Bandleader Lance Ferguson and his nine piece Melbourne outfit The Bamboos have come a long way since forming in 2001. Initially inspired by the instrumental raw funk of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they made waves internationally and were quickly labelled as one of the greatest funk and soul bands of our time. But while many would be happy to simply soak up the praise and keep on keeping on, The Bamboos have proven that they are more than meets the eye; over four acclaimed albums, their evolution in sound and style has consistently confounded and exceeded expectations, pulling the rug from under the feet of those who like to pigeonhole. With their fifth longplayer ‘Medicine Man’ released in 2012, they unveiled another revelatory, forward-looking record brimming with fresh ideas, stellar turns, classic songwriting and a brand of multi-layered pop they can truly call their own.
“I’m proud of the arc of the evolution of the band and I think it’s a natural progression of songwriting”, says Ferguson. “We still wear our influences on our sleeves, but it’s definitely music for now.”
The Bamboos self-released their debut 7” (“Eel Oil” / “Black Foot”) back in 2001, and it promptly sold out. They were then snapped up by Kenny Dope and Keb Darge’s legendary US funk label Kay-Dee records for the follow-up, and it wasn’t long before they made their home on respected Brighton (UK) indie label Tru Thoughts, where they remain a cornerstone of the roster. Across their five studio albums to date – ‘Step It Up’ (2006), ‘Rawville’ (2007), ‘Side-Stepper’ (2008), ‘4’ (2010), ‘Medicine Man’ (2012) – the metamorphosis of The Bamboos has been full of twists and turns, and it continues apace. A seasoned DJ, solo producer (aka Lanu) and all-round insatiable music obsessive, Ferguson’s myriad influences and passion for pushing things forward ensure that each new release is a discovery for devout fans and newcomers alike. Indeed, the wide ranging acclaim garnered in the last decade illustrates what many have known all along…that The Bamboos are much more than a great funk band – they are a great band:
“Impressive…stands out a mile” – INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
“Old-school Funk never sounded as fresh…” – MELBOURNE HERALD SUN
“Fantastic” – OKAYPLAYER
“Sassy, classy. They deserve wider acclaim with this kind of quality material” – CLASH (SINGLE OF THE WEEK)
“Nothing prepared me for just how fresh and vibrant the music of The Bamboos is” – NOTION MAGAZINE
“Tightest funk act in the world…they keep pushing the bar higher” – TIM RITCHIE, ABC RADIO NATIONAL (AUS)
“They’ve got IT” – EDDIE BO (NEW ORLEANS FUNK/SOUL LEGEND)
“Brilliant as always” – LAURENT GARNIER
In late 2011 The Bamboos celebrated their tenth anniversary with sell-out shows in Melbourne and Sydney, and a limited edition 7” vinyl release – featuring the much in-demand instrumental deep funk jam “Eel Oil” on one side and a languid, inventive soul-gospel cover of James Blake’s dubstep ballad “The Wilhelm Scream” on the flip – which demonstrated on one slice of wax the scope of their journey. Acknowledging this milestone and looking back over the band’s history allowed Ferguson to recognise, reflect and revel in their past but it also let them wipe the slate clean and prepare for their next phase: “I’ve always been conscious of trying to push the music on and take risks and I think the day I stop doing that, I’ll just stop the band. For me, everything has to keep changing and moving.”
The current sound of The Bamboos masterfully blends an array of influences from soul, blues and pop to psychedelia, all of which are combined with a perfectly balanced collection of singers on ‘Medicine Man’. Hand-picked featured vocalists have always been part of the set-up (previous collaborators include Lyrics Born and Alice Russell), and the calibre of the guests who were keen to sing on this album is testament to the respect that Ferguson has attained as a musician and bandleader. Australian superstars Tim Rogers (You Am I), Megan Washington and Daniel Merriweather, alongside international chart-topping sensation Aloe Blacc, all serve to highlight the pop smarts and expertise that is now at the forefront of Ferguson’s songwriting. The powerhouse singer and regular band member Kylie Auldist, who has sung on the previous two albums, contributes four songs, while Melbourne based Ella Thompson adds a new facet to the band’s sound with her performance on three tracks and her introduction into the live set-up.
In addition to their recordings, which sell the world over, The Bamboos’ reputation has been furthered by their ridiculously enjoyable live shows that draw the links between hip hop, soul, funk, old-school breaks, and increasingly a more guitar-heavy rock, pop and psych sound. As well as regular dates and major festival headlines on home turf, they have undertaken three full band tours to the UK and Europe plus numerous DJ and live PA dates, selling out venues and gaining plaudits from fans and industry heavies alike. As the go-to band for tight and heavy vibes, they have also performed as the backing band for international artists including Eddie Bo (US), Syl Johnson (US), Joe Bataan (US), Eddie Floyd (US), Betty Harris (US) and Alice Russell (UK).
Lance Ferguson was included in the Melbourne Age’s prestigious ‘Top 100’ list of influential people in Melbourne city for 2008, and The Bamboos were also voted Australia’s fourth best band in a poll by the same paper, just after AC/DC and ahead of well-known acts like Jet and Empire Of The Sun. While rising through the playlists on mainstream national radio stations in Australia, the UK, France, the US, Japan and beyond, The Bamboos have always held their appeal with the underground, gaining props from the likes of John Kennedy (XFM), Gilles Peterson (BBC R1) and Don Letts (BBC 6Music). The unshakable charm of their songs has seen them licensed to hit movies including Crazy Stupid Love, and TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy (US), Ugly Betty (US), Underbelly (AUS) and CSI:NY (US).
‘Medicine Man’, released in June 2012, gained huge acclaim in Australia having been nominated for three ARIA Awards and single “I Got Burned” landing a spot on the Triple J Hottest 100.