When Rivers Meet + Troy Redfern

Thursday 12th May 2022

The Garage, Highbury Corner, London

There was a definite buzz in the air on this evening in North London, and with good reason. The most excitement you get in the Blues world is normally confined to an overseas artist (often coming from the US) making a rare appearance at a venue near you. It’s quite something to have a homegrown duo making a big splash and getting all the attention, especially playing such Rootsy music. They’ve been winning awards since bursting on the scene in 2019 and, following a Covid hiatus, which spawned a punningly titled second album ‘Saving Grace’, they’ve emerged like a football team that’s been training for the new season, full of pep and energy. What is it that separates them from the some of the other runners and riders on the scene?

What they have is charisma in bundles; their songs are at once familiar, rooted often in open tuned slide playing, but played with boundless energy and given a fresh twist by Grace Bond’s soaring high lead vocals. They have taken a stack of influences from delta slide players to heavy rockers and distilled them into shorty punchy numbers that smack you between the eyes and don’t overstay their welcome. It all sounds simple but of course is not at all. The husband and wife duo are both very easy on the eye (something for everybody), which adds an extra frisson, but it is their easy going ability to communicate with audiences that sets them apart and is what really made this a special evening. Opening number ‘Did I Break The Law’ from their first album ‘We Fly Free’, with its pulsating riff immediately got the crowd going, followed wham bam by several more high energy numbers like ‘Walking on The Wire’ with its chorus of “Are you a fortunate son?” and screaming slide playing from Aaron Bond.

While they can rock out when required, it was on the slower numbers that their joint vocal prowess was displayed to good effect, as on ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’, an almost Folky strummed ballad. They alternated between thumpers like ‘Free Man’ and the beautifully harmonised ‘Bury My Body’ with its nod to the downbeat vibe of songs like ‘St James Infirmary’, which was spellbinding as the pair held each other’s gaze standing close together around a single mic stand. It sounds corny but this pair have a natural charm that made the showmanship appear natural and non-contrived. It made a pleasant change to have the focus on the songs rather than endless soloing, not that there wasn’t an abundance of tasty guitar work from Aaron as he switched between different guitars, including the almost obligatory cigar box.

As well as playing a number of different electric mandolins, Grace added to the variety of sounds by adding a touch of violin here and there. Her lead vocal is an instrument all by itself. Backed by the session professionalism of bassist Roger Inniss and drummer (and piano on one number) James Fox, the overall sound was full and powerful. The closing encore was a high-energy version of the single ‘Testify’ from their second album, which, without a slide in sight, sounded fantastic. Since this outstanding performance the pair have picked up three more awards at the UK Blues Awards and look to be a hot ticket for some time to come. It’s well deserved.

Earlier in the evening Troy Redfern had performed a solo set, playing along to his own looped riffs. There is a bit of a vibe about him too and he went down well, with his slide guitar playing setting the scene for what was to come. For me, it seems like he tries too hard to give a hard edge to his live sound. He has some decent songs in his set, like ‘Scorpio’ and ‘Sanctify’, but his live arrangements of these for solo guitar don’t recreate the hooks and melodic elements of the recorded versions and the undoubted energy of his performance results in the songs’ distinctive qualities being lost. Sometimes, less is definitely more, although it would be interesting to see him with a full band, which would give him more space to lean into.

Simon Green