Africa Exprez: Olympia Ballroom, Liverpool


Vicky Anderson presents a blow-by-blow account of the highs and lows of the Damon Albarn-assembled African extravaganza.

7.45pm: Arrive more or less on time to make sure I don’t miss anything, but it hasn’t started yet.
8.30pm: Nothing’s happening. Oddly, an ancient documentary about Cream drummer Ginger Baker opening a recording studio in Lagos is playing on a big screen.
9pm: Finally a bit of action as the show opens with a little en masse drumming jam. The African acts look stunning in their traditional dress, getting into their tribal rhythms – the nobheads from Hard-Fi are tapping on their bottles of Stella with drumsticks. That’s class, lads.
9.05pm: Things get underway courtesy of singer and guitarist duo Amadou and Mariam, who begin things with a simple blues number. Then they’re joined by Romeo and Michele from The Magic Numbers. Together they do Love’s A Game, not finding a drummer until halfway through and then eventually being accompanied by a horn section. It’s lovely hearing it all unfold, and leaves me excited for what is to come. The first appearance from a frighteningly convincing human beatbox is impressive too.
9.45pm: Nothing redeems Hard-Fi. Nothing. No guest rapper, no tabla groove on Suburban Nights, nothing. They hog the stage and the singer throws a Cockney strop, moaning: “I’m ‘earin’ fackin naffink!!â€? at the tech. Considering the DIY nature of the entire night, I say that made them possible winners of the ‘we missed the point’ award? Maybe it’s just me – the crowd loved them.
10.15pm: Senegalese musician Wasis Diop comes next, his understated acoustic guitar and folky jazz a blessed relief. He’s joined by Martina Topley-Bird, who, disappointingly, muffles along to one song and buggers off, never to be seen again. Alex Kapranos walks past, he’s found some crisps. Which reminds me, I’m starving.
10.25pm: I eat a hot dog. At the Olympia. A decision that may come back to haunt me, I am fully aware even at the time.
10.30pm: A clichéd rapper gets things going before a female vocalist begins an enthusiastic version of Gorillaz’ Dare. Damon Albarn joins in for the first time, plink-plonking away on a knackered old Joanna like a spaced-out Jools Holland. To his credit, he tends to let everyone else steal his celebrity thunder – he’s just another bloke taking part.
10.50pm: Reverend & the Makers: Stupid name, stupid fecking band. Like Hard-Fi, they’re all front and ego on a night when that should have been left at the door. It wouldn’t matter much, if they were actually any good. At this point I feel close to tears and just want the Magic Numbers back.

11.10pm: Damon’s back, infusing traditional African rhythms with that most revered of ancient instruments, the melodica. By now, singer Baaba Maal has been jumping in and out of numbers for a while and is a constant high point. We’re told we’re going to hear something from a musician who plays a saw like a violin, but there’s “technical difficultiesâ€?, so our man just slinks off discreetly. Take notes, Hard-Fi.
11.45pm: I like the Turin Breaks as so far they’re the most down-to-earth Brit act of the night. They mightn’t be the most exciting band on the bill but at least the vocalist is in tune (take notes, Reverend & the Makers). They’re joined by a female singer from Mali and it all ticks along nicely enough.
11.55pm: Terri Walker takes to the stage and kicks us all up the arse with a version of Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy, which begins with just the singer and a human beatbox and ends up with the stage awash with characters to become a celebratory jam of rap, grime, rock and Albarn, who again tootles on to sing a few lines. Walker is an absolute star. This is easily one of the best performances of the night.
12.10am: I spy some of the Hollyoaks boys dancing like loons. A funky band takes to the stage. “It’s all about the music,â€? the singer enthuses. “I’m not even going to tell you my name because it’s all about the music!â€? Well that doesn’t help me, does it? Next!
12.35am: Franz Ferdinand start lugging their own amps onto the stage. Nobody notices.
12.40am: Franz Ferdinand seem to have to line up at the front of the stage and introduce themselves before anybody notices they’re there. But once they get going, it’s awesome. Take Me Out remains as immortally infectious as ever, and when Baaba Maal and others come on to join them, they’ve got the good sense to get out of the way and let someone else bring something to the party. Seeing ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate take the mick out of Nick McCarthy’s involuntary grooveless stomp was one to add to the “things you don’t see every dayâ€? pile. Again, the point of the night was really brought to life by all on stage.
1.15am: I call it a day after that, which I know makes me a wuss but I had to get up early the next day to have a new toilet installed. The old one “wasn’t connected to the drains properlyâ€?, which is always something you want to get sorted out straight away, I’m sure you’ll grant me. At this point, Damon Albarn had yet to fall off the stage or otherwise come a drunken cropper as is his wont, and I’m sure I missed some great stuff as the night was supposed to go on til 4am – so where you there? What happened next?




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