Blues Music

Jared James Nichols, The Black Heart, London, UK

Photo: Jared James Nichols by Ellie Rogers

Gig Review: Jared James Nichols
Support from Bad Luck Friday

The Black Heart, London, UK
Wednesday 22 February 2023

By Ellie Rogers

Ripping through countries like the blues rock tornado he is, Jared James Nichols returned to international touring this February in support of his self-titled third album. Sandwiched between appearances in Paris and Las Vegas, he touched down on UK soil for just long enough to play one sold out show on Wednesday 22 February at The Black Heart – a rough and ready rock n’ roll institution in, ahem, the heart of London’s Camden Town.

With a full house right and a playlist full of classic rock bangers pumping through the sound system, things are looking promising for a night of good old fashioned, turn-it-up-to-eleven guitar music.

First up on the bill is Brighton-based four-piece Bad Luck Friday. Led by critically acclaimed harmonica player, Will Wilde (who rocks a bandolier stuffed with at least seven different harps), the band takes to the stage at 8pm sharp, launching into a furious rendition of ‘Jealous Woman’ from their 2022 eponymous debut record.

Bad Luck Friday, band photo

Photo: Bad Luck Friday by Ellie Rogers

Wilde proves his wicked blues harp chops by throwing his head back and letting out a succession of absolutely primal howls while the band breaks into their stride, hammering out the main groove underneath. As a unit, they’re tight, confident and very, very loud.

It’s not long before the charismatic Wilde is standing atop the monitors to sing and play. Just behind him, guitarist Steve Brook headbangs with gusto and the band accelerates through a barrage of hard-rocking original songs.

A handful of tunes in, an already drenched Wilde jokes with the crowd that it’s “getting a bit hot up here”, and it is indeed one of those wonderfully jam-packed, low-ceiling gigs where it takes very little time to build up a heady atmosphere if the crowd are really feeling the music.

Closing out their set with a thunderous track called ‘Mistress’ – complete with harmonica histrionics – Wilde and co have done a top job of warming up the crowd, musically speaking and otherwise.

In the break between sets, the crowd scrunches forward in anticipation of the main man himself. Striding onto the stage with a big grin and clutching ‘Dorothy’ – a heavily battered 1952 Gibson Les Paul that earned its name after surviving being swept up in a tornado – Jared James Nichols is joined by drummer Dennis Holm and bassist Diego Edsel.

After a quick check-in with the crowd to see if they’re “ready to rock n’ roll” (to which they answer is a de facto “hell yes”), Nichols makes a beeline straight to his Blackstar full stack – which stands just about as tall as he does – and, with his back to the crowd, starts conjuring up a thick fog of feedback guitar sounds to kick off the show.

With a quick glance between band members that seems to translate as “ready guys?,” the trio motors right into ‘Bad Roots’ from Nichols’ latest record. After a couple of brooding verses and an anthemic chorus or two, Nichols unleashes a furiously fast solo that races across the full length of the fretboard. But, he isn’t the kind of player who simply shoots for maximum notes-per-second. Even this first glimpse of what Nichols can do with 32 or so empty bars to fill is quite an education.

Every flesh-to-string contact yields pure soul and a tone so spectacularly good that it really has to be heard to be believed. Sure, he has a really nice guitar, some expensive amps and Tube Screamer at his feet, but this is a guitar tone that cannot be bought, bottled or sold.

Next up comes crowd pleaser, ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, also from the latest record. It’s a characteristically feel-good romp with a relentless Tony Iommi-esque riff and a chorus built for singing along, which the crowd is more than willing to do.

Jared James Nichols, The Black Heart, London, UK, photo

Photo: Jared James Nichols by Phil Honley

Holm and Edsel make for a mighty rhythm section and it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to the great power trios of the sixties and seventies – particularly as Edsel rocks an SG bass à la Jack Bruce in the days of Cream.

Things take a turn for the grungier next with ‘Down The Drain’ – Nichols’ latest single and one which takes its sonic cue from the alt-rock bands of the ‘90s and early 2000s that he grew up listening to. It still comes complete with a face melting solo, which Nichols performs while looming over the crowd from atop the monitors while wielding Dorothy like a deadly weapon. It’s abundantly clear that he’s having a good time, and so is everybody else in the – now even sweatier – room.

Following in quick succession come monster tunes like ‘Hard Wired’ and ‘Shadow Dancer’. The first of these is defined by a particularly wild improvised guitar excursion, in which Nichols manipulates his sustain with such mastery that he’s able to play full licks without even striking the strings with his right hand. Some incredible Roy-Buchanan-on-steroids style volume swells complete an astounding solo and more squawks of pure danger from his amp confirm that Nichols truly should be christened Lord of The Feedback.

Aptly, during ‘Good Time Girl’, Nichols himself seems to be having one hell of a good time, as he takes a trip into the centre of the crowd to melt faces on a more one-to-one basis. All throughout, his curly blonde mane can be seen bobbing above the heads of the rest of the crowd, before he makes his way back to band and stage just in time to belt out a last round of the song’s catchy chorus.

While Nichols’ six-string prowess might demand most of the attention most of the time, his superb and oh so gravelly singing voice gets its first real chance to shine against the sparser instrumentation of ‘Threw Me To The Wolves’. It’s a succinct and perfectly formed track with a soulful Southern rock feel that also showcases Nichols’ sometimes overlooked talent for penning great original songs and memorable, hooky vocal refrains.

As the set burns to a close with more crowd favourites like the dark and stormy ‘Nails In The Coffin’, the Hendrixian wah-fest that is ‘Skin n’ Bone’ and an instant chant-along cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, there’s no doubt that Nichols really is in the finest form of his life right now.

If you’ve heard the latest record, you might find it hard to imagine more highly charged performances than those Nichols, Holm and Edsel captured live to tape at Nashville’s legendary Blackbird Studios during the recording session. But, live on stage, Nichols takes things up more than a few notches and goes nuclear – feeding off the crowd’s energy to deliver electrifying performance after electrifying performance. He’s a captivating showman, an accomplished vocalist and a truly spectacular guitar player.

Jared James Nichols’ upcoming tour dates and tickets can be found Here

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