Nestled deep in south-east Wales lies the tiny town of Blaenavon. When jazz-infused indie band Blaenavon announced an intimate gig in the town, accompanied by Blaenavon Male Voice Choir, nobody knew quite what to expect. Having seen the name on a sign, the band ‘Thought it was a truly lovely word’, as lead singer Ben Gregory so eloquently phrased the story behind their name.
More used to seeing community theatre productions than gigs, Blaenavon Working Men’s Club is most definitely an intimate venue. Despite tickets not having sold out, the bustling atmosphere saw the crowd eager with anticipation, with many people arriving early. From devoted fans to curious locals, from 6-year-old children to over 70s, curiosity and excitement united the audience. Support was provided by Cardiff-based soft rockers Boy Azooga, and Jen Long’s DJ sets between acts got everyone dancing.
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As Blaenavon entered the stage, the expectant tension in the atmosphere reached a new level. Having built a reputation for intense live sets, their beautiful yet macabre songs are truly unique, taking the listener on a ‘musical and emotional journey’. All three members have a captivating stage presence that is endearingly earnest yet enigmatic. Every note, every lyric, and every beat clearly holds deep meaning; this passion is projected into the crowd, allowing a fleeting glance into the story behind the song. Frank Wright’s funk-fuelled bass riffs rendered the crowd unable to stay still, whilst Harris McMillan’s rolling rhythms and Ben Gregory’s captivating performance as front-man showed a level of professionalism rarely seen in a band so new. Similarly to the juxtaposition of the up-beat melody but dark lyrics of ‘Let’s Pray’, the professional and musically tight nature of the performance clashed beautifully with the humble and light-hearted demeanour of the band.
One thing that became apparent over the course of the evening was just how down to earth the band are. From staying in the local pub, to visiting Pwll Mawr, to inviting fans to join them on stage mid-performance, there was an almost celebratory feel to the entirety of the night, with Blaenavon just as thrilled to be there as the audience. With Ben wearing a Welsh rugby jersey in place of his usual red jumpsuit, it was clear that the band had fully embraced the culture of their namesake town.
Following a stunning set featuring the majority of album ‘That’s Your Lot’, the trio triumphantly left the stage. Following cries from the audience, they shortly reappeared, knowing grins in tow. The back curtains parted, revealing Blaenavon Male Voice Choir filling the stage behind the band, accompanying a stunning version of ‘Swans’. Pausing to address the crowd, Ben remarked ‘Blaenavon… All I can say is I’m glad we weren’t called Scunthorp’. A guitar-led rendition of ‘Hen Wlan Fy Nhadau’ brought the audience to their feet, and the night to a stunning conclusion.
‘That’s Your Lot’ is available now via Transgressive Records and Canvasback Music.
Photograph taken by Theodore Swaddling