Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Mae'r Gath Ddu yn rhuo ar ben y mynydd
A sleek darkened feline of monstrous proportions, its toned black lines shimmering in the half moonlight, stalks the infecund windswept moorland up high above the Welsh valleys. Eyes, glowing a piercing yellow, she looks down on the town below.
From up on the tilted limestone plateau of Cefn Cil Sanws she roars. There are those in Merthyr who will know; they know it’s time to join forces with Cath Palug. The capital awaits; there have been previous incursions but this time it’s serious business. Teeth will be sunk into the very flesh of Caerdydd.
The Principality Stadium casts a lengthy shadow across the River Taff and the South Wales Main line that dichotomizes the capital. Passengers, and trams, long since departed The Tramshed lies under this shadow nestling in the corner of where the water and railway tracks intersect crosswise. On a pleasant sunny early spring evening there is a hub-hub about this grade II listed building reminiscent of its heyday as a transportation centre.
Early-doors and a good-natured queue snakes its way back underneath the railway bridge. The enscorcelled calling of Cath Palug, the black cat of the mountains, has woven its magic. It’s a second, thoroughly deserved, sell-out for the Steelhouse Awayday; two barren years then a maxed-out brace within a span of two months!
Into its second decade of being, Steelhouse has rightfully garnered a high-calibre reputation of working with the best in the industry as well as championing emerging talents. The Awayday harks back to the early days of club nights up in the valleys from which Steelhouse was born. These events, naturally, harness the very same homegrown community ethos that Steelhouse promoters Max Rhead and Mikey Evans have generated over the years. It works well on all scales and here, this evening, we bear witness to a thousand delighted punters soaking up the quality output of three hard-rocking outfits.
Cath Pulag, having strode triumphantly through the Cardiff streets, now surveys the Tramshed scene. Through glinting eyes that burn brightly in the dark of the venue she is satisfied. The stage is set for the evening’s opening act Valhalla Awaits; a phoenix from the flames band who have risen from the ashes of contemporaries such as Buffalo Summer, Dead City, Revoker and The Blackout.
Piercing through the darkness the distinctive rattle of drumsticks against a sidestage wall is the rallying call to arms. Taking to a darkened stage with a crash of cymbals and droning guitars Valhalla Awaits are straight into the thick of the action with ‘Dying Inside’. Lasered with Welsh DNA – as dark as coal and as hard as steel – it’s a track that roars loudly and burns as hot as the steelworks furnace.
Igneous rocker ‘Where Do We Go?’ ensures the molten leitmotif continues. A massive slab of fire breathing rock with dynamic vocalist Andrew Hunt roaring “Back to the underworld” whilst Samuel Kilby’s bassline ruminates with seismic force and the six-strings lay down maximum riffage.
Off their first EP – 2020’s ‘Condemned’ – ‘Slave’ serves an ambrosial surprise with a delectably heavy slide guitar intro layered upon a Sabbath-esque riot-inducing groove. Confounding the very laws of physics VA’s combined efforts make certain that this track soars in a manner that things this heavy shouldn’t be able to.
There’s much to look forward to for Valhalla Awaits with slots at Merthyr Rising, Forge Ahead, Firestorm and Steelhouse festivals this summer but for the moment the healthy-sized Tramshed crowd lap up the volcanic cannonade of ‘Black Waters’. As the peak spews forth magmatic flows so this acutely angled slice of rock threatens to slide over the precipice and into the atrementous void beneath.
Most recent offering ‘Skin & Bone’ threatens structural damage with the Gibson growl arcing to the rafters. Hunt’s crystal-edged vocals, so redolent of Myles Kennedy, are a laser through the dark in ‘Inside The Sun’. A deep, dark beast of melodic origins it serves as a worthy introduction to the forthcoming EP release.
Brooding heavyweight ‘Digging The Grave’ closes a phenomenal 30 minutes. Its note precise intro juxtaposes with the distortion before the whole pack gathers up and stampedes into the track’s nucleus. An extended doom-laden outro is met with a very loud Tramshed roar as the quintet decide which of the 540 doors of Odin’s Asgard hall they must enter through.
The most flavoursome filling in tonight’s high-density sandwich is the first gig for renown blues-rock axeman Oli Brown and his brand-new project The Dead Collective. From a hugely promising award-winning solo career – with supports slots with the likes of Joe Satriani and John Mayall – to forming Raveneye in 2014 Brown has been pushing the boundaries for nearly a decade and a half.
The Dead Collective represent the opening of a brand-new chapter for Oli, and he has assembled a fine trio of musicians to share his vision with. Pounding the skins is former King King tubthumper Wayne Proctor who along with bassist Steve Amadeo (Ben Poole, Ash Wilson and Aynsley Lister) constructs a formidable rhythm partnership.
Incredibly the latter has learnt the set inside three days as he replaces Covid-struck Alex Phillips for the night. Standing out stage right is the ever-smiling mercurial slayer of Gibson Les Pauls Sam Wood; fresh off a recent Wayward Sons tour during which he got to grasps with this evening’s captivating set. If this wasn’t enough the quartet only assembled together in the same room for the first time just 24 hours prior to taking to the Tramshed stage!
Norfolk-born Brown – to the best of my knowledge – resists the temptation to dip into his impressive back catalogue instead treating the Tramshed assembly to a set of largely unknown material with only the recently released single ‘Haunted’ hitting public realms prior to the gig. It’s 40 minutes plus of fine heavy blues-laden rocking that goes down an absolute storm with the crowd; Oli has returned and his flourishing reputation continues to equitably expand. Cath Pulag, purring within, duly notes the bravery of the warrior.
Seminal blues-edged rocker ‘Father’ opens the set with Oli’s fine wide-ranging vocals notable. There’s power and control herein; the dove-like semi-acoustic midsong segment exemplifying this perfectly before building up to a strong finish. Rip roaring down and dirty rocker ‘Everything You Want’ showcases Oli’s perspicuous vocals as he winnows out precise notes from his fret.
Two tracks in and the Tramshed crowd are right on side; this is no ‘Sinking Ship’. It’s darkened tones and bass-driven intro replete with ghosts of Fleetwood Mac’s ’77 classic ‘The Chain’ darting in and out gives a majestic feel with echoes of Cream. Oli’s makes his six-string wail and scream out front and central. At song-end my mate Charley comes across proclaiming “This is the British Rival Sons!”. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree as Oli expresses his gratitude to the Tramshed “Thank you so much! Fuck yeah!”
‘Another Day Lost’ is a trademarker featuring expansive yet disciplined vocals entwined with screaming blues-drenched six-string solos. With its bluesy intro ‘I Won’t Leave’ guarantees that nobody does precisely this. It’s emotively delivered music to be savoured; washing over in mellifluous undulations. Featuring delectable harmonies between Oli and Sam there’s a captivating, entrancing energy employed herein.
Recently released debut single ‘Haunted’, produced by Wayne Proctor, is a tumbling volution that steers into a riffing rocker with an appropriately ethereal mid-section. Oli’s soulful vocals contrapose the underlying pulverant grittiness. There are ebbs and flows with a range equal to that of the tides of nearby Cardiff Bay; slipping into a blues-soaked segment before tearing into a full-blooded howling outro.
As the final notes echo about Sam pays tribute – “The reason we’re all here. We love him, you love him. Oli Brown!” – bringing a loud cheer from the ever-growing crowd.
The uproarious beast ‘Heard It All Before’ and the solidly constructed ‘Home, Sweet, Home’ wrap up an emphatically received set. With the latter’s undertones of Gary Moore and Peter Green that fuses into a classic 70s vibe it’s a track destined to be a firm live favourite. The Tramshed roars as a unified entity and the black cat, Cath Pulag, nods knowingly in personal satisfaction.
The scene is now perfectly set; the crowd has swelled to capacity, The Tramshed is rammed to the metaphorical gunnels. The level of vehement expectation is lifting the roof by itself. Cath Pulag now sinks her teeth into Caerdydd for one last exultant time. Dry ice swirls about the lighting rig as a low resonating intro tape strikes the collective chest with a tangible force. The stage darkens and three shadowy figures stride forth with the obstreperous intro increasing in intensity.
With a seismic force registering well up the Richter Scale Florence Black, as one, squarely roundhouse the Tramshed with the heavy as the hammer of the gods introductory strains of album-opener ‘Zulu’. Vocalist / guitarist Tristan Thomas roars into his 50s styled matt-black mic as bassist Jordan ‘Foz’ Evans prowls out front whislt behind powerhouse skinsman Perry ‘Perk’ Davies is a fervoured blur of voluminous activity. The crowd extravasate as one; primal molten energy pouring forth from a subterranean environ.
As per the much-vaunted ‘Weight Of The World’ long-player so the hoarsely whispered intro of ‘Inside Out’ ensures. The maxed-out capacity gathering punch clenched fists into the air; they are expectant. The bludgeoning riffage and hammerjack rhythms are devoured with much revelry as the venue begins to bounce along. This is an outfit in complete control of the moment; this is their time which has been earnt entirely on merit.
Rampaging bassist Jordan steps forward “How the fuck we doing Cardiff?” he enquires before Tristan asks further “Are you fucking with us Cardiff?” Whipping up a maelstrom Perry takes on the reins of lead vocals for ‘On The Ropes’; a sinewy refrain borne of a diet of gravel and shattered glass. There’s no let up in the kinetics of the performance with a melding of destructive riffs and fiercely pounding beats being ladled from the metallurgical crucible.
2020 single release ‘Bird On A Chain’ is a raucous blend of red-hot power and sublime licks with a punitive stormforce rhythm with Tristan exclaiming “I wanna see you motherfuckers move with me!” Not that the Tramshed crowd requires any cajoling; the place is on fire and at one with the band. A tangible energy connects stage and arena; this is balls out no gimmickry rock n’ roll.
The Merthyr trio return to the album following this brief foray into their back catalogue with the fire-snorting pugilistic tones of ‘Can You Feel It?’ offering a “One way ticket to hell”. Tristan, at song-end, raises both hands in recognition of the crowd. It’s a recurrent theme and one that endears this instantly likeable trio to the gathered masses; there is humble gratitude and appreciation emanating from the Florence Black ranks.
The band have shifted, effortlessly, into top gear and hair flies, heads bang and fists punch as one cohesive unit as the furiously frenetic ‘The Deep End’ demonstrates the osmium core-strength that Florence Black possess.
The tempo shifts, ever so slightly, downwards for a glorious pairing of tracks. ‘Black Cat’ with its shades that alternate from Celtic echoing of Thin Lizzy to the darkened shadows frequented by early-Metallica; an absolute anthem given a powerful delivery. Less than a half an hour in and seven tracks have been served up!
As much as ‘Black Cat’ is a surprise then ‘Grove Street’ is a lightning strike on the summeriest of cloudless afternoons. Its sweet-tempered vibrancy complete with soaring chorus is born of the tight-knit terraces of mining cottages typical of their Merthyr Tydfil hometown and resonates obstreperously. It’s a tune that Tristan explains “Goes back a long way. One of the first we wrote.”
‘So Far Away’ is given a right royal heavying up before FB crack into their three EPs that preceded ‘Weight Of The World’. Commencing with a tubthumping rendition of ‘Down’ from the second of the EP trio FB this is a band in their raw, feral prime. Perry’s unrelenting drum-work raises the nearby River Taff with every beat.
Ratcheting matters up higher and higher FB ascend with a stonking ‘Smoke’ full of Sabbath powerings and Clutch-like grooves. The timeless legend that is Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ is reworked in time-honoured style. Burke Shelley is sure to be smiling as Florence Black claim the track as their own. The Tramshed quakes as the crowd mosh and bounce effervescently. Flames from the underworld rise from Tristan’s fret in the totally insane solo atop an incendiary rhythm pounded by Perry and Jordan.
As sirens wail and Jordan’s bass destructively rumbles so the dirty, snarling rocker that is ‘Fiesta’ is heralded quite unregally. ‘The Light’ is announced by Tristan as “Our last track”. A statement met with a universal lighthearted disapproval before the lighting strobes rapidly to accompany the white-hot sparks that fly. Its 110% monstrous axeman riffage turning up the fervour to a Spinal Tap ELEVEN.
A quick pause and the trio return to the stage for a deserved encore with the Tramshed baying for more. Tristan playfully asks “Do you fuckers want one more song?” before continuing “Well fuck you, we’re gonna give you two!”
The closing duo of the stomping ‘The Ride’ and Planet Rock playlisted ‘Sun & Moon’ bring the veritable house down. This is new chapter of Welsh metal; there’s reverance to the past but it’s time for a new breed.
The Black Cat roars atop the mountain. Cath Palug desires have been quenched.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM