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Kris Barras Band + Buffalo Summer + Jack J Hutchinson

Saturday 23rd February 2019

The Garage, London

The Garage in North London has an interesting history, it was originally built as one of the Temperance Billiard Halls - an organisation devoted to tempting young men away from booze using the power of billiards. In the sixties it was the hangout for The Highbury Mob who formed a good part of The Mods that you may have heard about in Quadrophenia. Well, tonight it’s not Mods but Rockers and temperance has gone out the window in favour of beer as we’re determined to have a night of Blues and booze. Now if you live in London and you go to gigs there’s no avoiding Jack J Hutchinson - he’s the hardest working Blues-man here. It seems every single day he’s either playing a gig or at one. He’s a permanent fixture at the Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues bar and he’s been grafting around doing support slots for some years now. The 600 capacity Garage is is certainly the biggest stage I’ve seen him on and he’s here tonight with his rather excellent power trio featuring Luke Lazarus Michaelides on bass and “The Beast From Brazil” - Felipe Amorim behind the kit. Love the new hat Jack BTW. The set tonight is mostly from Jack’s last solo album 'Paint No Fiction' from a couple of years ago. Amazingly it’s his 11th release counting singles and EP's. Not bad for 36 eh? He makes Joe Bonamassa look like a slacker. I say “solo album” as Jack is also a member of RHR - a triple guitar three headed beast comprised of Jack, Troy Redfern and Mike Ross who dropped the rather excellent 'Mahogany Drift' album on us and toured to support it last year. Hopefully we’ll see more action from them later this year. Meanwhile tonight Jack opens with 'Hip Slickin' and - wow! - he’s sounding the best I’ve ever heard him on this nice big PA. "How the fuck are you London?" He says to his adopted home town. We’re great, thanks Jack - and so are you. 'Written In Stone' is next which ups the Rock factor a notch or too - and Laz has adopted a mean scowl like a dog that’s just seen a postman. These guys are sounding enormous tonight. We’re treated to a couple of new songs - 'Lucky Man' and 'Piece Of Mind' from Jack’s forthcoming album - yet more skilful Southern-Rock soaked Bluesy wonderfulness. Before the smiles fades from those two we get a fantastic cover of Peter Green’s 'Oh Well' - I know what you’re thinking - every bugger does that one - but this band’s version is something special. Jack’s solo at the end is a break-neck shred-fest that old Peter never even dreamed of. The set’s rounded off with two more originals - 'Deal With The Devil' and 'Rattlesnake Woman' both of which make the Black Crowes sound like pussies. Maybe it’s because it’s a home crowd but I reckon Jack has pulled some extra magic out of the ether tonight - his vocals are stronger, his solos are fluid and fantastic and the band is as tight as The Highbury Mob were when the cops came. Maybe that’s what you get for doing a zillion gigs - you just get better and better. It worked for The Beatles in Hamburg - they were quite good after gigging 7 days a week for 2 years. Before they pop off, Jack wants a shot of the audience - he says he’s been taking shots of Kris’s audience on every this tour and pretending they’re HIS audience. Well Jack, quite a lot us are here to see YOU just as equally as the headline so it’s a pleasure to hold the beer up and be counted.

Set list:
Hip Slickin’
Written In Stone
Lucky Man
Peace Of Mind
Oh Well
Deal With The Devil
Rattlesnake Woman

Next up is Welsh Blues-Rockers Buffalo Summer who I must admit to being a virgin too. What are they like? I ask of AJ The Wrinkly One. “A bit Zeppelin-y” is the reply. Well, that’s a good thing in my book. On they come and singer Andrew Hunt has certainly got the Robert Plant hair - even if it is the wrong colour. Plus he’s sporting the wispy beard that Percy had in Zep’s early days. But the band’s sound is a lot more thick and treacle-heavy than Zep ever managed - in fact I reckon they’ve been listening to their Dad’s old records of fellow Welsh-men Budgie for inspiration. The sound is HUGE for a four-piece - I kept looking around looking for the second guitarist - but Jonny Williams is getting that Iommi-level mega-crunch all on his own. Well, with a bit of help from Darren King on bass and Gareth Hunt (Andrew’s little brother) wrecking that poor drum kit. The band’s multiple influences are summed up by Darren’s Motorhead t-shirt and backwards baseball cap. One foot in the “classic” camp and another looking to the greats of Grunge in the 90's. A case in point is 'Make You Mine' - the best song about losing your heart to a gorgeous woman since Free’s 'Alright Now'. Then it’s 'Priscilla' which is introduced as a “Country track” Really? It’s another song about heart-breaking totty - but it’s about as country as Alice In Chains. 'Rolls On Through' is introduced as “the first song we ever wrote” Well, good first effort guys, it’s a corker and it’s where “they’re a bit Zeppelin-y” comes absolutely true. The audience is nodding it’s collective head in approval as the band basically morph before your eyes into Page, Plant, Bonham & Jones. But these guys are no mere copyists, they’re just standing on the shoulders of giants and having a bloody good look around. The band have two albums out, their self-titled debut from 2013 and 'Second Sun' from 2016. Their website says they’ve got a new album out “in 2017” so it seems they’ve stalled somewhat. Do them a favour and go and buy the first two - they’re bloody great and deserve a crack at another one.

Set list:
Truth From Fable
Little Charles
Make You Mine
Rolls On Through
Down To The River

So, the Kris Barras Band stride onto the stage looking as fit and mean as four young panthers on a hunt to catch a zebra. They look like the kind of guys that would make you worry for your safety if you saw them striding toward you on a dark night - particularly Kris himself who’s got arms like tree trunks. Kris’s mic stand is an extraordinary thing made out a bike chain and cogs - somebody here likes his bikes. I reckon there’ll be some testosterone coursing about on that stage tonight. I’m right. 'Rock ’n’ Roll Running Through My Veins' hits us square in the face like a shovel and we’re off. Now, the supports were great but this band is on another level entirely. Bass player Elliott Blackler is striding around the stage doing that crouching-down-thing a-la Robert Trujillo, just trying to get that four or five inches lower that a low thing. AJ The Wrinkly One leans over and tells that keyboards man Josiah J Manning is on Martin Barre’s album. I’m impressed. As if it were possible to be more impressed. Drummer Will Beavis has a pretty extraordinary 25 year long CV as well including a recent stint with Suzi Quatro. Ahh, I’ve still got a soft spot for her. Song two and it’s guitar swap time already and the trusty PRS comes out for a while. The song is 'Kick Me Down' which kicks off the new album 'The Divine And Dirty'. On this Elliott and Josiah get to show off their close harmony skills. Sounding great guys. Song three 'Stitch Me Up' and on this one Josiah is adding some tasty Bill Payne style piano. No overplaying for this guy - it’s just exactly what the song needs and no more. Kris announces the new one as “not the most grammatically correct song but the words are nice and easy.” Ah it’s a singalong then. 'I Don't Owe Nobody Nothing' is the song and it’s a good ol’ dirty slide stomper. The audience duly gets their opportunity to raggedly sing along on the chorus and Kris soars above us on the solo.

Next up is a brand new song 'What You See Is What You Get' and for this Kris grabs his lovely dark green Gibson 335. Nope, it’s not the Britney Spears song, it’s another slice of Southern Rock pie. The next one is indeed a cover and Britney is overlooked for something by “a band called Led Zeppelin” says Kris. Er, yes, I dimly remember my Dad talking about Zeppelins come to think of it - I thought he was just talking about the war again. The song is 'Rock & Roll' and of course it’s brilliant - this band give it a new lick of polish that the original never had - Josiah’s piano bit on this is WAY better than the original. I’m sorry - is that sacrilege to say that? Kris puts his own stamp on the solo too and we get to sing along on the lonely-lonely-lonely-time bit. Happiness. There’s a great video of Kris & the band doing this song in the studio on Planet Rock’s website complete with some lovely ladies on backing vocals so check that out. When we’ve all recovered from that we get 'Heart On Your Sleeve' which opened Kris’s second album 'Lucky 13'. It’s another rollicking slide number and Joe gets a solo on this one. Kris’s vocal on this reminds me of Bryan Adams more than anything and I can’t but think the Americans will eat all these songs up like they were half price burgers. During the solo Kris has switched to a battered Tele. Oh, it’s gonna get real dirty now. Sure enough Kris goes all Keef on us and it all very Stones-y for a bit as AJ would say. "Make some noise for Joe!" says Kris at the end and we oblige. Yep, we agree, he’s great. Mmm, I wonder if he’ll be playing at Martin Barre’s gig later this year? Watch this space.

Time for a cover now and it’s something even more unlikely than Britney. Remember the Will Smith sit-com Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air in the early 90's? Remember the theme song? Yeah, that. As a stomping Robert Johnson-esque slide guitar Blues song. WTF? It’s the most astonishing transformation of a song since Joe Cocker did a 'A Little Help From My Friends'. There’s a great clip on YouTube of Kris playing it on custom cigar-box guitar. That’s not here tonight but it sounds awesome on the Tele. Next up is 'Propane'. It’s a bit of a ballad this one, but this being Kris Barras it does of course feature a meaty guitar solo section that Rocks like a bastard. Will gets a VERY brief drum solo spot before we’re treated to ANOTHER new song 'Light It Up'. Kris is sounding very Eddie Van Halen on this one and even asks us to sing along - brave for a new song - but I reckon I can remember 3 words - I haven’t had THAT many beers yet. And blow me down we get yet another new one with 'Vegas Son' - lots of rolling dice and taking chances going on here. This upcoming album is gonna be one to look forward to later this year. That £15 is burning a hole in my pocket already.

Ah, and now, the Les Paul is back on and the time has come for what has quickly become the absolute highlight of the Kris Barras Band set - it’s the sublime 'Watching Over Me'. As soon as the sombre piano intro starts the place erupts into cheers. Anybody would think from this reaction that’s it’s a cherished oldie but no - it’s the LAST track on Kris’s LAST album from LAST year! Kris tells the story of how, inspired by his dad, he started playing guitars at nine. We lost him, he says, a short time ago to cancer and this is for him. The guitar intro starts and there’s no hiding the inspiration for THIS one - the late, great and lamented Gary Moore. You can tell the proper Kris fans love this one too, the phones are out and if they could the lighters would be out too. They’re right, it’s the song of the night and it’s the solo of the night. You can imagine Kris’s dad having a beer (or possibly a Guinness?) with Gary upstairs and saying “that’s my boy down there!” Even grumpy old Gary would give a grin. Eyes are dabbed and it’s on with 'Wrong Place, Wrong Time'. The Tele is back on and the tempo is back up for an SRV style shuffle. Joe’s Hammond is in for a proper thrashing and Elliott gets a bass solo for about a minute - no indulgent noodling or toilet break opportunities here. There’s the Purple style call-and-response-keys-and-guitar but again it’s brief - nothing’s going to get in the way of this tightly honed set.

Kris gives a “massive thanks for supporting live music” and says it’s 11 months to the day they had the album launch party upstairs to a tiny audience. My mate Tim was there and confirms that indeed it was a great gig if poorly attended. Kris also reveals the KBB has been voted best new band in the Planet Rock Awards - well deserved too. So how has this transformation happened? Well, it was a bloody clever move of Kris to step into the role of frontman last year for the Supersonic Blues Machine. Their gig last year at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire featured Billy Gibbons and all those 4,000 eyeballs who were there to see him do a brief guest slot were exposed to Kris tearing it up for the whole show. A lot of new fans were made that night and indeed that whole tour and they’re here to stay. Kris announces the “last song” (we know already he’s not getting away with that) as 'Hail Mary'. Now this one has turned into a proper hit for Kris, it’s had an astonishing quarter of a million plays on Spotify and the vid has had 71k on YouTube. Kris is sounding a LOT like Joe Walsh on this track, again the Yanks would love this. The crowd is encouraged to do “one last sing-a-long” and we oblige and say our Hail Marys. And it’s only Saturday! Then - OMG! - the solo, Kris pulls EVERY trick out of the bag, behind the head, the teeth, the lot, wow. And wow again. The band are off but there’s hardly enough time to catch your breath before they’re back. It’s like a military operation this. The green 335 is back but I suspect we’re not going to get a Larry Carlton cover. 'Lovers Or Losers' is the encore and it’s another one of those dirty slide beasts that Kris seems to able pump out like sweat from a lesser man. The KKB are off into the night and it’s time for the usual unseemly fight between the die-hards for a set list. Well what was an amazing triple bill of astonishingly well played music of exactly the sort you DON’T see on the X Factor. So get your asses out people and see these guys whenever they’re playing, buy their CD's and t-shirts and shake their hands and wish them good luck. They can’t do it without you.

Set list:
Rock ’n’ Roll Running Through My Veins
Kick Me Down
Stitch Me Up
I Don't Owe Nobody Nothing
What You See Is What You Get
Rock And Roll
Heart on Your Sleeve
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Drum Solo
Light It Up
Vegas Son
Watching Over Me
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Hail Mary
Lovers Or Losers

Pete Elphick (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)

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