Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Mae’r Y Ddraig Goch Gymreig yn hedfan yn falch dros y castell.
August Bank Holiday Sunday and the Red Dragon of Wales is proudly flying high over the castle. On the surrounding streets there’s a gathering sense that there’s something afoot this sunny afternoon.
Across the city centre a murder of crows is circling; flying in from Scotland, Cornwall, The Midlands and right across the South and, of course, Wales. The Crow Army is congregating ahead of this evening’s Those Damn Crows’ sold out gig at The Castle. Yes that Castle! The one where such stellar acts as Meatloaf, The Stereophonics and The Manic Street Preachers have played.
OK so it’s a lower capacity than these aforementioned acts but take into consideration this is a band just two albums into their fledgling career. They have a record deal with Earache; a passionate and energetic independent label but it’s not the ballpark of the major labels that go hand-in-hand with these reknown acts.
All things considered this is a totally remarkable achievement. It wasn’t so long ago that The Crows were stood on Womanby Street, literally a stone’s throw from this evening’s venue, following a support slot at Fuel Club and gazed up across the narrow street and wistfully commented “We’d love to sell out Club Ifor Bach one day”. Well they messed that plan up for sure!
The Crows are joined for this evening’s gig by label-mates Scarlet Rebels and soulful blues-rockers Cardinal Black. The latter reforming after a decade-long hiatus and the former on the verge of their first release on Earache, following on from the well-received “Show Me Your Colours”. Tonight’s gig is one of four at the Castle across the weekend designed to provide much-needed funds for four independent venues across the city.
A Cardiff Council plan developed in conjunction with Cardiff Music Board these gigs will see the venues retaining the ticket income for their events. The recipient tonight is the iconic Fuel Club, a venue familiar to this evening’s performers.
First up are Llanelli’s finest Scarlet Rebels celebrating recently signing to Earache with a rip-roaring 7 track set clocking in at a shade over 30 minutes. Their set is essentially six tracks that feature on their lockdown ‘Live : Made in Sonic One’ album plus the utterly riff-tastic recent single ‘Storm’ that is an advance party for next January’s release ‘See Through Blue’.
The Rebels fire off with six-string wizard Chris Jones laying down a Quo-tastic riff in ‘Not The One’ before the new single is tested on the Cardiff crowd with an excellent degree of success.
With it’s Bon Jovi-esque intro ‘Part Of Me’ is so heartfelt and the decent sized assembly take it all in so very readily. It’s a stunning evening in the centre of Cardiff with glimpses of the Millennium Stadium above the stone walls of the castle. There’s no better place to be at this precise moment.
The Rebels launch into live favourite ‘Let Me In’ with it’s chopping riff on an intro it’s Welsh rock n’ roll at it’s finest with a huge, catchy chorus that ploughs a similar furrow to that of The Stereophonics. The crowd accompany frontman Wayne Doyle for the sing-a-long.
A thumping heavy beat from the steamhammer that is energetic drummer Gary Doyle paired with the rock-steady defined bass of ‘Pricey’ Esmonde alloyed with the whirling guitar of Jones is a delicious recipe as the Llanelli lads take ‘Save Me’ to the masses.
We have mission launch with ‘You Take My Breath Away’; with its undercurrents of AC/DC. Affable frontman Wayne thanks Those Damn Crows, Cardinal Black and Fuel before giving a shout out to their forthcoming gig at Fuel on 25th September before wrapping a short but oh so sweet set with the emotive ‘Heal’ which is dedicated to Steph. Wayne pours his inner soul into this sensitive track as do his musical brothers-in-arms.
One senses that these down to earth chaps are on the very precipice of something sizeable.
Amazingly this evening is Cardinal Black’s first live performance under this umbrella. This however isn’t the first time that the nucleus of the band have gigged.
The subliminal six-string talents of Chris Buck – titled ‘Best New Guitarist in 2019 – along with the smooth yet slightly gravelly tones of vocalist Tom Hollister and the precision beats of drummer Adam Roberts were drawing rave reviews and endorsements alike a decade ago.
Sadly a move to the USA didn’t work out as intended and the trio went their separate ways until, according to their official website, “the roots of desire for new music and the feeling of unfinished business” created the urge for reformation. Having recruited the services of bassist Sam Williams; talented vocalist Tay Cousins and a keyboardist, whose name eluded myself, Cardinal Black’s ranks are complete.
A self-released four track EP is the end result of their efforts thus far; it being aired in it’s entirety through their set of around the half hour mark. The bluesey groove of ‘Tell Me How It Feels’ hooks instantly; think the purer blues of early King King and Kris Barras coupled with the vocals of the inspiring bluesman Sean Webster. This is precision blues-rock that begs a listening ear.
Second track blues-ballad ‘Jump In’ showcases Tay’s prodigious vocal talents; suddenly, for a moment, I’m back at a drizzly Knebworth 1990 listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In The Sky’.
Cardinal Black’s serene notes reverberate around the castle filling the area with swathes of musical beauty. As the evening moves towards dusk the mellow mood continues with ‘Warm Love’ that showcases Buck courtesy of a stunning solo.
Where Do You Go’ steps up the tempo into a rockier vein before the sensitive blues-rock of ‘Tied Up In Silver’ takes us back to early King King.
There’s much to love in the music scene in South Wales, and we now have a new bunch to add to the burgeoning list of promise.
With a cackling of crows, a roll of thunder and deep bass Those Damn Crows charge on to the stage with a crashing drum intro from skinsman Ronnie Huxford before engaging frontman Shane Greenhall playfully enquires “Wassup Cardiff?” further questioning “Are you fucking ready?” before rolling headlong into the, now, time-honoured “We’re Those Damn Crows” intro.
The Crows have landed in a spectacular array of lighting which arc into the darkened skies above the Welsh capital-city. Rolling into the powerhouse ‘Who Did It’ it’s rapidly evident that the band are loud but the partisan Crow Army are louder still. The Crows seek to redress the imbalance punching hard with ‘Long Time Dead’ with six-string twins Ian ‘Shiner’ Thomas and David Winchurch creating furious riffage atop a solid rhythm base laid down by bassist Lloyd Wood, a raging blur of long blonde hair, and pounding drummer Ronnie.
The dream team of Welsh hard rock.
A loud cry of “Oggy, Oggy” greets ‘These Walls’ by the middle of which folks are up dancing on the tables around the edge of the arena much to the chagrin of the security who gently encourage a return to terra firma.
Vocalist Shane prowls stage front, no doubt seeking further territory to conquer as a brief segment of Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze emanates from the speakers. A rare moment of guitar intricacy as the Crows are sparing with solos, leaning more towards powering chords and driving riffs.
A brief moment to draw breath and TDC launch into ‘Don’t Give A Damn’. The Crows thunder and roar simultaneously as an escapee Stonedead giraffe makes another appearance! This seriously intense; watching from the side of the crowd it’s appreciable quite how passionate and enthusiastic the Crow Army are.
They ravenously feed off an on-point balls-to-the-wall rendition of ‘Devil In My Pocket’ prior to ‘Breakaway’ being worked to within an inch of its life with Lloyd barking out the backing vocals. Cardiff is being torn a brand-new one; there’s no looking back for the Crows.
‘Sick Of Me’ is introduced, by Shane, as “A kinda of new track, we’ve only played it a few times”. There’s a curiously ‘eastern’ feel to the song as the crowd take a deserved breather. The Crows return to the no thrills, no-nonsense rock with ‘Set In Stone’ taking matters up a metaphorical level.
The castle erupts as Shane declares “I’m about to fuck things up” as the quintet rip-snort through ‘Kingdom Of Dust’ there has been no let up in the remorseless onslaught delivered by The Crows but that’s exactly how this Cardiff crowd wants it.
Shane picks up an acoustic guitar which signals a drop in pace for a moment as he takes one and all on a beautifully crafted journey through the emotive geomorphology of ‘Be You’. A super-charged set is flying by; we’re ten tracks in and just under 45 minutes into the set.
The Crows are playing ringmaster supreme as they pick up the pace with a tuly volcanic ‘Someone Someday’ which morphs into ‘Pinball Wizard’ which ellicits a roar from the crowd which registers on local seismic recording devices.
As the keys are rolled out crew member Alice is introduced, by Shane, to the audience.
Who to Shane’s bemusement with Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown’s take on ‘Living Next Door to Alice’. He wisecracks “Well that killed the mood for the next song!” before delivering a force 10 on the emotional scale with the resounding ‘Never Win’.
‘Blink Of An Eye’ is dedicated to all those we’ve lost in the last 18 months and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with Shane that this beautiful song has “taken on a whole different meaning”. The midsong guitar duel between Shiner and David – one of the few flashy six-string moments – leads the way as the band build up to the large-scale finale.
The crowd bounce along in time to live favourite ‘Sin On Skin’ – another track that highlights the wide-ranging songwriting talents possessed within – prior to the quickfire delivery of ‘Send The Reaper’.
The kineticism is building to serious levels and it’s upped further with the phlogiston of ‘Go Get It’ being released with an almighty combustive process.
The Crows continue climbing as a voracious horde roars a “Ronnie, Ronnie” chant that leads to just one place. The anthemic “Rock n’ Roll Ain’t Dead’ a rallying call for the rock family if there was ever one required.
The crowd sing with fervoured passion in the knowledge that this is set-end. One last hurrah before the now-trademark TDC outro.
As the final notes and rhythms ring out around the castle environs so The Crows take a deserved bow as one before taking off into the Cardiff night.
From playing in front of crowds of less than 50; to festival favourites via being the rocks upon which many headliners have been wrecked upon The Crows have had one hell of a journey to get to this point.
From a band who knew they had the material but didn’t dare dream of success and not wanting to become over-confident in their ambitions to a band whose boundaries are unlimited and the world is theirs for the taking. This evening has been a milestone in the evolution of The Crows.
Photos by Kelly Spiller for MPM