Damon Albarn arrives in Glasgow on the African Express ahead of performing at at The Arches
Damon Albarn arrives in Glasgow on the African Express ahead of performing at at The Arches
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AMIDST A true cross-continental feast of music presented during the better part of four hours on two stages (and that’s not including the club DJs afterwards), it’s hard not to feel the finer point of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express tour might have been missed.

On the level of entertainment it fell somewhere between pleasantly surprising and truly excellent, with a billed selection of some 43 artists and bands from the UK, Africa and occasionally elsewhere bringing the spirit of the Cultural Olympiad to the stage with a slew of collaborations from the train that is transporting them around the nation.

In a sense, the ramshackle nature of the endeavour was what gave this show its charm, throwing together such unlikely collaborations as Reverend and the Makers’ John McClure bellowing out the Clash’s Train in Vain, while Amadou Bagayoko peppered the song with sharp and urgent rock guitar playing and Carl Barat (ex-Libertines) sang backing vocals, or Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman racing to keep up with the vocal part of Shuffle as a battering,samba-like cacophony of drums rained down upon the song.

It was a true celebration of both regional diversity and the strong common bonds found between musicians around the world, as well as a ringing endorsement of the power of songs played exclusively on live instruments to truly surprise.

Yet among such a wealth of talent, individual performances threatened to become lost, and it’s uncertain how many in the audience would have been aware afterwards, for example, that Rokia Traore was the wonderful Malian singer who duetted with Albarn on Gorillaz’ On Melancholy Hill, or that the wild-haired and electrifying of voice Mim Suleiman had been the star of the show.

Rating: * * * *