Review: Florence Black – Classic Grand, Glasgow

While not as packed with the same cinematic tropes of a “…a dog and a beer on opening day at Wrigley Field…”, there still is a sense of romanticism surrounding the opening night of a tour. The lack of grainy footage on YouTube, for one, is always a plus, and no set-list spoilers would be another. Add to the equation the small matter of the highly-anticipated sophomore album being unleashed a few hours after the gig ended, and the opening night of Florence Black’s ‘Bed Of Nails’ Tour had all the hallmarks of being a landmark gig.

Booking a 550-capacity venue shows a great deal of confidence, and it must have been a thrill for the band that they sold the place out. And the place is packed. Packed. And stifling hot. Like taking a warm shower with your clothes on. Steam is rising from the heaving pit, but nobody cares because, in the words of Prince, people are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

In the touring way of paying it forward, Florence Black have admirably gone with the option of putting on a local support act each night alongside main tour support James And The Cold Gun. Tonight it is the turn of Eld Varg (“Heavy Metal from the northern shores of Scotland”) to make an impression, and given that the gig was down to the last few remaining tickets when they were added to the bill, the trio are playing to an audience mostly unfamiliar with them. Playing a mix of heavy/thrash metal, Eld Varg are a confident bunch onstage; confident enough to start their set with a few minutes of fast and heavy instrumentation in the guise of ‘And So It Begins…’. Sans vocals from frontman/guitarist Ollie, it might seem like an unusual way to open a support set, but with its fast pacing, it works well enough to make those standing at the bar, turn and pay attention. As per the running order of the current album ‘One Man Army: Reinforced Edition’, the Maiden-esque ‘To The Beyond’ and 7-minute banger ‘Vulcans Hammer’ follow on and the front few rows are beginning to exercise those neck muscles. It’s old-school, raw, loud, and fun, and by the time that ‘Wolfpack’ brings the short set to a rousing conclusion, Eld Varg have done enough to warrant further investigation.

Sonically, James And The Cold Gun offers up an altogether different proposition from Eld Varg and Florence Black. The outfit from Cardiff have only been a band for a few years – years that included the Covid-era – and have already got GNR’s Duff McKagan and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard in their corner (JATCG’s self-titled debut album is on Gossard’s Loosegroove Records). Packing  an early-Manics punch – mixed with high doses of American post-punk, and garage rock – James And The Cold Gun are no-frills guitar-heavy; so much so that ex-Holding Absence bassist James Joseph has now changed to six-strings and handles lead vocals and guitar duties alongside the Rickenbacker-wielding lead guitarist James Biss. Given that the venue is bathed in darkness (at times, too fucking dark) the decision by Joseph to perform while wearing shades is a risky one, but thankfully he doesn’t fall victim to the eternal darkness when moving about the stage. Moments like ‘Chewing Glass’ and set-closer ‘Long Way Home’ are particularly noteworthy and leave a lingering impression long after the last few bars of music fade away.

With the aforementioned album ‘Bed Of Nails’ a few hours away from landing in Spotify/Apple Music accounts, a great deal of the tracks aired from Florence Black tonight would have been alien to the vast majority of the crowd. But you wouldn’t have guessed that by the way that the crowd greeted every one of them. Going with the album title track as the set opener is a wise choice as it has been available as a single and, therefore is known to the crowd. Even if it wasn’t known to them, the crowd would have lapped it up anyway as it SLAPS. Rammstein-sized crunching riffs courtesy of frontman Tristan Thomas, and the spine of the band – Jordan Evans (bass/backing vocals) and Perry Davies (drums/backing vocals) – working in tandem to shake the foundations of this old building. Davies plays with such enthusiasm that a smile is never far from his face, and during the heavy-as-fuck breakdown, he acts as a cheerleader while standing up giving his kick drum a right seeing to. Being fed a diet consisting of dynamite and raw meat has paid off because he doesn’t just hit the drums – he assaults them. Loving the harsher vocals from Tristan Thomas on this one, and it’s always good to see a musician pushing themselves and adding another weapon to their arsenal.

Chit-chat is kept to a minimum and the trio from Merthyr Tydfil blitz through an 18-song setlist in roughly 80 minutes or so. Except for ‘Beautiful Lover’ (one of the dark horses on ‘Bed Of Nails’) and ‘The Way Home’, ‘Bed Of Nails’ is aired in its entirety, with ‘On The Ropes’ being the only track from the 2021 debut album ‘Weight Of The World’ to feature in the opening five tracks. A tad risky? Nah, not with the quality of newbies such as ‘Start Again’, ‘Solid 9’, and the fantastic ‘Don’t Hold Me Down’ which has some gorgeous Gary Moore-like guitar tones from Thomas on a track that highlights how strong his vocals have become. The mid-section where the band kicks it up a notch or two and Thomas unleashes more of those harsh vocals is spectacular, as is the pairing of the ultra-catchy ‘Look Up’ with the runaway-train pacing of ‘Taxman’ (being played live for the first time) – two new tracks that highlight the growth and the variety within the band that are destined to be setlist regulars for some time.

‘The Forest’ is another example of the growth within the band and Perry Davies and Jordan Evans expertly control the pace as the song begins in a light, whimsical way before intermittently turning into a snarling beast here and there – the sizzling guitar solo from Thomas is another example of why he is fast becoming a future guitar hero in the making, and there is a great moment when all 3 band members lock into one big-assed groove as the song roars towards its climax. The roaring cover of Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ kicks off a hectic closing 20 minutes, and as good as it is, if Florence Black continue on the same trajectory with albums number 3 and 4 then it’s only a matter of time before it is surplus to requirements. When you can close a set with the trio of ‘Bird on a Chain’, ‘Zulu’, and the sublime ‘Sun and Moon’ which has the crowd on the ballroom floor bouncing as one, then who needs a cover version?

After the last strains of ‘Sun and Moon’ fade out, the band takes their bows and exits the stage to roaring applause from the capacity crowd. After navigating the mountain of stairs on the way out, there is a large, boisterous gathering outside on the street as groups meet up with those who got separated in the pit. One particular group is waiting on someone, and after 5 minutes or so he finally appears with a mile-wide grin and utters the immortal words: “What. A. FUCKING. Set.” to be fair to him, he wasn’t wrong because this was something very special indeed.

Find out for yourself on one of the following dates:

Feb 05: Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Feb 06: Wolverhampton KK’s Steel Mill
Feb 08: Bournemouth The Old Fire Station
Feb 09: London The Dome
Feb 10: Cardiff Tramshed

Remaining tickets are on sale here: https://www.florenceblack.uk

Review – Dave

All live images – Dave Jamieson

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