From Digbeth to Royal Albert Hall: Black Stone Cherry relive early days in Birmingham before Resorts World gig

EXCLUSIVE: BirminghamWorld speaks to American rock band Black Stone Cherry ahead of their concert at Resorts World Arena - and discovers they have many memories of playing at Barfly on Digbeth High Street

Stateside rockers Black Stone Cherry are one of America’s biggest bands, headlining festivals and selling out stadia worldwide – but the success story began thousands of miles from home … in a tiny club in Birmingham.

Back in October 2007, the Kentucky band was battling to break big when they turned up to play for a hundred or so people in the sweaty surrounds of Digbeth’s now defunct Barfly. It was, recalls guitarist Ben Wells, the Brummie night that changed their lives.

And, as Black Stone Cherry prepare for a dynamic double-headliner with The Darkness on Tuesday (January 31) at Resorts World Arena, Ben says that the club gig was not just the springboard for success but also the start of an enduring love affair with Birmingham.

“The atmosphere was so electric in there,” he says. “We knew from then on that Birmingham was always going to be special to us. Every show on the tour was great but that one was on another level. It felt like there was a pent-up electricity between us and the audience.

“It was from that gig that word of mouth began to spread. We just happened to catch on so quickly in the UK – earlier than anywhere else – then people back home in the US started to take notice. They were asking ‘What’s going on with Black Stone Cherry? The UK loves ‘em!

“We formed a very special bond with the UK audience, and with Birmingham fans in particular, and we take that very, very seriously. Who’d have dreamed back in the Barfly that we’d one day be headlining our own show at the Royal Albert Hall?”

Blackstone Cherry

In the close on 15 years since that Barfly barnstormer, the band has returned to play Birmingham, and Donnington’s Download Festival, no fewer than SIXTEEN times, playing just about every size of venue the city has to offer. It is a remarkable record.

When the time came to record a live album for global release in 2015, they chose Birmingham’s then LG Arena for the project, and titled it ‘Thank You: Livin’ Live’. And it’s to the same venue, now Resorts World Arena, that they’ll return next week.

“That’s cool,” says Ben. “I didn’t realise it was the same place because of the name change but it’ll be awesome to be back there. When we made the live album we chose Birmingham because from the Barfly, to the Academy, to the arenas, the city has always treated us right.

“A little further afield we’ve played Download a whole load of times now, from starting down the bill to twice headlining the second stage, and to going on immediately before Guns N’ Roses last time. It’s always an amazing experience to play there.”

Black Stone Cherry

But then perhaps it was inevitable, given Birmingham’s legacy as the birthplace of hard rock and heavy metal. Ben recalls listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest as he was growing up and starting out as a musician.

“Those are the bands that carved the way not only for us but also for so many other bands,” says Ben. “I would be afraid to think of a musical world without them in it because they really did set a blueprint for us. They inspired us, and still inspire us to this day. They’re timeless. That’s something we aspire to. We’d love to be seen as a timeless rock and roll band.”

And on Tuesday night, there’s likely to be homage to another of Birmingham’s famous sons. Black Stone Cherry covered ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down on their last studio album, The Human Condition, and they plan to play it live in the birthplace of Jeff Lynne. “Yes, we’ve been thinking about that,” says Ben. “I don’t want to say too much but we definitely plan on playing that song, for sure.”

Black Stone Cherry at the Royal Albert Hall

There will, says Ben, be healthy competition between Black Stone Cherry and The Darkness given the double-headliner status. The bands have become firm friends over the years, and first shared a Download main stage bill back in 2011.

“They want to win over our fans, and we want to win over their fans,” explains Ben. “Every band wants to put on the best show possible whether you’re a headliner, co-headline or support. We want to go out there and give it our absolute all.

“We’re hoping that we might have some collaborations between the bands on the night. It’s certainly been discussed and we’ll have to see what’s possible. We’ll both play around an hour and 15 minutes, and who knows what else might happen?”