You could be forgiven for not knowing the name The Black Skies, as they are brand new. Formed during lockdown by two old school buddies; guitarist Luke Falkingham and singer James Handley, the York based duo were quickly picked up by Northern indie record label Bad Dog Records and taken under the wing of producer Paul Gorry. They describe their sound as a melancholy mix of rock & soul with metal influences, and follow up two previous single releases with their third single ‘Come And Get Me’.
Now bolstered to a 5-piece band, including Luke’s Pariah bandmate Tom on drums, they have amassed a small local following and refined their sound. And riding on some healthy YouTube hits, anticipation is high for their debut, hometown show.

Following the funky psychedelia of Tommy Rot, with their early Chili Peppers/surfer dude vibes and the highly entertaining rapper Keon, the room is warmed up, and it’s getting pretty full.
Following ‘Easy Lover’ blasting through the PA, the band shuffle on to great cheers. Yes, they have the backing of friends and family here tonight, but can they deliver the expectation and match the quality of their tunes in a live setting? They open proceedings with the debut single ‘Unchained’. The band are tight, all in matching black shirts, they look good, the singer sealing the deal with his trademark festival cowboy hat, and as soon as James Handley opens his mouth and those dulcet tones match those on record…all is alright in the world.

The lad has never sung in front of a crowd, so nerves are to be expected, and while his banter is minimal and his mannerisms staid, that voice overpowers the whole lot. ‘Unchained’ is the most laid back and soulful of their released material, a mix of Hozier and Shawn James. The crowd seem to know it, identify with the themes of small-town angst and as the final notes ring out, the band are drowned by the cheers and hollering from the room.

With the nerves and anxiety subsiding, the singer’s confidence grows with the help of the guys around him who have the live experience. The rhythm section is tight and the guitars of Luke and Benny shine through. In fact, the guitar duo seems to be having the time of their lives up there, smiling and going for it.

The unreleased ‘Astronaut’ follows. With a proper ear worm of a chorus refrain, it must surely be a future single, it has commercial appeal and by the reaction of the audience down the front, it is an instant tune.

Of course, when you’re a new band with unfamiliar material you gotta stick a couple of covers in there and The Black Skies have chosen well. I’ve seen a good few bands do Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ live, never have I seen it done this well and not with the reaction these boys got. Fair play, what confidence they have! They build it nicely, rip some solos, bring it down, creating a good ebb and flow like seasoned pros. Yet, a side glance from the guitarists shows their surprise and approval, as their singer hits those notes.
The Black Skies songs are a contemporary mix of soulful rock, blues and hints of country. There are grungy undertones that emanate more so in this live setting, in fact I am getting full on Alice In Chains vibes off of these lads. In part this is due to James. The contrast of the animated band going for it and his stick-thin torso just stood there, clutching a mic stand as if it is the only thing holding him up, just works. They look like a band, they sound like a band and above all they have the songs to match.
‘Save My Soul’ is a six minute plus bluesy workout with Slash inspired wah-wah solos and a great live groove, it sounds great. Set closer and latest single ‘Come And Get Me’ has the ability to work the crowd into an almost metal band frenzy. They even created a circle pit in The Crescent tonight. James teases and bribes the crowd with signed set list posters if they pre-order the song on iTunes. And guess what? It must’ve worked as they charted at number 8 on the iTunes rock charts the next day!

They encore with a punky and raw version of Nirvana’s ‘Lounge Act’. While it may not be ideal fit for James’ voice, it still goes down a treat with those moshing at the front.

Times are tougher than ever for small bands; venues are closing and bands are folding as they simply cannot afford to tour or even record. The future may look grim for live music, but quality live artists are still out there fighting for your attention and I’m happy to say The Black Skies are one such band.
It’s rare to be impressed by a brand new band live and even rarer for it to be a local one. The Black Skies have something good going on with a sound that crosses genres and has mass appeal, and I look forward to seeing them gain momentum, and make friends and influence people next year. This could be just the beginning of something special.


Author: Ben Hughes

Photo credit Suzi Harrison