It feels like SANKOFA have been around forever. Having played their way into most of the best venues in town, released numerous EPs and 7” singles, had cover sleeves designed by the legendary John Van Hamersveld and earning acclaim from Grateful Dead artist Stanley Mouse, the band are now an essential part of the local circuit. It’s a testament to Sankofa’s well-earned popularity that much of the crowd at the Arts Club arrive during the build-up to their set. However, the last year has been a turbulent one, and since July the band have been playing as a three-piece in the absence of a full-time bassist. A change like this will always affect a band’s sound in one way or another, and the anticipation in the room to see how the garage blues trio deal with it is tangible.
Grasp, recently recorded at Edge Studios and set for an EP release in December, starts with echoing plucks of guitar that merge with a steadily building drumbeat and break into a wash of dreamscape reverb. Ste Wall provides his inimitable vocals and guitar skills, with Joel Whitehead on lead guitar and Josh Perry tasked with providing the rhythm section. This is a much more relaxed sound than earlier releases, glittering guitar taking the place of driving bass. Josh does a great job of holding it all together, a difficult one with two lead instrumentalists. Between songs and during a guitar changeover, the band joke amongst themselves, clearly enjoying the chance to be back on stage after a three-month recording break. Their third song is Mamasan, more recognisable territory for the old-school Sankofa fans in the crowd. It’s a song very deliberately added to this set – a slow track that hints at an evolution away from their heavier psych sounds. The atmosphere is one of quiet reverence. The band then burst into a slamming blues riff, the guitars duelling with back-and-forth solos, building up an explosive ending chord before thanking the fans for coming and leaving the stage.
Despite a shorter set than some would have expected, Sankofa show again that their desire to evolve and progress is going to be the creative force behind future releases. It’s clear that they’ve taken the positives from events that could have set them back and used them to experiment with new sounds and possibilities. This is what Liverpool has always done best, and it’s in good hands.