Black Country, New Road’s exploration of abstract and self-reflective music was in full flow for their sell-out gig at Bristol’s Marble Factory on Saturday, 13 May.
Words: Amelia Kelly, @ameliagrace_k
“Truth is, I thought it mattered. I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.” – Pete Postlethwaite in Brassed Off, via Tubthumping
Tubthumping by Chumbawamba blares out into the warehouse – it’s an unlikely opening for a Black Country, New Road gig, or so you would think.
Black Country, New Road, the six-piece band formed in Cambridgeshire, has a story to tell and a purpose for standing on this stage. It has been evident since their debut single, Sunglasses, back in 2019, and has continued to this moment. No matter how unexpected, every intricate detail of the band’s performance contributes to their narrative. So, when Chumbawamba scream “I get knocked down, but I get up again” from the speakers – it is unexpected, but all part of their intentional, dizzying melodrama. It is their return, and they are getting back up.
Image: Holly Whitaker
Back in January 2022 the band’s frontman, Isaac Wood, announced he would be leaving the band to focus on his mental health – four days before the release of Black Country, New Road’s second album, Ants From Up There.
Now, they stand in Bristol’s Marble Factory with a new vulnerability. While unable to play the very music that brought many of their fans to their name (as they no longer perform any tracks from the first two albums, made with Wood), they are not short of the adoration that brought them to this venue, which has completely sold out.
And so, as the last thing the audience hear before their gig starts, Chumbawumba’s track begins to seem not so random after all. It’s not just the music that matters – it’s the people who matter. Isaac, and their friendship, is still present on the stage despite his departure from the band. There is continuous recognition of his farewell throughout, notably in Up Song, with a chorus that exclaims “Look at what we did together/BCNR, friends forever!”
Even the setup of the show, a complete blackout except the purple spotlights on those performing, draws out the reminder that each of these individuals has their own story to tell under the title Black Country, New Road.
The purple spotlights fall on May Kershaw, for instance, throughout the stunning Turbines/Pigs. What begins as a solo, soulful piano waltz becomes a whimsical dance between each of the instruments. From the enchanting violin of Georgia Ellery to Charlie Wayne’s harrowing drum – the result is a magnificent explosion of emotion, sound, and atmosphere.
The song’s reality completely defies initial expectations, and in a similar vein their set list incorporates the idea that, a few months ago, their fans wouldn’t know what to expect. Black Country, New Road’s exploration of abstract and self-reflective music is both exciting and bewitching to experience.
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