Troy Redfern + The Commoners @ The Asylum, Birmingham 23rd April 2023


Onstage are five Canadians looking like they modelled themselves on Stillwater from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous movie, but playing it for real.

They open with ‘More Than Mistakes’, and don’t put a foot wrong with the Jeff Beck inspired solo, as far as the applauding crowd are concerned. Lead guitarist Ross Hayes Citrullo then delivers the opening riff to ‘Find A Better Way’, from the opposite side of the stage those of us at the back here a great swirl of organ and the groove gets way bigger.

Vocalist Chris Medhurst is low in the mix, but you can still tell he’s got an impressive set of tonsils. I’ve previously noted a similarity to 70s Welsh band Lone Star’s Kenny Driscoll,  but let’s also throw in some homegrown Canuck band from a time before most of you were born, names likes like Prism and Moxy. He’s also got a penchant for twisting and gesticulating his hands like he’s been rehearsing Robert Plant moves from The Song Remains The Same film, but such retro references doesn’t mean the band are stuck in the past. The music they play sounds good here tonight.

Citrullo holds his Gibson as he squeezes out slow noted lines over a driving bass, Medhurst joins in playing harmony guitar, then the band hits down hard collectively before leaving space for vocals and proceed with this interchange on an unfamiliar number, that could well go by the handle, ‘Devil Teasin’ Me’ the way the rhyming couplet incantations play out, assisted ably in both backing and harmonies from bassist Ben Spiller. 

Conversations later with those down the back reveal they weren’t aware Citrullo was making out like Jimmy Page with a violin bow on ‘Body And Soul’, they assumed it was some effects pedal or other making all those spacey-sounds, as he begins bowing it more potentially across his guitar’s strings the growing wail takes on a echoed psych-rock ambiance that puts us in mind of what it might’ve been like at the Fillmore back in the 60s, save for the prevalence for bald heads and tattoos I see standing alongside me, amid an audience that healthily stretches the breadth of young and old.

The song itself picks up as harmonies come into play, then when Medhurst tells us about the “sleazy side of Hell” a slide guitar enters the frame – In fact there’s quite some soloing through this hippy-trippy rocker that touches on latter-day Beatles, deliver some C, S & N harmonies then edge further into the 70s with a far more southern rock than such young northern souls have a right to do.

Adam Cannon’s hi-hat precedes a “1,2, 1-2-3-4!” followed by some dirty sprawling dance rock for ‘Who Are You? (Ain’t Knocked Down)’ . Then, As Medhurst straps on a guitar for the following ‘Naturally’, Spiller exudes excitement, “Oh, boy, we’ve come all the way from Ontario,” then proceeds to talk about missing home, but the warm reception they’ve had on these shores, the band dedicating it to all concerned.

Slow, waltz like, but with enough country rock stylisations to keep you in the moment, you wish the voices coming out the PA were louder because Medhurst is singing his soul away, Spiller’s contributory “You” harmony line also a worthy delivery. Citrullo arms himself with the bow once more, his guitar playing responding emotively to Medhurst’s wails of anguish.

My presumption is that the flat-capped keyboard player on stage is Miles Evans-Branagh, since he plays on the album. If not my apologies and kudos to an R ’n B intro that somehow coaxes out fuzz piano, harpsichord and a whole other gamut of sounds before the band joins in for ‘Deadlines’ – Again rocking in Zeppelin mode but also applying mellower sections where the organ solos and if you were listening carefully Cannon was too with some impressive prog-like punctuated rhythms.

They ask us to “Give it up, for Ian” their tour manager, who happens to come from the city they’re currently playing in, then offer us a cover in the form of the Allman Brother’s ‘Sweet Melissa’. Chords cascade out slowly, as Medhurst tells us how “The gypsy flies from coast to coast, knowing many, loving none.” Folk and hymnlike a deep dirty guitar drags its way in, bass reacting with a pinch of high note before throbbing away and collectively the band rock out, softly initially with organ sweetly to the fore, then with Spiller jumping up and down on the spot, Medhurst screaming away and Citrullo blasting off on guitar we release they’re performing Hanging On Again’, as with the lion’s share tonight, from their Find A Better Way album.

Thanking us for coming, we know their set’s nearly over, and they finish with ‘Fill My Cup’, a number that’s catchy as hell, but has to be admitted as owing a debt to rare Zeppelin single B-Side ‘Hey, Hey What Can I Do’, but that’s cool, because only take from the best. On stage there’s a lot of sweaty hair being about, one final “Thank you so much, Birmingham!” from the front man prior to rapping away as the band sign off on a musical crescendo.

An admirable performance, despite PA vocal levels. If The Commoners can continue to make it over here to the UK on a regular basis, they’re going to see their fanbase grow a thousandfold. Try Redfern’s been working his backside off since we came out of covid, one man and his electric guitar pulling in guests slots here, there and almost everywhere and it paying off with radio airplay and his own popularity growing. And, as fate has a tendency to do, it hits you when you least expect it – Though, because Redfern’s expression didn’t show it on stage, out in the audience the vocal levels got worse, despite which on stage he gave it his all.

Troy Redfern

The Commoners + Troy Redfern @ The Asylum, Birmingham 23rd April 2023

Photograph by Martin Tierney for <a href="" rel="noreferrer nofollow">
Midlands Rocks</a>

© 2023 Martin Tierney
The Commoners + Troy Redfern @ The Asylum, Birmingham 23rd April 2023 Photograph by Martin Tierney for Midlands Rocks © 2023 Martin Tierney

Tonight, he’s playing the power trio format. Last seen locally supporting Dare out at The Robin in Bilston, the guitarist is once more joined by drummer Finn McAuley, and matching him in Southern Gothic black, Stetson, beads and chains (but no visible tattoos!) across the stage is bass player Keira Kenworthy (whose CV includes Steria and JoanOfArc). Less devil-may-care blues rock, this evening features a rockier performance.

With a flash of six string mania, we’re off and running, with a number that comes on like a headbutt between The Ramones and the Damned, but fortunately only sees Redfern and Kenworth facing off each other either side of the drum kit. This, after a “How’re you doing?”, we are latterly informed is a new number, ‘All Night Long’, from a future long player due out later in the year. Into the more familiar, with the beat of the drums before us, a bassline in, rickety-rackety guitar squiggles  ensue ‘til they make out like a tommy gun and the more familiar glam rock boogie of ‘Sweet Carolina’ from The Wings Of Salvation is performed, with some particularly grungy deep throbbing sides of slide served mid-course. Returning to the tommy gun attack, it reaches its climax in a haze of feedback and some suitable guitar posing.

Stomping out next is ‘Come On’ that’s strangely more early-Alice Cooper than the T. Rex sound on record. With a change of guitar, McAuley clicks his drumsticks together and we’re into the heavy rocking blues of ‘Getaway’, we know this because of its charming catch hook, rather than the subdued vocal mix – Initially, I thought perhaps it was Redfern’s voice had worn, but since Kenworthy’s harmonies are just as low, we need to blame the sound system, and hope those up front hear better. As it, musically, we hear the pair with bass pedalling purposely with distortion as guitar wails away in the outro.

Hrm, it seems we’ve rock bands with a thing for waltzes here tonight, because that’s how ‘Dark Religion’ initially comes across, albeit far doom-like and Celtic rock guitar stylisations amid rhythmic stomps, all contrasting with the often-joint vocals delivered in a spirited upbeat manner.

With a further guitar swop to Gibson, I’m latterly informed that up next is another forthcoming release entitled ‘The Native’, if so, it certainly fits Redfern’s penchant for wild west outlaw reimaginations in rock – Crooning vocals hover over chugging guitar, a more nuanced slide applied as it becomes a swampier blues affair and the vocals become more incantation. The rhythm changes under the guitar solo, the overall sound emitted now reminding us of The Cult, before returning to harder chugging amid blistered harmonics right up to the end. It’s followed by a mid-paced shuffle that’s frankly garage rock reggae, with a heavier dirty blues rock sound beginning to prevail, on another new number in ‘Down’ – Here again, vocals come across as if intended as hypnotic chant and doing the same job as an alternative adult version of Kaa’s ‘Trust In Me’ from The Jungle Book. Amid all this Redfern’s guitar echoes, sustains, is layered with effects over inverted chord changes with a healthy instrumental section taking place.

Strapping on an acoustic, the wail of slide that takes place initially surprises, but we’re soon into well familiar territory with the Pulp Fiction styled drama of the in-your-face rock groove of ‘Scorpio’ It comes across well, as do the vocals as with head bopping wildly he cries out “the tables are turned!” in the song’s denouement. Not shy about introducing new songs into his set he follows this with ‘The Fever’ and what I’m also latterly informed is ‘The Strange’ – On the former, the guitarist sings about someone “holding me down” amid the bumps and grinds of some glam rock boogie, then following a solo awash in stormy effects, his voice turn to more of a growl, while Kentworthy  begins to purr. During the following fast-paced skipping shuffle that that ensues big men (with possibly a bit to drink inside them) are happily dancing away to my left and in front.

Now armed with a semi-electric guitar, Redfern offers a frenzy of feedback-packed slide guitar work, culminating with power chords that lead the way into a brisk galloping Waiting For Your Love’.  Catchy, and on a high following Redfern’s first solo, Kentworthy releases a rush of notes from the higher regions of her bass, the pair move centre stage facing each other, turn to face McAuley as they chug down, then Redfern moves to centre stage soling again across the length of his fretboard.

The axe between his hands now suitably erupting with a buzzing saw noise he hones in, accessing Hubert Sumlin by way of Marc Bolan as he boogies into tonight’s final number, ‘Sanctify – It becoming steadily heavier, with drums particularly loud, distortion-encrusted lues lick now presiding before edging toward psychedelic-Goth, then with slide screeching out in solo mode we pick out his instrumental take on Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’. As the pace quickens, Redfern leaps about, then he and Kenworthy again face McAuley, who with a big of almost afro-frizzed hair could be impersonating a young Ginger Baker as takes a hefty trip round his kit. Kenworthy, back at the mic, has her hands raised aloft clapping and audience members reciprocate, Redfern emits a wall of furious sound and they’re back in for one final chorus, then it’s “thanks, good night!”, before they gather to collectively bow, and thus end this Saturday rock night.