Blackbud have played over 250 gigs...been given the nod of approval by Jimmy Page… toured the UK and Europe and shared the bill with the likes of Kaiser Chiefs, Elbow, The Bees, Editors, 22-20s, Hope Of The States, Babyshambles ….been taken under the wings of Youth, David Bottrill and Michael Eavis…been picked up by Fierce Panda…signed to Independiente….had a song in a Hollywood film….a Zane Lowe session and single of the week. Quite a start for a band just into their twenties….
This young West Country trio have a sound as prodigious as their self-made achievements. Bold, epic, soulful, emotional, intense, uplifting: Blackbud do all of these, then top it off with the soaring voice of Joe Taylor. Musically, their collective backgrounds in college bands has forged a solid but imaginative foundation upon which Taylor (guitars), Adam Newton (bass) and Sam Nadel (drums) are building big-sky rock music and becoming (as described by David Sinclair in The Times) “truly an epic band in the making”.
‘Hearing Jimi Hendrix started me wanting to play,’ says Taylor, a naturally gifted guitarist able to conjure staggering sounds from his instrument. ‘I started off having classical lessons then I learnt on my own. Then a new teacher taught me how to pay Nirvana. That got me into playing guitar for *songs* rather than style. But I still study classical and flamenco. We draw from a lot of styles of music.’
Taylor, Nadel and Newton met at school in Wiltshire. ‘It was very music-oriented,’ says Nadel. ‘We did workshops in different kinds of world music,’ says Sam. ‘The first time we played together was at college, playing jazz. That experience rubbed off on us – as soon as we met properly and started playing, we played blues, jazz and funk because that’s what we knew. That helped us stand out when we first started doing gigs.’
Deciding to form a band in December 2002, their work ethic was immediately apparent. They secured a residency in a local pub. ‘They let us do two-hour gigs’ says Taylor, ‘mostly covers, Hendrix, Bob Marley and Stevie Ray Vaughan, learning to play with each other through playing the greats over and over again. Newton: ‘That was the first in the long line of corners of pubs.’
Over the following 18 months, Blackbud gigged and gigged all over the West Country and across the UK . Even when they were struggling with exam pressure their rock’n’roll zeal saw them still playing up to three gigs a week. Songs began pouring out of Taylor, and they recorded three demo CDs.
By summer 2004 and following capacity crowds at Glastonbury Festival appearances on the New and Avalon stages, word of mouth on Blackbud and their fanbase reached the ears of London record labels. Taylor: ‘We didn’t approach anyone. At that point we had no intention of looking for a record deal – we hadn’t sent any demos to record companies. People came to us”. And indeed they did…literally. It was important the band felt, that any interested parties visit them on their home turf, an experience, recalls Nadel, that proved somewhat surreal as a steady stream of record executives ‘sped along little country lanes to my house to see us play in my shed”.
After a tour of Spain with Hope Of The States (booked on the spot after a Spanish promoter heard their demo) Blackbud eventually decided to release a one-off single with Fierce Panda, as bands from Coldplay to Keane via Idlewild had done before them. ‘Livewire EP’, recorded at Rockfield in Wales, was a taster of what was to come: the title track was a sinuous, funk-flavoured tune dreamt up by Taylor after he’d come back from a Middle Eastern holiday.
‘I wanted to write something that had a groove to it,’ says this naturally explosive guitarist, ‘and this rhythm and melody just appeared, fitting together. It all tends to come all in one go, the music and the words in one stream of poetry.’
In terms of their long-term aspirations, Blackbud opted to avoid the major label offers and sign with Independiente, a label with a proven track record for recognising a band’s long term potential and thus giving Blackbud the time to grow and develop.
May 2005 and Blackbud squirreled themselves away in Olympic Studios in south-west London with Youth, the legendary producer who, most recently, was at the helm for the comeback album of 2004, Embrace’s Out Of Nothing. Says Nadel: ‘…for a very laidback guy he gets a lot done – he’s a hard taskmaster and very inspiring.’
The first three songs the band recorded with Youth comprised their first full release in November 2005, The Heartbeat EP. Lead track ‘Heartbeat’ an intense, boiling song with a huge, squealing climax; ‘Steal Away’, a bridging song between Radiohead’s The Bends and OK Computer; ‘Corner Of The World’, a measured, intense ballad. ‘They’re all emotional songs,’ says Taylor, still young enough to feel diffident about describing the personal detail and shape of his own music, ‘powerful and heavy, or delicately crafted.’ Radio One’s Zane Lowe was quick to pick up on the band, making the ep ‘single of the week’ and inviting the band to record a live session. ‘That was a big moment for us’, says Nadel. ‘I had listened to his show for a long time and now we were on it. It made things very real’. Jo Whiley followed suit giving the band their first daytime play on Radio One.