Even in their sound check Dorset six-piece folk outlet Black Water County have all the charisma and energy of a veteran headline act. It’s an empty room with the lights up and yet it still feels more alive than plenty of the industry generated rock shows we’ve all grown used to. Tonight is the album launch of Taking Chances, a long awaited full length debut from a band who have been a staple of the local scene for nearly four years.
Pre-show the atmosphere backstage is one of a happy chaos; a table laden in beer and whisky sits central to the activity as the band gather around it, discussing their excitement of the evening’s sold out status. After several shots of whisky, cigarettes and last minute phone calls the whole band squeeze onto the sofas to explain just what it is that makes Black Water County such a rousing act;
“We started off having a few practices and playing a couple of pub gigs – just having a laugh. Then we started writing some tunes, but we never thought we would have this much material to make an album.”
Taking Chances is not just an album for this band however, it is an all-round success which not only encapsulates the spirit of Black Water County but shows their progression and identity as a unit. It is clear that it isn’t just a bunch of hastily thrown together tracks but a labour of this bands dedication and experience in their craft. It would have been easy for them to produce an album solely full of fast paced folk tales but instead in 11 songs Taking Chances takes the listener through a variety of ideas and emotions. From heartfelt stories of love all the way through to a narrative about the heartless, promiscuous ‘Rambling Johnny’ the band have sculpted a record which shows them to be much, much more than a local pub circuit band. Having this mixture of tone on the album was important to the band;
“We can’t just shove a couple of quiet songs together, it’s important to mix it up a bit. You need to have that variety to keep the album interesting, we can’t purely just do foot stompers.”
“-Can we not?”
“We’ve all got emotions!”
And these emotions all become clear when the band take to the stage. The venue is crammed with an audience who clearly know what Black Water County are capable of. Stood in the middle of the floor I can see an older traditional folk crowd bobbing along next to a mini-mosh pit of young rock fans furiously waving their fists towards the stage. The band’s live performance have become somewhat of a local legend and the swelling venue is a reflection of this;
“I think we’ve found a nice niche that nobody else kind of fills around here, it’s just genuine feel good drinking music, and everyone likes a drink and to feel good. We started off doing a lot of traditional Irish songs in a modern punky way and that kind of brought in our original crowd who were proper folk lovers, people who remembered the old Irish tunes. Since then we’ve progressed over the years, we’ve added in a few of our own and it’s all mixed up well.”
The band begins the evening with some of their already well known tracks, bursting onto the stage to a rapturous applause. The band creates a towering wall of sound, each member showcasing their talent throughout the breakdowns and solos in their chaotic yet subtly organized tracks. Black Water County are a joy to watch, bounding relentlessly around the stage and giving off an attitude which strikes a perfect balance between confidence and nonchalance. Once they have the full attention of the crowd they launch into their new content from Taking Chances. Both Gavin Coles (banjo and mandolin) and Bradley Hutchings (guitar and vocals) agree that Rise And Fall is a personal highlight of the album;
“I was a bit sceptical about it, but hearing it back when you’re not playing it you realise it’s really fun.” Gavin explained with Bradley nodding in agreement.
“ I hated it before we recorded it and then when we changed it in the studio I thought it was the best song on the album.”
Rise and Fall is a track that just keeps on building up; the subdued introduction of a soft tune on the guitar and tin whistle is intriguing until suddenly Andy L Smooth (drums) kicks in with the percussion and the song gets its life. On stage it gives the band an opportunity to truly open up and show what they can do. Anger and attitude burst out of each member of the band and they glide through the song as a well-oiled machine, despite the rising number of swigs of whisky they’ve been taking between each song. Another notable moment on the album for the band is No Regrets, which Russell Scagell (fiddle, acoustic guitar) and Tim Harris (vocals, bass) both cite as their favourite song;
“No Regrets has to have a mention because of the brass section –it’s just so good!”
The song is triumphant; having the brass section makes an exciting edge complimenting the permanent fixtures in the band whilst giving a nod in the direction of ska-punk. Tonight they have brought out their brass section on stage and when the chorus kicks in the sound soars above the band and across the audience, it’s a lot of fun and hugely uplifting. Not only is tonight the bands album launch, but it’s also Shan Byrom’s (vocals, tin whistle) 21st birthday. She takes a break from leaping around the stage like a supercharged pixie to explain this before slowing down to sing her lead vocals on the gentle and very emotive Memories From Another Life.
The band play seamlessly together and perhaps what makes them so appealing to watch is how much enjoyment the band clearly gets from playing to a crowd. There’s no pretence or gimmicks, it’s just genuine, honest fun. I think that’s the reason why tonight is a sold out gig, because this is a band that will pick up friends and fans along the way;
“At festivals you get a wider crowd who wouldn’t normally come to one of your gigs, then at a gig like tonight you get people returning to see you again, you see them out in the audience singing along and wearing your t-shirts and it’s a really good feeling.”.
Tonight is just the beginning for what will be another busy year for the band, who will be taking the party across many venues and several festivals when summer rolls around. They want to put together a tour and eventually get themselves playing in other countries. These ambitions are well in their sights if Taking Chances is anything to go by. I asked each member of the band to give me a word which describes Black Water County, and so I can firmly say if you are a fan of “mad, exciting, stomping, lovely, drunk, fun” you absolutely should check them out.
Taking Chances is available now on iTunes and Spotify.
Article photo credit: Jennie Franklin