PLAYING MELBOURNE: The True Story of Bananagun Invigorates the Senses

Photo Credit: Jamie Wdziekonski

Bananagun kick off their debut tropicalia-afrobeat-jungle safari mashup album, The True Story of Bananagun, with the lyrics “There is nothing special about me, just another apple on the tree,” but nothing could be further from the truth. This five-piece band hailing from Melbourne have something special.

A love for The Jungle Book united vocalist, guitarist and flautist Nick van Bakel and his cousin, drummer Jimi Gregg as kids. As adults, the image of Mowgli swinging wildly through the cartoon trees of a jungle canopy to this swinging safari beat makes total sense. Jack Crook (guitar/vocals), Charlotte Tobin (djembe/percussion) and Josh Dans (bass) were all friends prior to becoming bandmates, which shows in the easy harmony they find for what sounds, to my ear at least, like a lot of instruments to make work in sync; to think that Bananagun began as a solo project for Van Bakel is mind-blowing.

It’s no surprise to learn that the group provide such eclectic, unusual and yet cohesive tunes when they have spent so much time playing spontaneous late night jams, often hanging out at Melbourne producer John Lee’s Phaedra Studios in Melbourne. Certainly, the tightly-knit group make an impressive impact on record – it’s a deep shame that their May tour was cancelled and we can’t (for the foreseeable future) combine some form of Brazilian-Afro-dance with ’60s flares and oversized sunglasses in a big outdoor party somewhere.

The symbol of the banana as a gun speaks much to the peace, love and unity that the band is all about. If I told you this album was actually a cleaned up version of a sixties recording, you wouldn’t blink an eye. Beautiful afro-orchestral “People Talk Too Much” is lively and percussive, enlightened by joyful bursts of sax and strings that rise and sound before lulling back to their own worlds. The spirit of Fela Kuti lives on in this single – the highlight of the album, for my liking. A cacophony of birds turns into a symphony on “Bird Up!” flute and strummy, summery guitars raise “Perfect Stranger” into the clouds, sixties-style multi-vocalists hark to the Monkees on “Modern Day Problems,” and toy piano even makes an appearance on “The Master.”

Van Bakel lives just an hour or so outside of Melbourne, away from the hubbub of the city centre. “Bird Up!” was a mash-up of the songs of the kookaburras and parrots that soundtrack his daily life in regional Victoria. It is emblematic of the album as a whole, reflecting both the personal lives but also the daily inspirations and nostalgic influences on the band members.

“Taking The Present For Granted,” in particular, is a paean to mindful, conscientious living. It is prescient in its reminder that we must get out of our own narratives of anticipation or rehashing the past to embrace the sensory wonderland of the right now.

The True Story of Bananagun was released in mid-July via London imprint Full Time Hobby Records. Bananagun joined the label in 2019 alongside artists like Serbian-Canadian ethereal folk singer Dana Gavanski, Brazilian psych-pop duo Aldo, and dark indie-Americana purveyors Ohtis. The match seems a natural fit from an outside perspective, with an eclectic roster of international artists who have taken a world of influences, personal and collected in their physical and artistic travels, and channeled them into harmonic offerings of the individual to the collective. As diverse as Full Time Hobby’s roster is, there’s a sense of joyfulness, a searing need to tell stories and to connect, at the heart of the music – and that’s especially true with Bananagun.

Right now in Melbourne as we face mandatory mask-wearing, hundreds of new Coronovirus cases daily and constant news of deaths and illness, something as buoyant, nostalgic, and shamelessly celebratory of just being alive and making music as The True Story of Bananagun is a tonic for the spirit and senses.

Follow Bananagun on Facebook for ongoing updates.