Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Cath Pulag, the sleek, toned black cat of myth, roars. Atop the slanted limestone bedrock of Cefn Cil Sanws, that towers above the tightknit terraces huddled in the valley below, she has overseen a magnificent journey.
One that has travelled 360 degrees, full circle, from the moment of inception. Just three weeks short of the full year since the unleashing of that ten-track beast ‘Weight Of The World.’ Ten tracks that have turned Florence Black’s world upside down and inside out.
Twelve months since that sold out album release show at The Patriot, deep in the heart of the Welsh valleys. Twelve months that have borne witness to the band’s stock rising day on day. UK tours have led to European arena and stadium support slots with the likes of Steel Panther and Böhse Onkelz.
This success is deserved and has been earned by these three Merthyr lads with good, honest old-fashioned graft mixed in with a huge slice of talent. Their ancestors would, no questions, be proud. Those that made Merthyr’s name through the ironworks and collieries; those that forged an inherent pride still tangible to this day. The spirit of 1831’s Rising still burns brightly today as it did back then.
On the eve of heading across to the European mainland for a series of 18 dates across Germany and Austria we gather, in the heart of Merthyr, out front of the impressive red-brick renaissance styled façade of the imposing Redhouse. Nowadays an arts and creative industries centre the Red House was once the Town Hall, the focal point for all matters civic and political.
Early evening and already a large crowd is gathering, in advance of doors, in the russet glow. Expectation grows with increasing numbers and the passing of the minutes. This promises to be an off the scale hometown show; it’s an assemblage of clans. Not just from South Wales but across Southern and Middle realms too. Amazingly we meet a couple, Ester and Steve, who have flown over from Canada! It’s the latter’s birthday and they are also celebrating the anniversary of his Canadian citizenship in fine style with Ester’s first ever gig.
Just a year on from their first show James And The Cold Gun, dubbed “South Wales’ Loudest,” hit the somewhat cramped Redhouse stage at the hour of eight.
It’s a bold proclamation but this quintet is in determined mood to back it up with facts as cold and hard as the iron from which Merthyr rose. Having opened for Those Damn Crows at Chepstow Castle recently and played the ‘Birdcage’ at BST Hyde Park’s Pearl Jam soiree this punk-fuelled hi-kicking outfit are right in the growing crowds’ face straightway.
No-nonsense, no-thrills coupled with a complete disregard for formalities we’re served up a copious banquet of gloriously ragged riffage and a hoodlum feast of ferocious beats. As the late evening light leaks through the glass roof into the delectable ambience of the Plymouth Courtyard so ‘Seven,’ the opening track of their debut EP ‘False Start,’ produces Richter registering quakes.
It’s a track of portentous demons as it signals, most appropriately, the ushering in of a 30-minute seven-track set.
Frontman James Joseph, coolly sporting shades, announces ‘Plug Me In’ as “This next one is a fast one! This is for all the movers and shakers.” He is bang on the money with a stampeding wall of sound turning up The Stooges to beyond 11.
The courtyard quakes and the clocktower, it’s face illuminated above against the darkening skies, is surely beginning to reel from the onslaught.
We are served up the entire five tracks lifted from the darkened environs of ‘False Start’ along with a tasty garnishing of the singles that preceded that offering – the prowling ‘She Moves’ and 2020’s powerhouse ‘Cheating On The Sun’ with its curious touches of early Nirvana. There’s fuzz and distortion aplenty, punk-drenched grunge sentiment packaged with a heavyweight pugilistic blow that goes down well with the Merthyr assembly.
Taking their name from the Kate Bush track – recorded in 1977 and released on her debut lp ‘The Kick Inside’ – this Welsh five-piece have the world at their feet with a cross-genre appeal that will serve them well. Expect them to ascend rapidly.
When announced a few months ago this intimate hometown show sold out in a matter of a couple of hours. With a thinking towards how far this trio of Merthyr lads have progressed in the last year this will surely be the last time we see them play such a compact venue at the epicentrum. The next time Florence Black return home it’s going to be in a much higher-capacity venue for sure. Up at the head of the valleys, Merthyr is on the rise once again.
The atmosphere in the Plymouth Courtyard crackles with electric anticipation, building as time progresses and the packed square fills further. Above the darkening tendrils of nightfall creep across the land. Lights, from the central entrance hall, shine through the impressive stained-glass window looking down from its perch above the stage. I’m failing to think of another venue that has the combination of a stained-glass window behind the stage and a glass roof above. It all adds to the unique vibrancy herein. Afterall, it’s not every day you can see a gig reflected in the roof!
With a forceful cogency that the mightiest of furnaces would struggle to contain Florence Black descend the stairs to take, one by one, to the stage. With the now time-honoured inaugural ushering of the intro to ‘Zulu’ straining the PA and conducting structural integrity analysis so steam-hammer percussive force Perry ‘Perk’ Davies nestles behind his kit. Followed by his partner in rhythm bassist Jordan ‘Foz’ Evans the ranks are completed with, Les Paul slung ready for action, Tristan Thomas taking up position behind his matt black 50s styled mic. The storm has broken the preceding calm, this is beyond the point of return.
Thunder rolls about the mountain peaks as Tristan roars the words which the crowd return unified as one. Clenched fists punch the air in celebration as Foz raises his right hand, horns to salute the faithful. With a cacophonous bawl Tristan connects with the Redhouse “C’mon muthafuckers! Let’s hear you scream!” The response is sold out arena level, they’ve heard that down in the capital for sure!
Now standing at a remarkable 5 million Spotify plays ‘Bird On A Chain’ – the sole FB release of 2020 – takes the thoroughbred FB V8 up through the gears with consummate ease. It’s fast, it’s furious and the gathering are whipped up into a frenzy that will persist, quite contently for the next hour or so.
For all assembled within there is nowhere else that matters. It’s the escapism of the here and now. The rawness that somehow packs more than a degree of refinement, subtle nuances. Yes, this is power-trio territory but there’s shades of light and dark to enhance.
During the marauding beast that is ‘Inside Out’ Foz makes his first connect with the Redhouse enquiring “Merthyr how you fucking doing?” whilst to his left Tristan sagely notes “It’s really good to be back home!” There’s a palpable sense of pride and identity.
Eyes closed, head tilted to his left – low-slung Gibson – Tristan brings the inner rage “Cause I want my love, can you feel it in my bones?” he powers in ‘Can You Feel It?’ before dipping further back into the catalogue for the head nodding ‘Smoke’ from 2017s EP II. Straining every musical sinew and muscle ‘Pierrepoint’ – written about the noted English hangman Albert Pierrepoint – is delivered with broadside precision. Chanting as they go the enthusiastic crowd clap along.
As always, the trio demonstrate a connect with their back catalogue; always holding a sense of pride of their working-class roots. “This song is what we’re all about” Foz observes before, headlong, they launch into the piledriver that is ‘The Ride.’
The intensity of the mood is decreased for an interlude with the sensitivities of ‘So Far Away’ entwining themselves about an obsidian heart that beats with a focused ferocity before soaring with the grace of the pure-white dove. The hometown resonance of ‘Grove Street’ – The Grove is less than a mile to the North – with its reflective, carefree tones reassures “It’s ok, don’t be afraid” in these troubled times. The band are in full flow; Foz smiles broadly as he mouths the words to the left of Tristan who picks out the precision notes. Perk doesn’t deviate from his lasered cynosure; even when being ‘shot’ by a single despatch from Tristan’s fretboard.
As we edge closer to the curtain call so Florence Black up the ante further; the cliff-hanger suspense builds. Beginning with the anthemic ‘Down’, which has a visible effect upon the overheating crowd with its Sabbathy feel, the Merthyr lads flick between their three EPs and ‘Weight Of The World’ for the remainder of the set.
We’re taken to ‘The Deep End’ with its seismic forces shaking the stage as stage-tech Shane works hard in his struggles to keep the kit together and not allow it to bounce right out of the venue. The battle is real folks! ‘Same Again’ fearsomely roars before the sheer high wattage of ‘The Light’ pierces the darkness. Beads of sweat fall to the stage floor – beads of sheer crafted endeavour – as the rawness of the Les Paul and the plangent bison herd rhythms take proceedings towards their natural conclusion.
There’s only to wrap up the main body after over an hour of bone-crunching and chest-pummelling Welsh metal of the highest order. “Anyone know a band called Budgie?” asks Tristan. “This is for my butty Simon, the biggest Budgie fan in the world. This is for you brother!” The volcanic peak finally erupts spewing white-hot molten lava across the quake-ridden lands.
All before succumbs to the fiery surficial flow as the demonic efficacies expel with clinical accuracy. A good-natured mosh pit opens as humanity whirls uncontrollably. A vortex splits asunder as a screeching banshee-like solo sends shivers down the collective spine. There’s a roof-lifting cheer as the local heroes exit stage right.
Cath Pulag purrs quietly as she watches on. Pride courses through the veins their time has come. There’s pure unbridled voltaic energy pulsating as the triumvirate return to the boards for one more offering. The chilled vibrancy of ‘Sun & Moon’ – a Planet Rock favourite – satiates to levels of perfection.
With an unerring sniper-like precision Tristan whittles one resonant note after another from his smoking fretboard, reminiscent of Marillion’s Rothery alloyed in the finest compound with Floyd’s Gilmour. Surely the temptation to segue into ‘Run Like Hell’ as Foz and Perk get in on the Floyd-esque moments with echoes of Waters and Mason. FB, however, retain their own unique identity and steer a course right into the very heart of the maelstrom to further multiply the kinetic. This is going to be a mainstay of their live performance for years to come, no doubt.
There’s no doubting the journey that Jordan, Perry and Tristan have embarked upon. This three-piece have come a long, long way from their humble beginnings. There is much more on offer too. Next up is an 18-date tour across Germany and Austria stretching across the entirety of September.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM