– Academy 2, Manchester –

Back in 2015, Black Honey headlined the first gig I reviewed in my thirties. They were playing a free show, to only a handful of people, at Manchester’s Castle Hotel. In the six years since they’ve hugely grown their fanbase, a prediction it was not hard to make in my review of that show, and released two albums that have entered the UK Album Charts. Tonight sees them across town at Academy 2.

My evening begins with a brand new aspect of gig-going. As I try to enter the building, I’m stopped by security until I can prove I’ve had a couple of jabs to the arm to protect me from a virus that’s been doing the rounds. Following a little hiccup with an NHS app that was experiencing technical difficulties, I finally get in and make my way to the bar on the ground floor of the student union. There’s a lot of buzz around, with new students and attendees for three different shows happening in the building all gearing up for their evening. Shortly before the first band of my night I make my way up to the venue. I get in at the second attempt, the first staircase I walk up, a staircase I’ve walked up many times before, is now “Exit only” and I have to go back down and instead enter via the spiral staircase in the foyer.



First on stage is ARXX, they enter in matching white boiler suits, with the band name on the back and each of the duo having their own name on the front, proper work attire. Starting with an explosion of noise, they confidently progress through a set with a good variety of songs, something that isn’t always achieved by an outfit with just two musicians. By the time the crowd is requested to sing the “I would” backing vocals of one of their songs, the pair look in their element and seem to turn the energy up another notch. It’s an impressively full sound from a 2-piece and hugely enjoyable to watch.

As the set ends, drummer Clara Townsend jumps up from behind her drum kit to embrace Hanni Pidduck centre-stage, before they quickly start clearing their own gear from the stage to make way for the next act.

Phoebe Green

Phoebe Green

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Manchester native Phoebe Green, taking to the stage dressed all in cream, save for a black bra on show through her open top. Her 4-piece backing band dressed all in black, other than a couple of white shirts. The attire coordination is sadly the peak of the band’s cohesion. There is way too much low end noise throughout the set, it felt quite sloppy without any real thought to arrangement. With so much being played all at once, it was difficult to even make out the vocals. Academy 2 is a bit like a big box, so it can be unkind to sounds, but whatever the reason, it wasn’t an enjoyable half hour for me.

The size of the audience has been slowly increasing throughout the night. As we approach time for Black Honey to appear it’s not packed-to-the-rafters full, but it can’t be too far off. When they arrive quarter of an hour after the posters around the venue suggested they would there is great anticipation to get going. They walk out to Lizzo’s ‘Truth Hurts’, the words “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch” happily chanted along by a section of the crowd. With instruments in hand and pounding drums from the back of the stage ‘I Like the Way You Die’ gets heads nodding and arms and drinks immediately raised in the air.

There’s little hesitation between songs, ‘All My Pride’ and ‘Beaches’ quickly follow to a happy if slightly subdued audience, it is after all likely the first time at a gig in quite a while for most. Singer and guitarist Izzy B Phillips emphasises this point addressing the crowd for the first time, we had to go through lockdown so that “we can be together now”. Together we were, as ‘Corrine’ sparked the first mass sing-along of the night.

Black Honey Live at Manchester Academy 2

Black Honey

For the first time without a guitar in hand, Phillips takes the microphone off its stand and jumps around the stage while singing ‘Back of the Bar’. The set keeps progressing at high speed with ‘Baby’ and ‘Madonna’ next.

There’s a brief moment of crowd interaction before ‘I Do it To Myself’, taken from the latest album ‘Written & Directed’ which rose to number seven on the UK Album Chart. Phillips dedicates the song to “everyone who helped get an unsigned band into the top ten”. I was completely unaware that Black Honey are not signed to a label. The label cited on their album releases, Foxfive Records, does appear to only have released Black Honey recordings, I guess it must be the band in disguise.

It’s striking how Phillips’s voice can switch from delicate and light to a screaming rock howl with seemingly little effort. In that first review of my thirties I mentioned earlier, I described it as “effortless and full of attitude all at the same time” and it remains the case. ‘Somebody Better’ and ‘Summer 92’ are next in the set. Phillips again references the barren year and a half for live music, “Did you think it might never happen?”

‘Deep’ and ‘Believer’ come before the “women to the front” portion of the gig, a regular feature of Black Honey shows of the last few years where women are encouraged to go forward and men asked to let them pass. Not feeling safe at a gig is not something I’ve had much experience with and I’m 100% behind anything that can make gigs a joyful place for everyone. ‘Fire’ is the song the gig resumes with in the new arrangement, complete with its jazz trumpet sound that seems to be coming from the guitar.

The room falls pretty close to silent as the opening sounds of ‘Spinning Wheel’ greet the air. It’s one of the first Black Honey songs I remember hearing and by the reaction in the room to its beginning, I’m not alone in rating it as one of my favourites. The first few quiet lines are sung, there’s a suspenseful pause, the silence is filled with cheers, guitar, scream, crowd goes wild. For the first time in the evening a mosh pit forms for the remainder of the song, though it actually forms behind me at the back of the congregation.

Black Honey

Black Honey

We’re nearing the end, the last three songs ‘Hello Today’, ‘Disinfect’ and ‘Run For Cover’ all receive huge and entirely deserved receptions. The last of those sees Phillips climb off the stage and lean over the barrier into the crowd while singing. Once the song, and therefore set, is over, Phillips abandons her microphone and turns her leaning into surfing as she is lifted, albeit briefly, over the heads of the front few rows. She returns to the safety of the stage and walks off as ‘Saturday Night’ by Whigfield plays in the room with the screaming feedback of the discarded guitar still going on underneath it. I was clearly not paying enough attention to my surroundings as I almost got hit in the face by an enthusiastic arm after a large number of people spontaneously started doing the choreographed dance routine for the song.

And so back into the relatively mild Manchester night I go, leaving down the spiral staircase, now freed from its entrance only classification. It’s been a night of the kind so many have missed, complete with its high energy and even some matching outfits. Black Honey remain an accomplished live outfit and there’s little doubt in my mind they will continue to draw crowds in increasing numbers.

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Adam Smith

Silent Radio Editor-in-chief. Watching excellently crafted live music is one of the great pleasures I get to enjoy. Having too often seen excellent bands fail to garner the attention I believe they deserve, I'm here to spread the good word of the under-appreciated musical performer. I encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same. Get in touch if you'd like to do that here.