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Three weeks ago, on a Friday night, a band that no one had ever heard of came out of nowhere and released a debut single. Before the weekend was over, they had pushed Noel Gallagher off the top of the iTunes rock charts.

The band is called Cardinal Black and the song was called Tell Me How It Feels. It was an incredible feat for a new outfit, but if you scratch a little below the surface, you quickly realize that there is more to this story and its instant popularity than it first appears.

Cardinal Black may be a new name, but not really a new band. Frontman Tom Hollister, guitarist Chris Buck and drummer Adam Roberts appeared together under the nickname The Tom Hollister Trio over a decade ago. The rigors of touring and a few creative differences eventually led to the breakup of this band, but the three remained friends and firmly in each other's musical circles. Last year's Covid restrictions gave them time, and in 2021 the trio got back together and recruited a fourth member with bassist Sam Williams.

Second, in Buck, they have a musician with a sizeable following on social media. The forced layoff gave him an opportunity to really advance his YouTube channel and weekly content, Friday Fretworks. The net result of that is 133,000 subscribers and climbing.

Buck was also recently voted "Best New Guitarist In The World" by the readers of a leading guitar magazine. Whether winning an essentially completely subjective and arbitrary online popularity contest will actually make you “the best in the world” is questionable. But what is not is that Buck is both a seriously good player and a seriously popular personality. It's the kind of combo money can't buy and the kind of advantage any new band would crawl through broken glass.

Cardinal Black Solo Challenge

This social media presence was exploited after the first single was released by opening a competition for guitarists around the world to contribute their own interpretation of the solo Buck played on it. The track minus the solo has been made available for download and the results can be found on Instagram via #CardinalBlackSoloChallenge. This link contains a warning for guitar nerds: the content is extremely addicting. There are hundreds of versions of the solo on it. The standard of play is honestly amazing and it is possible to spend hours watching them. I know.

The band, whose members are from the South Wales valleys, described their music as alt rock and with Buck in the lineup it was always guitar driven. There is also a Hammond simmering beneath the surface on the debut, but what really stands out is Hollister's vocals, which are enormous and have more soul than a bowl of jambalaya.

Cardinal Black have now released a follow-up single called Jump In, recorded by award-winning filmmaker Chris Watkins on a roof garden in Cardiff. Watkins has previously worked with Buck on solo projects and extensively with Buck's existing band, Buck & Evans.

The new song has a more mellow feel, a guitar theme that gets stuck between your ears and can't be driven away, and more of that big, delicious Hollister vocals. The capacity of his lungs is likely only matched by that of the Principality Stadium, which hugs the darkness behind the band.

So what's next for Cardinal Black? A four-track EP is planned for the near future, some Covid-dependent live dates in September / October and a debut album before the end of the year. It will be interesting to see if the most popular band that no one has ever heard of will build on their incredible opening volleys a few weeks (and ten years) after launch.

You can find Cardinal Schwarz on Facebook. The band is on Twitter as @TheCardinalBlk
and Instagram as @thecardinalblack.


All words from Simon Reed. His Musical Pictures website is here, and you can check out his authoring profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @musicalpix.


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