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17th May 2023

Live review: Black Country, New Road @ New Century Hall, Manchester

Black Country, New Road returned to Manchester for their biggest headliner in the city to date, showcasing songs from their Live at Bush Hall album.
Live review: Black Country, New Road @ New Century Hall, Manchester
Photo: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Attempting to describe the music of Black Country, New Road is not an easy task. The Cambridgeshire six-piece blend post-punk, folk, and art rock with thoughtful lyrics in their experimental sprawling soundscapes. Their 2021 debut For the First Time was nominated for the Mercury Prize and its follow-up Ants From Up There has been hailed an instant indie classic. The band are embarking on their first headline tour following the departure of lead vocalist Isaac Wood.


As the lights dim and the band shuffle onto stage, instruments in tow, anticipation is high. From playing YES basement in 2020 to selling out a headline date at Manchester’s recently refurbished historic New Century Hall, Black Country, New Road are no strangers to the city. Saxophonist Lewis Evans emerges beneath a beaming blue spotlight, as he plays the melancholic opening of ‘Up Song’.

Photo: Lewis Evans – Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Black Country, New Road pretty much play their Live at Bush Hall album in full, from start to finish. Minimal chat ensues between songs and instead, it’s really up to the music to do the talking. An awestruck audience gaze at the band, barely singing along, with the exception of the jubilant ‘Up Song’… maybe mouthing the lyrics to some tunes, but inaudibly, for they would rather not spoil the beauty of the spectacle before them.



It is followed by ‘The Boy’, with Tyler Hyde taking the lead. Its rumbling drums and dissonant instrumentation build to crescendo before it metamorphoses into a folksy fairytale-esque waltz. Something about the track’s latter half is reminiscent of PJ Harvey’s ‘Send His Love to Me’.


The dynamic of Black Country,New Road has shifted, with this new iteration allowing Evans (saxophone, flute), Hyde (bass, guitar), and May Kershaw (keys) to alternate on lead vocals.The self-referential ‘Up Song’ celebrates the band’s body of work thus far and encourages excitement for this new phase.

Photo: May Kershaw – Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Hyde’s turn on ‘I Won’t Always Love You’ is particularly moving – her accented vocals and subtle voice breaks convey her emotion.‘The Wrong Trousers’ which borrows its title from the Aardman animation of the same name has fast become a fan favourite, perhaps because it bears the most similarity with Ants, with Evans on vox. Violinist Georgia Ellery, who is also one half of the excellent alt-pop duo Jockstrap shines too, adding stunning violin melodies to each tune.

Photo: Georgia Ellery – Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

But the real masterpiece tonight is ‘Turbines/Pigs’, a lengthy ten-minute suite that enchants the audience. Between Kershaw’s breathy intonations and her twinkling key chords, you can hear a pin drop. While Black Country, New Road are perhaps most acclaimed for cacophonous creations like ‘Chaos Space Machine’ and ‘Sunglasses’, it is this delicate track that captivates the crowd the most tonight.


Black Country, New Road toe the line between playful and poignant tonight from the jaunty ‘Across the Pond’ to the cathartic ‘Dancers’ which closes out a wonderfully bittersweet set. New Century Hall has been privileged to a poignant and powerful performance that sees the boundary-pushing band continuing to tread new ground on their rhythmic journey.

Listen to Black Country, New Road on Spotify here.

Photo: Tyler Hyde – Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion
Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Head Music Editor @ The Mancunion. Freelance Music and Culture Writer @ DIY, The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, etc. Alt-rock connoisseur and Britpop aficionado. Twitter: @tayl0rsarah LinkedIn:

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