Jack J. Hutchinson Band

Thursday 3rd February 2022

O2 Academy Islington, London

One of the few brighter aspects of the past couple of years has been the rising profiles of some of the hard working small groups on the Blues and Rock circuit. One such band is Jack J. Hutchinson’s, a three piece outfit which has blazed a trail on social media, gigged whenever possible (including tours of Spain and Brazil) and regularly released new recordings (signed, packaged and posted by Jack himself in most cases).

It is clear from both their playing and their on stage humour that the three band members have developed a musical and personal closeness, while the unofficial fourth member of the ensemble, merch supremo Johnny Deller, is often treated to the loudest audience response when introduced from the stage.

The result of these endeavours is a loyal following, which is doubtless the envy of many other bands. Although many of those fans would have heard the songs from his latest album ‘The Hammer Falls’ played live on a pre-Christmas tour (including a London show at the Old Black Heart in Camden), they were back out in force for the delayed official album launch in Islington.

Those in attendance were rewarded by hearing the songs in a bigger room with a higher ceiling and much better acoustics than smaller venues like the OBH. The improvement in the sound was stark from the outset, as the band barely resisted the temptation to play the album in its entirety (perhaps they’ll do that 20 years from now on their Greatest Hits Tour! lol) and set things rolling with four numbers in exactly the order in which they open the album.

‘Straight To Hell’, ‘The Hammer Falls’, ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Angel Of Death’ were all played on Jack’s trusty Les Paul, before he put his newer Viking V through its paces for the next handful of songs. He stayed with the new album for the single ‘Call Of The Wild’, ‘Gunslinger’ and ‘World On Fire’, the last of which was also released as a single way back in 2020. Although the band’s heavier new sound is more often likened to Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, these songs also reminded me a little of the musical energy generated at The Who’s live shows.

All of which served as a prelude to the highlight of the set, a stunning extended take on Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’. I’ve heard the band play this before, both in person and on disc (it appears on volumes 2 and 3 of Jack’s Live Bootleg series of CDs, both issued in 2020), but this version took it to another level. There was plenty of audience participation, both singing and clapping, as Jack’s soaring vocals paved the way for (in this punter’s humble opinion) his most impressive guitar solo on the night. Drummer Felipe Amorim enjoyed his wildest moments on this song too, while bassist Lazarus Michaelides worked overtime to keep things anchored. Wonderful stuff!

(As a side issue, it is still my vain hope that Jack will one day prove that the words and music to ‘War Pigs’ are interchangeable with the Christmas carol ‘Deck The Halls…’ I’m not sure if I’m looking forward more to “’Tis the season to be jolly…” sung with Heavy Metal backing or to a festive “Just like witches at black masses, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la…”! Anyway, I digress…)

The Viking V was also to the fore during the well received, but as yet unrecorded ‘Written In The Stars’, before the brief acoustic interlude of ‘I Will Follow You’. Released on 2019’s ‘Who Feeds The Wolf’, most of Jack’s followers know that this song is very special and personal to him, having been written about his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, so it was disappointing that one or two in the audience immediately behind me couldn’t manage a brief respectful pause in their conversation.

The Les Paul then returned for two songs from 2017’s ‘Paint No Fiction’ album, ‘Deal With The Devil’ and ‘Rattlesnake Woman’, the latter being a popular fan request. The new single ‘Halo’ meant that only one song (‘The Ravens Crow’) from ‘The Hammer Falls’ was absent from the night’s setlist.

For the final couple of numbers we were treated to not only the return of the Viking V, but also the presence of a second guitarist in the person of Ani Savvides. ‘What Doesn’t Kill You (Only Makes You Stronger)’ from the new album might neatly sum up the band’s response to events of the past two years, while ‘Sleep, Awake, Obey!’ (from ‘Who Feeds The Wolf’) ably fulfilled its role as the sing-along before closing time!

It was really good to hear the new songs played so well and in a room with decent acoustics, although I still hope the enthusiastic reception for the heavier sound will not draw Jack permanently or too far away from the Blues which first drew many of us to his playing (in my case, back in 2014). Only time will tell, but for now it’s definitely a case of onwards and upwards for one of the hardest working bands out there.

Setlist:

Straight To Hell*; The Hammer Falls*; Down By The River*; Angel Of Death*; Call Of The Wild*; Gunslinger*; World On Fire*; War Pigs; Written In Stone; I Will Follow You; Deal With The Devil; Rattlesnake Woman; Halo*; What Doesn’t Kill You*; Sleep, Awake, Obey!

(*New songs from ‘The Hammer Falls’ album, which was officially launched at this gig).

Gary Smith