The Burns Unit

For a band who create a sound as complete and consistent as The Burns Unit, the Scottish-come-Canadian collective look rather disparate. From the nerd-rock red shirt and black tie of Future Pilot AKA, or the lively indie vibe of Michael Johnston and the elegance of Emma Pollock and Karine Polwart to the scruffy hobo-folk look of this year’s Mercury nominee King Creosote, The Burns Unit barely look like they belong in the same music festival, let alone on the same stage. Yet anyone in attendance at The Queen’s Hall tonight for the band’s triumphant return to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be glad they are.The collective formed originally for the Burns song project, a meeting of musicians with a view to writing songs together in tribute to Robert Burns. The phenomenal and perhaps surprising result was last year’s album ‘Side Show’ with its riotous, hybrid pop arrangements, big driving choruses and delicate, understated verses. It’s pop music of a very sophisticated kind and it’s remarkable that The Burns Unit can reproduce it so faithfully onstage, even with one member – MC Soom T – absent from the line-up.The band really raise their game with brand-new material making up around forty percent of the set, breathing new life and energy into the whole enterprise each time one comes round, like children excited by the shiny new toys they just got for Christmas. The transfer of this energy to the audience is, however, somewhat inefficient. Music like this really wants a stand-up venue, not a seated concert hall. The hard wooden pews of The Queen’s Hall are ill-suited for the band and despite Johnston’s valiant attempt to move the party off the stage into the auditorium, leaping around us all clapping his hands, a part of the live experience is lost amongst the venue’s chipped washed-out paint and wooden pillars.Yet The Burns Unit cannot be faulted for an accomplished and hugely enjoyable set. It is rewarded, after 90 minutes and a three-song encore, with a final ovation that sees the audience where they should have been all along – up on their feet.

Reviews by Tom Moyser

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The Blurb

Emma Pollock, Future Pilot AKA, Karine Polwart, King Creosote, Kim Edgar, Mattie Foulds, Michael Johnston and MC Soom T are back! ‘Consistently great songs give this strange, many-coloured animal depth as well as breadth’ **** (Scotsman).