❉ Robert Fairclough downs a double shot of muscular modern blues at The Black Heart pub in Camden.
JARED JAMES NICHOLS supported by Bad Luck Friday:
The Black Heart, Camden, Wednesday 22 February 2023
“Jared is the latest in a long, long line of musicians who’ve turned life experience into art, and his songs have extraordinary musical muscle because of that. The new songs are looser and more engagingly ragged… benefiting immensely from being played live.”
The venue upstairs at The Black Heart pub in Camden is about the size of your average London loft conversion i.e. not that large. Standing in front of the slightly raised stage, I could take one small step and be nose-to-nose with the musicians. This prosaic environment makes it all the more remarkable that famed blues guitarist Jared James Nichols has come all the way from East Troy, Wisconsin, in America to play his heart out with his note-and-beat-perfect power trio.
Jared is unquestionably the headliner, but perhaps sensing something special in the air, The Black Heart is almost full of people before the nominal support act Bad Luck Friday take the stage. It’s not surprising – this band are currently winning just about every plaudit going in the Blues mediasphere:
“Aggressive blues rock with a contemporary edge,” proclaimed Power Play, while the Metal Talk website observed, “British rock is never short of a quality new band to make you press the ‘next big thing’ button. But on the basis of [their] resonating debut album, Bad Luck Friday sound a cut above the rest.” In the nominations for the British Blues Awards of 2023, the quartet were duly singled out for ‘UK Emerging Act of the Year’.
Mixing dark subject matter and a very hard funk beat, Bad Luck Friday arguably lean more towards alternative rock, which may be why some members of the audience around me were nonplussed by the uncompromising commitment of their stage act. However, by any criteria, this band are on the way up: fast. Like all seminal groups, Bad Luck Friday have it all down – the image complements the sound, and vice versa. Visually, frontman and harmonica player Will Wilde – Kurt Cobain stare, black paramilitary fatigues, harmonicas slung in a bandolier, sash-style, across his chest – defines the musical guerrilla warfare of the band’s sound and aesthetic.
“[New single] ‘Rebel With A Cause’ is Bad Luck Friday’s unambiguous statement about Britain’s current political climate,” states the band’s guitarist Steve ‘The Beak’ Brook on their website. “Channelling Rage Against the Machine, the track’s opening riff serves as a rallying call to the disaffected, the downtrodden and jaded alike: get off your rear and get to the front! It’s big, bold and demands to be heard.”
Damn right. And any group whose guitarist’s nickname seems to be a sly dig at U2’s The Edge, has got to be worth your time.
Bad Luck Friday really are. Their sonic assault references the aforementioned Rage Against…, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, even – for the classicists out there – Led Zeppelin. In their eponymous title song, Wilde rails that he was “born on bad luck Friday / The thirteenth day of May”. Throughout their set, that misfortune bleeds into a sinister parade of witches, devils, satanic Irish spirits, dysfunctional relationships, coercive control, sado-masochism and a vampire “killer queen”. And, with Wilde taking his Seydel 1847 classic harmonicas to shrill, intense heights throughout, it all sounds bloody fantastic.
In content, latest single ‘Rebel With A Cause’ is a sit-up-and-take-notice change of intent:
I’m a rebel with a cause
My time is now
Dressed in vogue
While these streets of gold
Are filled with cardboard homes
The ability to rock hard and a visceral political conscience… No wonder Bad Luck Friday’s ascent continues to accelerate.
Mr Jared James Nichols is an engaging, broad shouldered, grinning, lion-maned bear of a man. From where I’m standing – and I’m standing right at the front – he looks at least seven feet tall. “Hello!” he thunders. “I fucking love playing London. It’s been too long, so let’s do it!” And do it he, drummer Dennis Holm and new bassist Clark Singleton emphatically do… Hendrix-style, Jared turns his back to the audience, confronts his amp and starts cranking up the riffs. He turns back, steps up to the microphone – and we’re off.
The band’s style is a straight ahead, down and dirty fuzz of guitar and hyperactive drum rolls. Jared’s guitar solos are so intense that he looks painfully emotionally committed, his facial expressions caught somewhere between ecstasy and agony. From the first song to the last, the audience are joyously onside, vocally willing Jared on. Notably, ‘Down the Drain’, from his eponymous new album, is haunted by the ghost of Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’. That’s no bad thing, as those chiming, spiralling guitar chords highlight the calibre of musical references Jared draws on – think Cream, the aforementioned Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Joe Bonamassa.
Jared’s lyrics deal with more down to earth subjects than Bad Luck Friday’s, and as a result are perhaps more relatable: fickle lovers, bad decisions, self-delusion, being broke, too much alcohol, “good times” – in short, all the pitfalls of life on the road in an internationally touring heavy blues trio. Jared is the latest in a long, long line of musicians who’ve turned life experience into art, and his songs have extraordinary musical muscle because of that. The new songs are looser and more engagingly ragged than on the 2017 album Black Magic, benefiting immensely from being played live.
Jared said at the beginning of his set that he loved playing London. If the delirious cheers and applause as he leaves the stage are anything to go by, London loves him back.
In a week or so’s time, Bad Luck Friday are playing the Legends of Rock UK Yarmageddon festival – on a Friday, appropriately – at Vauxhall Holiday Park in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. They’re on at 2.20 in the afternoon, but I guarantee you their set will leave you feeling like you’ve woken breathless from a manic, sweating, two-in-the-morning fever dream.
You’ve guessed – I can’t wait to see them again.
❉ Download or stream the self-titled album from Jared James Nichols (Black Hill Records, 2023): Listen on Spotify • Listen on Apple Music • Listen on Amazon Music
❉ Robert Fairclough is a writer, designer, photographer and sometime actor. He writes on a variety of subjects, including mental health and popular culture (sometimes both at once). Robert has written six books, contributes to magazines and websites and is a creative consultant for The Restoration Trust, an organisation that delivers ‘culture therapy’ for people with mental health issues. He can be contacted on email@example.com and his website can be viewed at robfairclough.uk
Photographs © Robert Fairclough, 2023.
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