The Commoners + Troy Redfern
Thursday 13th April 2023
The Grace, Highbury Corner, London
Although this is nominally a co-headline tour, I sensed that there were a good few Canadians present for this opening night, which provided a first UK look at The Commoners. Their album ‘Find A Better Way’ (2022) has had some very favourable reviews and was a snip from their merch stand at only a tenner.
Whether unaware of this or simply undeterred, Troy Redfern confidently took to the stage first, accompanied by bassist Keira Kenworthy (sporting a stylish hat very similar to Troy’s Vera Black creation) and drummer Finn McAuley. Neither of the rhythm section had played on Troy’s latest release ‘Wings Of Salvation’ (2022), which may be one reason why the setlist did not restrict itself to that album; indeed, almost half the songs were even newer compositions.
That may be true of the opening ‘All Night Long’, as I couldn’t find it in Troy’s discography, although the following ‘Sweet Carolina’ and ‘Come On’ are both in the latest release and featured some fine slide playing on what looked, to these untrained eyes (with apologies to guitarheads everywhere!), like a resonator guitar (which appeared painted, rather than polished). Keira’s harmony vocals fitted in nicely with the Troy’s rougher edged tones.
After another new song in ‘Get Away’, the leader coaxed some eastern sounds from the resonator to introduce ‘Dark Religion’ from the latest album; Finn switched effectively to mallets for this one. The next two songs, ‘Native’ and ‘Down’, were introduced as new ones, although the latter title appears in ‘Wings Of Salvation’. The rockabilly overtones of ‘Scorpio’ definitely came from ‘The Fire Cosmic’ (2021) and, after two more new songs in ‘The Fever’ and ‘The Strange’ had been put through their paces, Troy returned to that 2021 release to close out his set with ‘Waiting For Your Love’ and ‘Sanctify’.
In saying that the setlist felt a little short of light and shade (i.e. limited variation in volume or tempo), it is only a minor criticism and let’s not forget that it was the first night of the tour. Troy worked hard to self-release as much music as possible during lockdown and I would recommend a visit to his well-stocked merch stand; ‘Wings Of Salvation’ is particularly recommended.
The Commoners from Toronto are not a new band (for collectors, the last few copies of their 2016 debut ‘No Stranger’ can still be obtained from the webshop of their record label Gypsy Soul Records), but like Blackberry Smoke, took a few years to come to welcome and overdue attention in the UK. Indeed, witnessing them in a small, but well filled room brought back happy memories of first encountering Blackberry Smoke at Barfly in Camden and Robert Jon & The Wreck at Big Red in Holloway; with a bit of luck and a fair wind, this band will take off in a similar way.
They prove that the Southern Rock feel is not solely reliant on geography and the front line of two guitars plus keyboards certainly has a touch of the Allman Brothers Band (ABB) about it at times. There’s also some Blues and Soul deep in the mix, though, with Chris Medhurst’s vocals reminding me a little of the late Kelly Holland, who graced the short-lived Cry Of Love’s fine debut album (‘Brother’, 1993).
A little surprisingly, the band followed Troy’s lead in drawing no more than half of its set list from its latest release, but they opened with two of the album’s finest cuts, with ‘More Than Mistakes’ followed by the title track. To these ears guitarist Ross Citrullo works a quote from Jimi’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ into the former song, both live and on disc, but take a listen for yourselves and tell me I’m wrong… ;-)
With vocalist Chris joining Ross for a twin guitar intro, we were treated to a new song in ‘Devil Teasin’ Me’, before Ross bowed his guitar strings to introduce ‘Body And Soul’, which is apparently a much older original, but as yet unrecorded (maybe look out for it on the next album…). ‘Ain’t Knocked Down’ is another new song, which will surely appear on disc before too long.
Naturally, with Ross’ bow in evidence again, and the radio friendly ‘Deadlines’, which featured a fine keyboard intro by Miles Evans-Branagh, are both from the latest album, whereas the next song was impressively unrecognisable from the original… Donny Hathaway’s ‘The Ghetto’ (1969) featured a long instrumental introduction from first Miles, then Ben Spiller (bass) and Adam Cannon (drums), followed by Ross, before the band really stretched out in full group interplay; wonderful stuff!
I’m told that ‘Fill My Cup’ from ‘Find A Better Way’ was in the setlist, but I’m not convinced that it was actually played; maybe I was still lost in my reverie after ‘The Ghetto’! The encore definitely featured a short version of the ABB’s ‘Melissa’ (from ‘Eat A Peach’, 1972) as an introduction to the album’s ‘Hangin’ On Again’; and hanging on is what we’ll be doing until October, when the band will return to these shores to support Samantha Fish (although no London date has yet been listed, as far as I know).
Make no mistake, this is a band to watch (or, more importantly, listen to); if you get the chance to catch them on this tour, be sure not to pass it up!
TR – All Night Long; Sweet Carolina; Come On; Get Away; Dark Religion;
Native; Down; Scorpio; The Fever; The Strange; Waiting For Your Love;
TC – More Than Mistakes; Find A Better Way; Devil Teasin’ Me; Body And
Soul; Ain’t Knocked Down; Naturally; Deadlines; The Ghetto;
Melissa/Hangin’ On Again.