LIVE: Black Foxxes @ The Portland Arms, Cambridge

By Yasmin Brown

There’s truly nothing more exciting than watching something so undeniably extraordinary unfurl before your eyes, and tonight’s show at this local pub venue in Cambridge offers exactly that. From the moment they take to the stage, Mark Holley and his friends are not just performing – they’re basking in every silent moment and feeling every note that’s played, letting it build up inside them as the line between reality and surreality blurs. You can see it in this small audience too. When the music is soft and delicate you could hear a pin drop so silent is the crowd, eyes closed, drinking it in even during the silences. 

By far the most magical piece of this whole evening, though, is Holley’s voice. An instrument in itself, he captures the attention of everyone in the room seemingly without trying, the softest of whispers feeling just as powerful as the loudest, most raucous moments. And make no mistake, Black Foxxes are gold medalists when it comes to crescendo – using this technique to drive the live show and executing it to euphoric perfection. It’s a technique that’s supported by the use of clever lighting – either blindingly bright or almost pitch black, it reflects the juxtaposition of the sound expertly, bringing everything together to create a faultless show. 

A man of few words, Holley only speaks two or three times across the night, expressing gratitude to those of us in the crowd and to his bandmates – in particular the “loveliest chap” and stand-in bassist whose birthday it just so happens to be. These interactions are short but important, as they give an insight into the person behind the songs we love so much – the songs that have carried us through heartbreak, anxiety, loneliness… When he spills water all over his setlist, you realise that while his songs are poetry, he’s just a normal millennial like the rest of us. 

Tonight’s one complaint is that tonight’s set is short – too short given the extent of this band’s incredible discography – but Holley and his friends pack as much as they possibly can into less than an hour. Highlights come in the form of ‘Oh, It Had to Be You’ – a fan favourite since the band’s sophomore record ‘Reiði’ was released back in 2018 and one that sees tears streaming down many faces if you glance around the room – and the acoustic and haunting ‘Molten Light’. No song stands out, however, quite as much as the night’s closer, ‘Badlands’, from the band’s most recent and self-titled record. Holley’s voice excels here but it’s his guitar that really shines as he relentlessly shreds for over eight and a half minutes and it would be no surprise if his fingers are left bleeding from his efforts. 

Black Foxxes are truly phenomenal. Phenomenal songwriters, performers, musicians. Their live shows are rare in that their fans really are there for the music; there’s no heckling and no circle pits this evening but every person in attendance is simply entranced by what is happening in front of them, of what is floating through their ears. It’s hard to put into words just how special tonight has been, it can only be felt – in the weight that’s lifted off your chest and in the air you can finally breathe, in the tears that roll down your cheeks – but make no mistake, this is a band that should be at the top of your list of priorities for 2022. You can thank us later.