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Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton + The Commoners

Wednesday 25th October 2023

Junction, Cambridge

I was lucky enough to catch The Commoners in London six months ago, so their UK return was as big a draw for me as the headliners were. When I realised that the London show (at the 100 Club on 30th October) clashed with another gig for which I’d already booked, I had no option but to get myself to Cambridge (which at least offered a late night train service back to London)…

The Commoners’ manager Renan Yildizdogan (whose own band Stone River released a fine album on the same Gypsy Soul Records label titled ‘Euphoria & Lovesick Blues’ in 2014) was on duty at the merch table and informed me that the band had a lot of new material (some of it written by Renan) to play live. And so it proved, with five of the night’s eight songs being as yet unrecorded; hopefully that suggests a new album early in 2024!

The three more familiar songs came from the ‘Find A Better Way’ (2022) album, which seemed to be selling well as the evening wore on. These included the opener ‘More Than Mistakes’ (with guitarist Ross Citrullo happily quoting from Jimi’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’) and the closing pair ‘Fill My Cup’ and the album’s title track.

The five new songs were of similar quality, so the next album should be a goodie, and yet the set didn’t seem to fully take off. This was largely due to the passivity of the audience, who decided to explode into rapturous applause at the end of the set instead of during it! Just a pity that the band wasn’t given any real audience energy to feed off while they were playing.

Merch sales seemed brisk, however, so hopefully the band’s reputation will continue to grow and deservedly so. My thanks are due to Renan and vocalist Chris Medhurst, who between them filled in the setlist blanks for me during the interval.

I’d seen Samantha Fish play live on a handful of previous occasions, although I’d found the broad mixture of styles in her last two or three albums a little less accessible than her earlier Blues/Rock releases. Jesse Dayton was a new name to me, with a background apparently steeped in Americana and Country music, so when the tour was announced I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

However, from the very first listen their ‘Death Wish Blues’ album grabbed me and shook me; I was more than keen to hear their band play live. For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t yet heard the album, I think it may be Samantha’s best recording yet; having now heard the music played in concert, it would be nice to think that the record company might consider a live recording…

The 90 minute set kicked off with a high energy romp through the MC5 classic ‘Kick Out The Jams’ (hard to believe that this dates all the way back to 1969) and the pace barely let up thereafter. This was followed by the album opener ‘Deathwish’ and then a fine trio of cover versions: ‘Feelin’ Good’ was recorded by Little Junior Parker as long ago as 1953; the beautiful ‘Hello Stranger’, with Samantha’s vocals sounding a little like Amy Winehouse, was a hit for Barbara Lewis a decade later in 1963; ‘Brand New Cadillac’ also harks back to the 50s (Vince Taylor & His Playboys in 1959), although fans of The Clash (who included a cover on ‘London Calling’, 1979) might have something to say about that!

The new album’s ‘Settle For Less’ had a hint of The Kinks about it, with the drummer playing the rim of his snare to good effect, before Samantha’s cigar box guitar made its first appearance of the night for ‘Bulletproof’, which was the opening track of her ‘Kill Or Be Kind’ (2019) album. Another trio of songs from the new album took us to the halfway mark, with Dayton’s voice leading on ‘Down In The Mud’ and ‘Trauma’; the tasty filling in that “sandwich” was Samantha’s soulful voice on ‘No Apology’.

There was a momentary breather for the fine rhythm section comprising James Douglas (drums), Mickey Finn (keyboards) and Ron Johnson (bass), as the leaders switched to acoustic guitars for the next pair of songs. The first, a real highlight for me, was their shared vocal take on ‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’ by Townes Van Zandt (from his eponymous 1969 album), which left me determined to explore TVZ’s back catalogue. The second, ‘Baby’s Long Gone’, is a newer song of Dayton’s, I believe, and featured his lead vocal.

Having got their own collective breath back, the band proceeded to take ours away with a handful of songs from the new album, starting with ‘Lover On The Side’ and ‘Dangerous People’. ‘Supadupabad’ featured drum breaks which harked back to ‘Machine Gun’ by Jimi’s Band Of Gypsys, while ‘Flooded Love’ had more than a hint of Peter Gunn about it. The cigar box guitar returned to fine effect on ‘Rippin’ And Runnin’.

By this point the set was moving like a train that we couldn’t get off, but didn’t want to anyway. ‘I Put A Spell On You’ has had numerous covers since Screamin’ Jay Hawkins introduced it in 1956, but if it has ever had a Blues guitar solo better than the one played by Ms Fish, then I’d like to hear it please.

The setlist showed ‘7 And 7 Is’ next, which may have well been ‘Love’s Seven And Seven Is’ from their 1966 debut ‘Da Capo’, while the funky long instrumental intro to ‘Riders’ brought back fond memories of early 70s Stevie Wonder. ‘You Know My Heart’ featured Jesse’s voice backed by Samantha’s guitars, first acoustic, then electric.

Ms Fish took the vocal lead on the closing ‘Goin’ Down South’, which comes from R.L. Burnside’s ‘A Ass Pocket Full Of Whiskey’ (1996). The music of Burnside, like that of Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford, has been dragged into the light by bands like The Black Keys and North Mississippi All Stars and we should be grateful; without this kind of basic, “dirty”, down home Blues, there might not have been a Fish & Dayton group and, on the evidence of this album and tour, that would have been a huge pity (bordering on a crime!).

Here’s to a quick return to these shores!

Gary Smith

Photos: Laurence Harvey


SF & JD - Kick Out The Jams; Deathwish; Feelin’ Good; Hello Stranger;
Brand New Cadillac; Settle For Less; Bulletproof; Down In The
Mud; No Apology; Trauma; I’ll Be Here In The Morning; Baby’s
Long Gone; Lover On The Side; Dangerous People;
Supadupabad; Flooded Love; Rippin’ And Runnin’; I Put A Spell
On You; 7 And 7 Is; Riders; You Know My Heart; Goin’ Down

TC - More Than Mistakes; Shake You Off; Where Are You?; Devil Teasin’
Me; Restless; The Way I Am; Fill My Cup; Find A Better Way.

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