The story of Blaenavon’s debut album might be quite easily told: three teenage friends who entered a school talent contest, posted their songs online, and sprawled their way through early gigs, gathering a devoted fanbase and critical acclaim as they went. A band who, after the juggle of exams, EPs, record company attention, have finally delivered a debut album that is sumptuous and thrilling and brave.
But it is also a story of a more complicated time, a coming of age of sorts, of 12 intensely personal songs that explore friendship, sadness, hope, love held and lost, and all the confusions of youth in a world that is slowly revealing itself. And perhaps more than any of this, it is a story of a band that stand many feet taller than their peers, a band to help define a generation, whose songs provide the anthems for this time.
To see Blaenavon live is to be struck by a sense of invincibility, and even at their earliest shows — even when they played their first London gig at the Barfly in 2012, they were infused with that same pluck and spirit: “We weren’t scared,” McMillan says. “We didn’t really rehearse, we just rocked up, had a couple of illicit pints and four minutes before we went on stage thought ‘Shit, what songs are we going to play?’ and wrote a setlist out."
Blaenavon are a different band now to the one they were at the beginning. No longer slapdash schoolkids making it all up as they go along, they have an ambition and sense of purpose now, a desire to go further, bigger, better than before. In this collection of songs, in their stunning live shows, the sheer force of this band seems undeniable. And in Gregory, it is impossible not to see the kindling of one of rock’s great frontmen, an artist coming to recognise his band is destined to be something special.