This was a night when South Wales came to London and seriously rocked the smoke. In recent years there has been a growth in great rock bands coming from Wales, and at the forefront of these are Those Damn Crows. Playing a sold-out London show, they were in no mood for sitting back and ripped through a set of songs that are already starting to take on legendary status amongst their growing army of fans.
Those Damn Crows – James And The Cold Gun – Valhalla Awaits
Islington Assembly Hall, 24 February 2023.
Words: Adrian Stonley
Photography: Eric Duvet
Those Damn Crows
Arriving to the news that their latest album, Inhale/Exhale, has just entered the UK charts at number 3, it was a clear indication that the Crows are a band who are getting their rock ‘n’ roll message out there and people are getting that message and putting their money where it matters, and tonight those fans were going to celebrate the chart placing with the band and seriously show the love.
The first time I saw the Crows was at a North Wales holiday park in front of about 25 people back in 2017. They’ve come a long way since then. It was clear on that morning all those years back that this was a band that had serious potential, and it’s great to see that now coming to the fore and them stretching themselves now and showing the quality of their musicianship and songwriting ability.
With three albums now under their belts, the latest, Inhale/Exhale, which was only released the week of this tour, it was going to be interesting to see how the set would be balanced across the material. Certainly, the new album attracted a good airing, and those new songs were well received as though they were already as well-known as those past favourites, and they certainly received a positive reaction to such an extent that any outsider would not have known what was old and that which is new.
Before the show, there had been some concerns whether Shane’s voice would hold up, having cancelled an earlier acoustic session. However, there were no concerns on the night, and he sounded as strong and powerful as ever, wringing every inch of emotion out of it.
So, to the show. From the moment they entered the stage, they had the audience eating out of their hands. Quite simply, they could do no wrong with every song being treated as though it was an old favourite. Starting with two new songs, Fill The Void and Wake Up, they made it clear that this was a night where there would be no holding back, and if the audience didn’t know these songs as well as others, you could not tell with the raucous reaction they received.
Next up was the standalone single Sick Of Me, which had received considerable radio play over the last couple of years and continued the barnstorming start to the show. One thing that is clear is that the Crows are more than adept at writing well-crafted, textured rock songs, and this was clear on the next couple of numbers taken from the Point Of No Return album, Kingdom Of Dust and Sin On Skin. Both numbers continued to raise the atmosphere with hands aloft and voices singing along to the lyrics.
Then, a complete turnaround with the bombastic Blink Of An Eye, an ever-present favourite from the first album, Murder And The Motive, yet this was completely reinvented with a gentle piano introduction courtesy of Shane, whilst the audience sang out the lyrics along with him, the emotion dripping from every word. Slowly the number built until the guitars ripped in with the familiar riffs and the song soared. Certainly, the piano introduction has taken this version of this piece to new levels.
Then, if you thought it wasn’t possible that the stakes could be raised any higher, the band ripped into Who Did It with the audience yelling the chorus line back to the band, fists pumping the air and the heat and sweat rising as everyone embraced the moment and threw themselves into it.
The band continued with no let-up and were clearly taking no prisoners as the dual guitars of David Winchurch and Ian Thomas swept through Send The Reaper before crowd favourite Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Dead ratcheted the tempo up to eleven.
Wondering where the band could take this, Shane decided it was time to go walkabout through the crowd before climbing onto the bar to deliver the big question, “is rock n’ roll dead?”, and quite clearly, the answer was a resounding “no”. From that point, it was back to the latest album for the set closers and encores, Man On Fire and Waiting For Me.
There is something special about the Crow’s songs. Sure, they know how to rock, but they aren’t scared to wear their hearts on their sleeves. At the moment, the U.S. has Shinedown, and the UK has the Crows. Both bands are similar in that they know how to write punchy songs with strong singalong choruses.
The band returned for two more new numbers, the softer, more sentimental This Time I’m Ready, followed up by set closer, See You Again. Something it is fair to say that most people there tonight will be doing.
So, the show ended with what was quite simply a triumphal return to London. With the Crows at the forefront of the new renaissance of British heavy rock, one thing is certain. Rock and roll is definitely not dead.
James And The Cold Gun
The second support tonight came from another South Wales band, James And The Cold Gun, the band’s name clearly taken from the Kate Bush song of the same title and played as the intro to their arrival. It has to be said that this was as close as it would come to the avant-garde prog of Bush’s material as the band ripped into a half-hour set of pure pop-punk Metal injected with copious amounts of attitude and angst.
As their T-shirts proclaimed ‘South Wales Loudest,’ they turned up the volume and tore into the first song, their recent single, Chewing Glass, with the band making it clear that they weren’t here to make up the numbers. Following that, the previous single She Moves carried on the tour-de-force providing another punchy dose of stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll.
At times there was a feel of Queens Of The Stone Age to this band, and hailing that garage mentality, they ripped into Plug Me In, which built up from a growling bass and intense drum kick before the guitars made it clear that the band were going for the throat.
Its Mutual continued the set with more screw-you attitude, showing that the band were not scared to make a point. With Cheating On The Sun followed up by Diggin’ The Grave, they showed that this band could party and, by the end, had the audience in raptures, quite clearly winning over many new fans.
Perhaps at times, there were some sound fluctuations that didn’t always help the band, but they rose over this and more than made their case. It’s fair to say that we likely haven’t heard the last of this James gang.
First up on the trilogy of Welsh bands tonight was Valhalla Awaits, though travel problems sadly meant a late arrive for photographer Eric. A band with a couple of EP’s to their name already under their belts and providing a swathe of old skool Metal with some Thrash flashes, yet adding a more modern alt-rock twist to the proceedings. They started with the new song Door Of No Return, a riff-heavy slab of Sabbath-inflected Metal, before driving into Dying Inside. Vocalist Andrew Hunt comes over as a cross between Ian Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne with his long wavy hair covering his face whilst grasping his mike stand, nodding along to the groove.
The next song, Slave, lets the two guitarists, Chris Green and Rhys Carter, rip up the stage. Building from a slide guitar intro before their heavy riffing sound, again echoing Sabbath, kicks out the jams and raises the atmosphere as more people flood into the hall. Hands raised and fists punching, it was clear that they were going down well, and Black Waters took the level to a new high.
Skin & Bone from the Reckoning E.P. continued the dual guitar attack with Andrew’s classic rock vocals calling out over the years. Inside The Sun with its Alice In Chains meets Alter Bridge feel followed before the set closer Diggin’ The Grave brought the crowd to their feet for a hard-driving end.
This is a band that has clear potential and though not scared to wear their colours on their sleeves, has enough about them to make a name for themselves.