Platform 10 at Bristol Temple Meads on a Friday afternoon. A train pulls in soon after 2.30pm. Unusually, there is a welcome party of media and a British Transport Police officer waiting in the wings. There is also an enterprising autograph hunter brandishing a Blur CD and a poster. For this is not a normal train but the Africa Express:
The Africa Express is just one of the musical projects of Damon Albarn, hence the autograph hunter with the Blur merchandise. The name came before this tour was put together, but it perfectly suits the dozens of African and western musicians who have been travelling around the country all week as part of the London 2012 Festival.
Here a few of them are on Platform 10 soon after arriving into Bristol:
Yesterday afternoon the group played two shows, one in the Bristol Crisis Centre on Stapleton Road, the other at the Canteen on Stokes Croft, with Malian singer Afel Bocum, superb beatboxer Roots One, with special guest former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, now a member of Them Crooked Vultures. That’s him to the left of the photo:
The day’s main show was in the Big Top @ Creative Common. The nearest equivalent to describe it is Live Aid, with musicians coming on stage for one song and then being ushered off to make room for more, and more, and more.
Artists on stage in Bristol included Amadou, Baaba Maal, Gruff Rhys, Lucy Rose, and Kano. Here’s Albarn with a few African musicians towards the beginning of proceedings.
And here’s Albarn singing Gorillaz song On Melancholy Hill on the piano, accompanied by Rokia Traore. I was standing only a few feet away from the piano and can exclusively reveal that Albarn wears Loft pants.
Massive Attack were rumoured to be appearing and their no-show was the only disappointment of the night that did feature Tricky’s former collaborator and Clifton College alumna Martina Topley-Bird, and finished with a version of Kashmir by Led Zeppelin like never heard before, with John Paul Jones playing the mandolin.
The Africa Express will pull out from Platform 10 sometime today for the last leg of its nationwide journey to London, having given Bristol a night to remember.
If The Lion King, now into a three-month run at the Hippodrome, is a vision of Africa from a 15-year-old stage show based on an 18-year-old film, then Africa Express is the sound and colour of Africa here and now in 2012.