So often in life, if you keep your head down and stay in your own lane, you remain oblivious to what’s going on a round you, when a simple glance to the left or right, could change your direction for the better.
So here I am reviewing The Only Life Worth Living, the third album by South West quintet, Black Water County, and that to me is news in itself! I’d only come across them earlier in the year, after a brilliant set at Bearded Theory, when their mix of Celtic folk tinged punk had everyone jumping at the second stage. How these guys had flown under my radar all this time, is beyond me. Perhaps the similarity of their name to a bunch of “johnny-come-latelies”, [Black Country, New Road] had blinded me to their existence. More likely it’s been down to my relentless pursuit of discovering the best new unsigned bands, playing the toilet circuit of the UK, that my radar simply wasn’t scanning the right frequencies. Again, possibly because my festival diet is more red meat based than Boomtown Fair, WOMAD or Beautiful Days, where they have been frequent performers.
They remind me a lot of The Roughneck Riot or the sadly defunct Ducking Punches, in that they’ve managed to harness that Pogues/punk thing without either being derivative of it or slaves to it. There’s much more to them than that.
Hailing from the South West and now celebrating a decade making music together, Black Water County have deviated over time from the well-trodden path of alcohol-fuelled teenage insolence. Gone is that insolence, replaced by an aspiration to achieve affinity through stories of the downtrodden and the heartbroken. With a necessary touch of both spirit and spirits, naturally.
Opening up with the Levellers-esque title track, bassist Tim Harris handling the lead vocals, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re just about to be assaulted by 10 tracks of foot to the floor, early 2000s Dropkick Murphys tunes, with the standard 100mph snare drum punk drumming. Cruel State of Mind rocks harder than Norman Bates mother in Psycho, bringing in some banjo from Gavin Coles, again with Tim handling vocals.
At this point in proceedings, there’s a distinctly US pop-punk vibe, which recedes as the call and response twin vocals of Here We Are Again, dissect the end of a relationship, with Tim and Shan as protagonists. Almost a 21st century update to Fairytale Of New York, with sanitised lyrical content. Escape touches on mental health issues and the need for finding some personal space, ending with a rather haunting answerphone message which leaves you wanting to know more.
And then we’re back at it with Disasters, this time with Shan on lead vocals, with a slightly sugary Darling Buds 90s feel to it. Questions is certainly more pop than punk, flirting with Fairground Attraction from the late 80’s. The other notable track is Second Guessing, which features Hannah Greenwood from Creeper, which is a hauntingly beautiful ballad and yet another “toxic relationship” song.
BLACK WATER COUNTY: Shan Byrom – vocals and tin whistle | Tim Harris – vocals and bass | Bradley Hutchings Clarke – guitar | Gavin Coles – guitar, mandolin and banjo | Ollie Beaton – drums.
If you’re quick you can catch them on the rest of their UK tour.
They have also added a pre-Xmas hometown gig on Sat 16th December at Old Fire Station Bournemouth
The album is available here on eco-friendly vinyl, with every copy being unique, limited edition orange vinyl, cassette, CD and digital.
The Only Life Worth Living
Cruel State Of Mind
Here We Are Again
Before Things Get Worse