by Kirsten Robertson
BANFI took to the stage at Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s this Monday, providing the compact venue with their infusion of soulful, passionate and uplifting tracks. It was the first UK date in their European tour, but despite the band’s 1000 mile drive from Zurich, no energy was lost tonight.
“It feels really good to be headlining our own tour,” says drummer Aaron Graham. “There’s more pressure on us but that’s quite nice, actually, because it makes us work harder.”
BANFI was formed after Joe Banfi decided to end his solo career and search for something different. “The manager I had at the time introduced me to Aaron because I needed another bandmate,” explains Banfi, whose previous work had been praised by critics across the country. In 2013, The Guardian even theorised he would win a BRIT Critics’ Choice award the following year.
“I started showing Aaron some songs, and we started a new project together,” Banfi says, tucking his long blonde locks behind an ear. “We just picked up where I’d left off with the solo act. And Aaron brought our bassist Chris McCuaig in through a friend – and we were sorted.”
The irony of moving away from a solo career and yet still naming the band after himself is not lost on Banfi.
“It’s funny, because it does make me look like an egomaniac. The name is because when I was in a limbo stage from just leaving the solo project I thought, if I ever carry it on – I’ll call it BANFI. But then I never did carry on my solo career on, but started a new project with these guys. They were like, ‘Come on, let’s do this!’, at which point BANFI became the band name, quite naturally.”
Before the show, Holy Loaf’s frontman George sipped on lemon and ginger tea, telling me about his life in Coventry before he moved to Edinburgh. He currently works as a sales representative during the day, and works on music through the night.
Armed only with an acoustic guitar and kick-drum, George held the audience throughout his set. Each song was drastically different, but equally powerful – hopefully he will be able to make music his full-time career soon.
Next was Mummy – one of the most energetic bands I have ever seen. This was their first show supporting BANFI but no nerves were evident.
They introduced tracks simply, saying “this song’s about the royal baby”, or “this song’s about socks”. Their sense of humour came through in the wit of their lyrics, and I look forward to what Mummy have in store as their reputation increases.
By the time BANFI came to the stage Sneaky Pete’s had filled even more, with the door being opened to allow more space. The band appeared on stage with a quiet confidence; they’re used to this, having been constantly touring for the last year.
“We usually play Bruce Springsteen before we go on stage,” Graham had explained. “Or Chris sometimes plays acoustic and we sing along, which is nice.”
“Before a show, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page,” said Banfi. “As long as we’re all feeling the right vibes together, it’s a good show. If were not, well, things happen…”
The vibes were clearly feeling right, as BANFI stormed through an impressive set of songs, including an exclusive live performance of their new track ‘Future’.
At a stretch, BANFI’s sound can be likened to Alt-J – think electric riffs and deep bass lines. But, with BANFI, the tracks feel far more intimate, more personal.
When introducing an acoustic version of ‘Caroline’, lead singer Joe Banfi explained the premise for the track. His management wanted him to write a Christmas song, so he wrote about his grandpa’s death, which had occurred on Christmas Eve. With Banfi’s uncles in the audience, it was an extremely emotional performance.
It was also a family affair for bassist Chris McCuaig, from Hawick in the Scottish Borders. Half of Hawick seemed to have made the trip to the capital to support McCuaig, including his father – who got a birthday shout out.
As the gig continued, the hooks on songs such as ‘June’ and ‘Happy When You Go’ had the crowd relaxingly swaying as one. There was no filter between the music and the audience. It was a genuine, unabashed performance, and that comes from the talented writing of Joe Banfi, who wrote all of the band’s lyrics.
Between each track (and a sip of beer) Banfi takes the time to explain how grateful they are for the impressive attendance, and explains more about the premise for each track. There are no mindless lines; everything has been premeditated in BANFI’s songs.
Each song tends to follow a pattern, particularly with songs like ‘Answers’ and ‘She Comes Home’. Banfi’s soft falsetto gently guided us into each song’s themes, before intensifying significantly. Graham lets loose on his kit and the sweat flies from his brows. McGuaig looks up to the heavens and his bass intensifies the song. And Joe Banfi’s gentle caress of a voice evolves into a guttural howl, filled with emotion. It’s a wonder they haven’t broken into the mainstream music circuit yet.
Since their formation in 2015, BANFI have been constantly on tour performing these tracks. McCuaig highlighted his standout performance in the band’s short history.
“Playing at the Apollo was super special to me. We were supporting Bear’s Den there this time last year. I had previously worked there as a bartender ten years ago, so it was really cool, like I had gone full circle. It was just great.”
With the success of the band at the moment, it’s only a matter of time before they can return to venues such as The Apollo as headline acts. For now, as BANFI leave Sneaky Pete’s to explore Edinburgh, fans will be feeling extremely lucky to experience their shows in such a personal setting.
“Every show is just so different,” says Banfi. “I hope the crowd tonight heard something they’ve never quite heard before and felt something they haven’t felt. That’s what I want people to take away from our shows.”
Check out BANFI’s new music video for ‘Happy When You Go’ here: