Black Water County. The Key Club, Leeds. 16.11.23.

Gig number four in six days and my second night this week in The Key Club.
Bristol’s True Strays open procedings and from their opening notes you know this is going to be an even better night than you first thought. Longtime mates Joe James and James Cameron deliver a superb 30 minutes of paired down bluesy Americana. With just a steel guitar, minimalist drums and huge double bass the duo’s live sound is a much less polished, far more raw affair than their recorded output. Both are excellent but live the pared back sound works brilliantly. The sounds of Watermelon Slim and Seasick Steve can be heard on True Strays foot tapping blues numbers rich in a piercing slide guitar. That wonderful guitar sound becomes a more subtle backdrop to the meloncholy bass and singalong of tracks such as ‘Let Your Heart Lead The Way’. The perfect soundtrack to long, hot, dusty drives through some far off place where you don’t really care where you end up becuse it’s the journey that matters. A perfect opening to the night.

Together for ten years Black Water County have just released their third, rather brilliant, album ‘The Only Life Worth Living’. They dance on stage to Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ to smiles and laughter from both band and audience before that massive Celtic – punk sound erupts with ‘Cruel State Of Mind’ and there’s an explosion of energy from the stage.

This isn’t a band that does things half-heartedly. This is a band that gives it everything and does it with real passion. Underpinned by pummelling drums courtesy of Ollie Beaton, the distinct twang of the banjo from Gavin Coles and some driving punk rock guitar work by Bradley H-Clarke it’s the stage presence of lead vocalist and bass player Tim Harris together with lead vocalist and tin whistle blower Shannon Byrom that grasps your attention. When she’s not singing or playing Byrom literally bounces, a non-stop ball of energy dancing round the stage with a massive smile on her face. Harris hammers his bass, smashes out his vocals, pent up energy written all over his face.

The Only Life Worth Living is full of punk rock, folk punk, celtic punk (whatever you care to call it) absolute bangers. ‘Questions’, ‘Before Things Get Worse’, ‘Escape’ and the title track are, despite the solemn topic of some, absolutely joyful, ferocious, leap around, exorcise your frustrations, sonic assaults on your senses. In particular those senses that insist you dance. But this isn’t just a room full of noise. These are tunes packed full of melody and choruses you can shout along to. 2020 album ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ gives us ‘Mistakes’, the irresistably bouncy ‘There Will Be A Day’, the singalong thrash of ‘Living and Giving’, the incendiary ‘Runaway’ and the heartfelt ‘Darkest Days’.

With such a strong back catalogue to chose from putting a setlist together must be a nightmare for this lot but, despite a new album to promote, they don’t ignore their beginnings and smash out ‘Start Something New’ and ‘Rise and Fall’ from 2017 debut ‘Taking Chances’.
Byrom’s tin whistle shines on ‘Who Am I Now’ as do her vocals on tracks such as ‘Under Skies Of Black And Blue’
Black Water County deliver a gig that is absolutely rammed with passion and energy and, despite Harris suffering from tour lurgy, there is no let up at all. It’s completely infectious. There’s barely a still foot in the place. And despite the slicing guitars, insatiable beat, the leaping about and the charged atmosphere there is no aggression amongst those watching. Everyone is here with just one aim – to have a brilliant time jumping, dancing, chanting, laughing and smiling whilst watching one of the most exciting live acts around. Yes, this kind of atmosphere can be worked up by superb tunes. But that’s only part of the story. You also need a band that are so completely into what they do, that bring the crowd on board, that deliver explosive, frenetic, compelling music that completely hooks you in. Black Water County do all of this and more. In short it’s absolute bedlam but bedlam without the confusion. Loud, turbulant commotion but where everything slots perfectly into place.
They close with fan favourite ‘One More Beer Won’t Hurt’, a fantastically raucous end to a perfect gig.

Photos & words: Steve White

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Steve White

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