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Cardinal Black / On the very edges of the rock atmosphere

It says a lot about the stature of any band when they can sell out consecutive nights at any venue in under 24 hours. Enter Cardinal Black, and it’s not that much of a surprise.

Cardinal Black – Laura Evans

The Patriot, Crumlin – 18 December 2022

Words and Photograph: Paul Hutchings

A stellar year has seen the Cardiff band support Peter Frampton at the Royal Albert Hall, tour Europe, play high-quality sets at festivals and receive accolade after accolade in the end-of-year polls. A top 50 placing in Classic Rock’s 2022 top 50 albums, the fourth best guitar solo for their song Warm Love In Guitar World and a fourth-placed posting in Blues Rock Review.

Not bad for a band who only got their shit together in 2020.

Cardinal Black. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Cardinal Black The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

But that would be denying over a decade of graft that went before them. Three of the band, Chris Buck, Tom Hollister, and Adam Roberts, comprised the Tom Hollister Trio, with Hollister playing bass as well as singing. A move to America ended in the band going their separate ways, but the trio are inextricably linked, and with bassist Sam Williams on board, they returned to the fray as Cardinal Black. The rest, as they say, is history.

Cardinal Black. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Cardinal Black The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

Tonight, they are joined by a female backing singer and keyboardist who add a rich layer to the band’s beautifully soulful sound. It’s an emotional set. The venue is pulsing with electricity that rings its way around from front to back. As soon as the band kick into Rise Up, there’s almost a reverential hush. It’s captivating, Hollister’s stunning vocal range soars high, the band lock solidly behind him, and we’re off into 90 minutes of genuine quality.

Cardinal Black. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Cardinal Black The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

It’s Buck that shares the attention. He’s unassuming, calmness personified. He focuses on his guitar, playing the simple parts effortlessly, able to send chills down the spine with his lead breaks that flow organically. Roberts and Williams are a single unit, the backbone of the band and they rarely, if ever, skip a beat. Williams will later show his power with a blasting solo that brings the set to a raucous crescendo.

There’s plenty to admire. The gentleness of Tell Me How It Feels, the Pink Floyd intro to Terra Firma and the endless magic of Warm Love with that solo that you find yourself suddenly and involuntarily holding your breath to. Close your eyes, and lose yourself in the enchantment that flows from the stage. This is a band going places.

Cardinal Black. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Cardinal Black The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

Hollister is more than a vocalist, though. He’s the archetypal Welsh boy up front, with humour and natural banter that only those from this part of the world possess. “This song is called Halfway,” he says, “because we are halfway through the set!”

Cardinal Black. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Cardinal Black The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

The crowd don’t need warming up despite the still chilly temperatures outside. Those on the barrier clutch their iPhones and steal memories, those near the bar raise a glass, and those elsewhere suspend their chatter (for most of the gig). There’s plenty of singing, encouraged by Hollister, with warm smiles from the rest of the band.

It’s a celebration of a year that has catapulted the band into the very edges of the rock atmosphere. This time next year, they will be in outer space. Such is their quality.

Laura Evans

Laura Evans. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Laura Evans The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

Opening the evening is Aberdare girl Laura Evans. Her set is a calm, stripped-back acoustic 30 minutes. She released her debut album, State Of Mind, in July and plays several songs from it. Accompanied by a solo guitarist, she’s got a voice suited to her heavily country-influenced and styled sound. She can sing beautifully, though and has confidence galore.

Laura Evans. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Laura Evans The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

There is a singalong opportunity on I’m Alright. “It only has two words,” she jokes. She’s a cross of Stevie Nicks and Dolly Parton, but that’s fine with me.

I’ve since checked the album out, and it’s a very nice combination of country rock that would sit comfortably with Blackberry Smoke. She’s touring with her full band in February, and it’s certainly on the list as an option. Well worth giving State Of Mind a listen.

Tonight the songs are slightly fragile, but with the band behind her, the future looks bright for the breakout star of 2022 for Rush on Rock magazine.

Laura Evans. The Patriot, Crumlin - 18 December 2022.
Laura Evans The Patriot Crumlin 18 December 2022 Photo Paul HutchingsMetalTalk

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