Live Review: Cardinal Black – KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton
4th October 2023
Support: Tom Jenkins
Words & Photos: Scott Clarke
It’s October and as we reach the tail end of the calendar, we are nearing the cold, wet, murky winter, needless to say in keeping with current trends, theres a heatwave sweeping across Europe and the humidity is increasing as the dry pleasant evening tonight is one that we would’ve longed for during our ‘summer’ this year. Alas as I pull up at the venue it’s evident the evenings are drawing in as the street lights are on for my arrival rather than my departure. What isn’t so unpredictable however is that I’m at KK’s Steel Mill once again for another evening of great live entertainment.
First of all it seems that despite my initial thoughts, we are in the main room at KK’s for the show. It’s always pleasing to see, not just because of the capacity, but also because it gives the bands a much grander stage and showcase. As the doors open promptly at 7, the first act is due on stage at 8 with the main act from 9, people enter and take their positions in a steady stream, over the course of the hour that I’m there setting up and making notes, the room is filling more and more to a point where we have more in attendance than I’ve noticed on the past few visits to KK’s. These fans must know what the evening has in store.
We are blessed with offerings from the valleys tonight as Welsh singer/ songwriter/ hill farmer (that’s the first time I’ve ever put that combination together but here we are) Tom Jenkins had the task of warming up the crowd first of all. A man of obviously many talents, Tom’s blend of indie rock fused with country-esque stylings seemed a perfect accompaniment to the forthcoming headline.
It seemed a large stage when Tom took to it. The bright lights shining a spotlight on this lone denim clad figure with just a guitar and his harmonica. These were rescheduled shows as Tom pointed out, having a friendly dig at Cardinal Black’s lead singer, who had been ill when they were previously scheduled to appear, it was a bit of humour that casually set the scene for the evening and broke everyone in with a chuckle.
Touring his most recent album, ‘It Comes in the Morning, It Hangs in the Evening Sky’ released in 2022, for this performance which was only a 30 minute set, Tom chose a range of songs from his back catalogue consisting of 2 albums worth of material and a fair few EP’s over the past 5 years.
An equal split of material came from Misery in Comfort released in 2018, including the title track, Underlying Pain and Tom Jones, shared with tracks from the latest album It Comes in the Morning, It Hangs in the Evening Sky, including Be There For You, Back Roads and interspersed with When the Coal Dust Settled from the EP of the same name in 2020.
Despite his soft spoken and jolly demeanour on stage with his talks and communications between the crowd and Cardinal Black who were side stage at the time, Tom’s songs are mostly melancholy in nature yet they tell stories of his life and that of his past and his heritage. For example, before “Be There For You”, Tom took us on a journey to his past where he had spent 10 years as a contract sheep shearer taking him to distant lands where the only way he could communicate with his partner across the other side of the world was via a landline. “When the Coal Dust Settled” a story about his heritage and his grandfathers who were coal miners and sheep farmers. His songs capture moments in time and are personal reflections of himself, all while being peppered with puns and humour to lighten the mood.
Asking the audience, who’s your favourite Welsh artist? Immediately without hesitation a shout of Tom Jones rang out from the crowd, which prompted another humorous story about having a dream of entering a karaoke contest with Tom Jones, before performing his track of the same name.
He thanks the audience for being so polite and does the regulation plug of his merch and also thanking Cardinal Black. Throughout the performance I noticed that the crowd were respectful and attentive to the point of nothing off that stage mattering. Everyone was joined in a moment, a few minutes of unity caused by the music emanating from Tom whose guitar playing skills and tremendous voice were enough to captivate the whole crowd, who burst into applause at the end of each song. That stage that seemed so large to begin with seemed diminutive at the end of the night as Tom took charge of it and had the whole building in the palm of his hand.
The final song Back Roads came and went with Tom’s final words being Thank you, All the Best. It was a sudden end to the set as the audience burst into applause and cheer, clearly appreciative of the mans work. A keen farmer with a natural aptitude for music, this might be a first time that an artist could sell fresh produce at a gig as merchandise but it’s not out of the realms of possibility, we can only hope that Tom continues on his musical adventure as the seeds he’s sown thus far have given forth a bountiful crop.
After a brief hiatus and set change it was time for the Welsh alt rockers. From playing Shepherd’s Bush in London, the Royal Albert Hall, to now gracing the midlands greatest venue, KK’s Steel Mill, the “Oldest new band in the world”, made stronger by time and patience and with the perseverance to make it through the pandemic and come out the other side with a catalogue of great tracks, Cardinal Black, were our headliner for tonight.
It’s almost exactly a year since Cardinal Black dropped their debut album on the world in 2022, after many years of friendship and working together, the cogs of the machine finally aligned to great reception, as guitarist Chris Buck (Best New Guitarist in the World, 2019 - Guitarist Magazine), Drummer Adam Roberts and the Vocals of Tom Hollister added the bass of Sam Williams to round out a magnificent talent and unleash a blues/ rock release crammed of superb musicianship.
The darkness of the room is illuminated only by the huge Cardinal Black logo as the band members make their way on stage to the applause of the rather large crowd and the haunting notes from Chris Buck’s guitar as we kick the night off with 2 back to back bangers, Terra Firma and Where I’ve Been.
From the get go, the rich vocals of Tom Hollister have an effortlessly bluesy tone, an almost soulful quality with gritty undertones. He has the kind of voice that would be entrancing on it’s own but when you add the excellent musicians around him as well, we have a package that is musical bliss.
Following which Tom gives the crowd a tale of how no one bought him a beer, having recently shaved his head to amuse his 3 year old girl and entering where there was a no hat policy, no one recognised him without his hat! Chris Buck then leads us into the next track, Run.
Usually a 4-piece, we are joined on the stage tonight by Tay Cousins, providing backing vocals that add an extra richness and depth, here her amazing voice starts off Jump In, the next track of the night before harmonising with Tom.
Chris Buck’s technical yet deliberate execution of guitar is a joy that adds to the story telling of each song. Never am I listening, just waiting for that killer solo or riff, every part of each song is carefully crafted. It’s at times during the set when Tom stops singing with words, Chris makes his guitar sing almost lyrically. He’s a fairly subdued character on stage but it just makes his playing seem even more extraordinary and effortless. He doesn’t play the instrument so much as he uses it as a tool to channel emotions and it’s clear to see why he has received accolades, it’s also criminal that he isn’t on the covers of all the magazines and that his name isn’t common place on everyones lips.
Another amusing tale from Tom as he explains his need to wear ear plugs after feeling unwell after being on a cruise ship and being advised by doctors that being too close to speakers and loud music caused his inflamed inner ear – yes even this was funny as Tom told it, indicating that as he got more comfortable with it, the clothes would come off which prompted a cheer from the audience. Again Chris’ guitar can be heard as Tom tells his story and softly leads us into the next track Ain’t My Time. The final half of this track contains a guitar masterclass that is simply sublime and as it closed a thanks to Chris Buck and a huge cheer erupted from the crowd.
Tom apologised to the crowd for the delayed performance after his illness prompted a reschedule but thanked everyone for coming and promised an evening of fun. Well so far it most definitely was that, half an hour into the set and KK’s was enthralled.
Rise Up blasted through the venue, a modern classic followed by Half Way and then On My Own, a beautiful ballad as Tom alluded to the workings of a new album that they are due to record. A brief drum solo leads us into the next track Tell Me How it Feels, a real sing along belter of a song that the crowd duly obliges as Tom encourages the fans’ participation.
“One more time for Tom Jenkins”, the fellow welsh Tom acknowledges the act that preceded them while ribbing him about his decisions to either go on tour or shear sheep whilst joking that they weren’t going to use him again because even he gets depressed 4 songs into listening to his set. A jest that made the crowd laugh before Tom then went on to address his fellow countryman as being a triple threat of great singer, great guitar player and a great shearer, such remarks show the closeness of bond and the friendship that exists between these people who are more to each other than just performers.
Closing out the set is Warm Love (Shout out to Michael on the keys who has been lurking off to the side for most of the evening but providing incredible melodies throughout) followed by Where Do You Go. As the lights go down and the room is plunged into darkness, no one in the place leaves as they expect an encore.
The band do not disappoint and come out with I’m Ready, a song they originally recorded around one mic and also included Tom giving Tay a piggy back ride across the stage at one point. Finally tying up the evening with one final track in the “really sad blues song”, Tied Up In Blue, where Tom demonstrated his vocal prowess, if it hadn’t already been made clear throughout the night, by performing a verse without the mic and still having his voice audible at the back of the venue.
At several times during the evening, the conversation both on stage with the band and between Tom and the crowd make this more than just a play through of tracks, this is a wholesome group of immense talent, but they haven’t lost touch with the patrons, it’s like fans playing for fans. They love the music, they love what they do, they love the fans and the evidence is clear on stage, the fact that this is a good size venue I don’t think makes a difference to them any more so than playing the Royal Albert Hall or a pub down the road, they give their all wherever they may be.
The songs seem to build and tell a story as they go usually culminating with the great guitar work of Chris Buck while Tom takes us through as a narrator. One of the most evident things throughout the evening is the chemistry between the members of the band who aren’t up there doing a job, they’re a bunch of friends having a good time and sharing their gifts that the attentive crowd are happily lapping up.
The band exude genuine soul in their music that makes you really feel - both emotionally and in the body that makes for that subconscious foot tapping. They are a group that takes pride in what they release and what they play and the stage show is evident that there are no gimmicks involved, they flourish on their own merits as the quality of their music speaks for itself.
With a set that ran for 1 hour and 40 minutes, I couldn’t believe where the time had gone, if you’d have told me it was half that time I would’ve believed it. Its an excellent example of how to transition your recorded material onto a stage performance, whether the on stage incidents and joyous banter was planned and pre scripted or not, only they will know but it seemed so natural and added to the evening by injecting a boost of humour and cementing the level of comradery and friendship on stage while engaging the audience, all in all the whole show and the way it was delivered, leaves the crowd wanting more, I personally would certainly doff a flat cap to them for a magnificent performance.
With such great material and the promise of a new album in the works, Cardinal Black are definitely a band that are worth supporting wherever you get chance, as they are just starting out this leg of gigs, get to one wherever you can because you are guaranteed a great evening, I can honestly say that this has been one of my favourite gigs I’ve been to this year.