Emerging from London’s vibrant Windmill scene with their debut album For the first time, Black Country, New Road quickly made inroads as ones to watch in 2021. The album brought an eclectic influence spanning genres and winning critical acclaim across the board, garnering support from both fans and critics, the album was also shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.
Second album Ants From Up There quickly followed on 3rd Feb 2022, landing at #3 in the UK Albums Chart – their second Top 5 UK album debut in 12 months. The record was once again lauded by fans and critics alike, gaining numerous 5* reviews and went on to appear on end of year lists across the globe, including being voted #1 by fans on r/indieheads, Rate Your Music and #3 by Pitchfork readers. All of this despite being released just days after frontman Isaac Woods announced his decision to step away from the band.
Fresh from the success of Ants From Up There, with a full touring schedule ahead of them in 2023, the band, now as a six-piece, remaining members Lewis Evans, May Kershaw, Georgia Ellery, Luke Mark, Tyler Hyde and Charlie Wayne decided to write an entire new set of material to perform. They played to swelling crowds at festivals, including triumphant performances at Primavera, Green Man and Fuji Rock, entering a new musical phase as they navigated and developed songs that were just weeks old. They also toured the US with black midi and headlined two sold-out shows in New York.
As the songs continued to develop on the road they decided to avoid conventional next steps. People waiting on new material have eight new, excellent songs to hear, but not in the way they might have expected. “We didn’t want to do a studio album,” says BC, NR pianist May Kershaw, who is one of the three band members, along with saxophonist Lewis Evans and bassist Tyler Hyde, now taking on vocal duties. “We wrote the new tracks specifically to perform live, so we thought it might be a nice idea to put out a performance.”
The result is a filmed live performance, directed by Greg Barnes, that took place over three nights at London’s Bush Hall. “It’s about capturing the moment,” says Evans. “A little time capsule of these eight months that we’ve had playing these songs on the road.”
In typical BC, NR fashion, the idea of doing a filmed live performance in a tired and predictable way held little appeal. “We had concerns from live sessions we’ve seen or done in the past,” says guitarist Luke Mark. “They are very obviously clumped together visually from multiple performances. That can take you out of the performance and make it seem artificial and like it’s not actually live. So we came up with the idea to make the three nights look visually distinct from one another. To scratch the idea of trying to disguise anything. We wanted it to be very honest and let people know that we had three goes at it. This isn’t just us playing the whole thing non-stop.”
Each night has its own distinct theme and aesthetic inspired by amateur dramatic performances, based around school plays, a pastoral scene and a haunted pizza parlour called, yes, I Ain’t Alfredo No Ghosts. There’s even an end of school prom party. “We came up with fake plays,” says Evans. “And wrote a fake synopsis, dressed as the characters, and made programmes and sets for each play. It was really exciting and made it a lot more fun.”
They also enlisted friends and fans to help. Some helped make things, including mucking in to paint and build the sets for each night, while others were given cameras or instructed to shoot phone footage. All of this has then been put together to create a distinct visual language that weaves in and out of styles, timelines, narratives and perspectives. “We thought: if we’re gonna do a film, then make it personable,” says Mark. “And a lot of our fans, especially when we were putting this stuff together, played a huge part in spreading the songs which meant that people could listen to them without us putting them out in the first place. It felt good to do the film in a way that involved the people who’ve been vital to keeping the whole thing afloat.”
It also means the feel of the film has the ability to transport viewers into the pulsing heart of the gig, often at crowd level. “It makes you feel a lot more like you’re there,” says Evans. “When you see, like, I don’t know, John Mayer at the Nokia Ballroom or whatever, it just looks like you could never ever be there. These things seem so inaccessible. But this is like you’re literally in the room.”
While this is a platform for the band’s excellent new music, this is first and foremost a film the band stresses. “We want the focal point to be this film,” says Wayne. “We’ve put a lot of effort into making it feel like you’re watching a live gig. It’s not an album in our eyes, it’s a live performance.”