Photo by Paul Hudson via Wikimedia (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))
As Black Country, New Road are soon to embark on their European tour, the group of 6 multi-instrumentalist wizards completed their headlining shows in London at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on the 10th-11th of October.
They are a relatively new band, having only formed in 2018, releasing their first album in 2021 (conveniently entitled For the first time), but despite this, they have taken the world of music lovers by storm through their bold defiance of the status quo; birthing a bizarre form of art that simultaneously combines elements of post-rock, post-punk, art rock, jazz, orchestral, prog-rock, and even klezmer. Following the saddening departure of lead singer Isaac Wood, the band still stuck together and, like New Order did after Joy Division, created a new sound with the remaining members.
I was lucky enough to go to the band’s first gig in London. With already high expectations having religiously listened to their live album, Live at Bush Hall, the concert transcended my presuppositions and left me in a trance from start to finish. The band was opened by their support act Kinu Trio, a chamber group which included the band’s pianist May Kernshaw. It was a fascinating choice for an opening, witnessing a crowd of youthful, energetic, mostly teenage ‘moshers’ gaze at this classical act in awe.
The band walked on to the stage accompanied by the song ‘Money for Nothing’ by Dire Straits, which hilariously contrasted their humble and reserved personas. Starting with their lively and enthusiastic ‘Up Song’, an ode to friendship and the band’s resilience following the departure of Wood with the lyric “look at what we did together, BCNR, friends forever”, the songs then ebbed and flowed, like ‘Across the Pond Friend’, the bouncy but sweet love song sang by saxophonist/flutist Lewis Evans, or the gentle ballad ‘Dancers’ sang by bassist/guitarist Tyler Hyde. For me, however, the highlight of the concert was the almost 10-minute track ‘Turbines/Pigs’ sung by May Kernshaw. What begins as a marriage between Kernshaw’s delicate voice and piano and Georgia Ellery’s violin, with the painful chorus “don’t waste your pearls on me, I’m only a pig”, soon the rest of the family join, the music swells, and a symphony is produced, where I tried desperately to hold back my tears.
This is a concert I attended alone, but it simply heightened my experience as no one else mattered except me and the band, which made it solely about the music. Despite the fact that I purchased tickets for the highest level in the venue, this did not take away from the experience, as during the entire concert I sat with my head nestled on the barrier, mesmerised by the magic the band were creating. The atmosphere was home-made; no fancy set or lighting, regular people dressed in regular clothing, but they somehow produced some of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching sounds I have ever heard.
Seeing Black Country, New Road has thus restored my faith in modern music, as they are a band that reinforce the fact that music is first and foremost an art form made for expression and experimentation, rather than a commodity only aiming for profit or 15-second sped-up sound bites for social media. Solidarity within music was also emphasised, as not once did one member try and outshine the other, but they were all key pieces in the jigsaw, speaking in a communal language, communicating with their instruments, sharing the stage. It was like secretly watching friends have fun together, but these friends also happen to be musical geniuses.
So, even though I went to this concert alone, I left a different person, taking with me a profound sense of inspiration, wanting to both write my own music and pick up every instrument I can get my hands on. Anyone with ears should listen to this band’s discography, and if there is ever a concert where you friends can’t go, don’t miss out! Go alone!
Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor