Stone Broken + Jared James Nichols + The Bad Flowers
Saturday 24th February
Islington Assembly Hall, London
When you talk about the future of Blues Rock, then it didn't get much better than last Saturday night at Islington's Assembly Hall in London, although the distinct contrast in each bands style - made the gig even more appetising. The evening kicked off with the dirty Heavy Blues Hard Rock of the Midlands very own The Bad Flowers following last week's launch of their appropriately named new album 'Starting Gun'. The meat in the sandwich was Wisconsin-born, Los Angles based singer and guitarist, Jared James Nichols, with that distinctive 70's style of Blues Power Rock who released his latest album 'Black Magic' last October. And last, but not least, 2017 WRC 'One's To Watch' award winners Stone Broken - the clean cut Black Country Hard Rockers - deservedly headlining - who we saw at this very same venue a year ago supporting Glenn Hughes.
We first caught The Bad Flowers at the O2 Islington Academy supporting Crobot and Dirty Thrills in June 2016 - a breakthrough year as The Flowers left local venues in a wake of blood, sweat and ringing ears when they opened for Canadian rockers The Sheepdogs in Birmingham, then onward to extensive tours up and down the UK to packed venues with the very same Jared James Nichols and Scorpion Child, plus an appearance at Hard Rock Hell. ‘Starting Gun’ was recorded at Vigo Studios, near the band’s hometown of Cannock. The band chose this studio because they wanted to make a record that sounded like their roots and had the chance to work with long-time friend of the band and producer Adam Beddow, who has recently helped produce Diamond Head’s most current work. The album is a follow up to 2016's self-titled EP and shows the great progression of song writing and musicianship of the band over the past two years.
The band comprise of lead vocalist and guitarist, Tom Leighton, whose signature riffs, fuzz emotive guitar and pure vocals have distinctive sound unlike anybody else. Bassist Dale Tonks provides a deep heavy groove and tasty bass runs that underpins Karl Selickis' chest pumping drums and impeccable rhythmic feel. Not unexpectedly all seven songs in their short set were taken from 'Starting Gun' as they opened with two in a row that immediately got the Assembly Hall's undivided attention - ‘Hurricane’ - as it name implies - a typical Bad Flowers Heavy Rock track - followed by ‘Who Needs A Soul’ - another pure Rock song full of Leighton's great guitar. "How Are We Doing London?" yelled Leighton as the hairy trio kept up their Heavy Rock assault with ‘Secrets’ with its great chorus, and then surprise, surprise, continuing the Heavy Rock vibe, ‘Lions Blood’ - with its a great hook and sobered guitar solo - one track which we have wanted to see live since the album launch - which didn't disappoint - as did 'Be Your Man’ - with some great vocals from Leighton.
Next up was their first single from the album 'Thunder Child' - leaving you in no doubt why The Bad Flowers were named as one of Planet Rock’s ‘Ones To Watch’ following its release last September. With its great lyrical opening salvo, it's no surprise that it has gained heavy airplay and was described by the radio station as “pure, dynamic, riff-heavy rock ‘n’ roll delivered with passion and prowess”, and also apparently led to the band being asked to play at Planet Rock’s Christmas party in support of Blues Pills at London’s Jazz Café last November! The album closer ‘City Lights’ was also the set closer, very much a Blues Rock number in the vein of Led Zeppelin, with great vocals from all three band members - a classic Bad Flowers track - which saw Tonks playfully grab Selickis' cymbal in the outro. Make sure you catch the band before their nationwide 12 date UK tour ends at The Fleece, Bristol, on Wednesday 7th March, or alternatively you can see them at The Stone Free Festival at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday 17th June. We will be there!
We would have paid just to see The Bad Flowers alone, and the same would apply to American Blues Rock guitarist and singer Jared James Nichols. JJN had been on our radar for a long long time and we finally saw him live opening the Planet Rock Main Stage at Ramblin' Man last July and we were not disappointed. In fact, fresh from his awesome performance that day, we then returned wet and bedraggled to the media area where we had the pleasure of interviewing Jared where he told us here about 'Old Glory', his 'pick-less' electric guitar playing technique, what we could expect from his new studio album 'Black Magic' due to be released in September plus how his teeth were so white!
As expected, JJN's beast of a trio, duly delivered more hair, energy in abundance and white teeth, but more importantly, 70's Power Rock at its ultimate best. JJN mixed it up - airing amongst others the first three tracks from 'Black Magic' namely his single 'Last Chance', the Hendrix influenced riff of 'The Gun' and 'Don't Be Scared', before he teased "London don't be shy", an open invite for us all to head bang to his classic 'Baby Can You Feel It?', plus he nailed his 70's influences to the mast as he signed off a storming set with a cover of Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen'. Now this was real Rock 'n' Roll - and not only a great voice but also validation of the equation that a Les Paul = Blues Power. Similar to The Bad Flowers, make sure you catch Jared before his band's nationwide 12 date UK tour ends at The Fleece, Bristol, on Wednesday 7th March.
We first saw Stone Broken just over a year ago and suffice to say our opinion of these Black Country Hard Rockers was unchanged after further seeing them from afar on the Sunday on the Ramblin' Man Fair Planet Rock Stage in July and then supporting Living Colour as they blew the proverbial bloody doors off of London's ULU in October. With Rich Moss on vocals/guitar, Chris Davis on guitar/vocals, Kieron Conroy on bass and Robyn Haycock on drums/vocals - and with a hotly anticipated new album 'Ain't Always Easy' imminent - this would indeed be a test as to how their new material stacked up against their stand-out first album 'All In Time'.
We needn't have worried as the spinal strength of 'AAE' was immediately evident with their debut of awesome opener 'Heartbeat Away' before it literally got 'Better' - a track from 'AIT' - both songs consolidating their huge arena Rock sound. Described as a big chunky Rock sound with huge choruses, their very first single from 'AIT', 'Stay All Night' - think Monster Truck meets Blacktop Mojo - saw some great guitar work from the ever-smiling Davis and exceptional vocals from Moss - again belying his Walsall accent with a Southern Rock drawl. "How are you doing London? Make some noise!" enquired the
baseball capped/goatee bearded Moss - before they proceeded to blow away the crowd with a hard rockin' quartet from 'AAE' namely 'I Believe', 'The Only Thing I Need', 'Home' - with stand-out vocals from Moss, and finally, my particular favourite, 'Doesn't Matter, with its awesome grunge riff plus manic hand-clapping from a packed auditorium.
It wasn't all work though, as Moss interspersed the new stuff with decent banter about drinking and travelling - but the anecdote about when they played just up the road at Camden's Black Heart just four months before the aforementioned Glenn Hughes gig - really hit home how far these guys have come in such a short space of time. 'AIT's 'Let Me Go' morphed into a terrific drum solo from the dynamic Haycock, and there were even pyrotechnics thrown in to complement 'AAE's 'Let Me See It All'. It was then back to 'AIT' and the slower intro to 'Be There', which led into an inevitable huge riff - the impressive vocals of Moss and guitar work from Davis very reminiscent of Nickelback when they rock - before they wrapped up their set with their final track from 'AAE' - the loud and proud 'Worth Fighting For' - proof again, if one needed it, of the quality of their new album. Some might say their clean cut image has comparisons to "Ed Sheeran Does Heavy Rock" - so in some way it was appropriate that 'AIT's rocker 'Wait For You' was performed as an encore unplugged with great vocals by Moss, which unsurprisingly turned into a huge singalong, whilst Hard Rockin' order was restored with their closing headbanger and second single off of 'AIT' 'Not Your Enemy' - with its riff to die for. 'Ain't Always Easy' is out this Friday 2nd March - make sure you add this CD to your collection!