Wille and the Bandits + Troy Redfern Band@ The Robin, Bilston – Wednesday 4th March 2020


Review by Paul H Birch

On stage there’s a thunderous rumble that transforms itself into frantically paced slide guitar-led blues rock. Second number in is more Bolan style boogie but beefed up for good measure. ‘Back Door Voodoo’ expands the remit, with an acid-drenched blues solo. Each song in turn getting healthy applause for the power trio that is the Troy Redfern Band.
Either side of the stage, the lean, Stetson-topped, biker-jacket wearing Redfern and long-bearded bass player work the floor as longer skewered blues jamming comes into play. It’s not until the frontman starts singing that their cover of the classic ‘Double Trouble’ is recognised; his guitar’s neck getting strangled so much it’s screaming out as if he’s trying to drown it deep in the pounding swamp rock that ensues. Then, having been informed there’s a new record due, they leave us with the raw sounds of ‘Waiting For Your Love’ ringing in our ears.

At the back of the stage, there’s a large screen that’s been playing computer-generated imagery with enough similarities to mandalas, mosaics and other paraphernalia suitable for your average new age hippy to fit in perfectly as Wille & The Bandits stroll on as sonically-driven didgeridoo effects wheeze in and out over the PA.

Where there were three there are now four. The former rhythm section that was The Bandits has been replaced by Matthew Gallagher (keyboards, backing vocals, plus some acoustic guitar and percussion tonight), Harry Mackaill (bass, backing vocals and a bit of ukulele) and Finn McAuley (drums & percussion). They are seasoned musicians that much will be obvious, but are they a band? Is this new entity more than the sum of all its parts? Is something gained and something lost in the process? Tonight, we shall find out.

First, we notice how different the configuration looks on stage. The former pyramidical dimensions of a trio had solidity, shape and movement within it, now with vocalist and guitarist Will Edwards standing centre stage the other players have been scattered like pieces on a chessboard to – if not the fringes but as necessity of space available dictates – to the sides and rear. That they move little ensures our focus on Edwards. Were we some astute high-flying manager this would be a smart move; his voice and looks (if shorn of more hair) have strong potential mainstream appeal.

Gallagher’s organ stirs into life, Floydian notes trickle out from Edward’s guitar forming a sustained riff before crushing it between a rocking wall of sound and a raging scream as ‘Bad News’ comes our way. The guitarist takes his first sideways move to play his high-rise pedal steel guitar. A guitar solo peels out, keyboards join the refrain, a hymn like quality offered then much wailing of guitar, in a heavier Floyd-style manner.

Introductions are made, jokes given and ‘Find My Way’ offers a more measured shrugging rock sound. It’s heavy on the bass drum, deep on bass and it’s at this point we wonder if some of the intricacies of the previous line-up are missing, but within the same moment we consider how similar this line-up is to John Martyn’s eighties band where the former folk musician evolved, incorporating progressive jazz rock and dub music experimentally. If that post is looking to be filled this grouping could well fit the bill. Comparisons continue, as we consider the R ‘n B funk Robert Palmer produced before he got too slick. There are also comparisons to Paul Weller that can be made, though vocally Edwards is more attuned to a feral version of Sting.

‘Scared of the Sun’ changes direction, that Dave Gilmour guitar tone is heard once again albeit the song gets progressively heavier. ‘Keep It On The Down-Low’ follows, people noticeably grooving to its roots rock sound and a new keyboard solo integrated. ‘Living Free’ follows with something of an afro-beat and Edwards voice ranging far and sounding good.

Musically we hear we get to hear warm harmony vocals, funky shuffles and the lap guitar wailing in a strange elongated manner taking on the aspects of a trumpet. ‘Still Go Marching’ has a Van Morrison quality, not quite Celtic though and there are both hymnal aspects alongside some New Orleans sounds following the audience clap-along section.

‘Judgement Day’ is a tad slower and heavier than on record, but still formidable overdriven guitar root rock with empowered keyboards support. They swop to acoustic instruments for ‘Mammon’ with McAuley on bongos, Mackaill on ukulele.. The song falls somewhere flamenco meets folk, and while this early band song is a little freeform one can’t deny the impressive filigrees of blues and instrumental dexterity throughout.
While The Bandits return to their main instruments, Edwards retains the acoustic in his hands as his voice rages out even as it imbues his song cycle with passion during the wonderful ‘Four Million Days’. Aired with grace and precision, there’s an added “Do-de-do-do” group harmony that sat just right within the song’s framework. Towards the song’s finale, drums tumble forth, cutting a path for a stirring lap guitar solo to play us out.
As keyboards begin playing, Edwards tells us that the next number is: “Dedicated to my mother, who I lost 12 years ago. A song called ‘Angel’, ”A far-ranging instrumental in a progressive manner it encompasses acoustic stylings, vocal harmonies with Cornish sea shanties before wah-wah feedback and keyboards scrunch away in a manner that can only be compared to mid-section of ‘Dazed & Confused’ or ‘No Quarter’ by Zeppelin before coming over all Pink Floyd like again. That amid all these textures there’s an audience participation clapping section doesn’t sound right as I type this, but it sure as hell happened.

Drums roll and a slinky riff offers us the heavy rock with a slice of syncopated funk that is ‘Make Love’, Edwards dancing away to the chugging of his own guitar. They follow this by evoking the sweet & sour rock ‘n roll of early Cream and The Who with ‘Daylight’, a psychedelic solo fizzing away before heavy power chords to punctuate its conclusion. ‘Victim of the Night’ proves more head-on mainstream rock, and while one of my lesser favourites on the righteous Paths album, here the band place it well within their set. But time is drawing near, leaving us but time for ‘1970’ encapsulating those times musically with blues heavy rock and some superb fast fingered guitar solos.

Audience participation clapping leads into a brief drum solo before Edwards leaps onto the drum riser facing McAuley as the band power away before returning centre stage for one last whizzing exchange between guitar and organ and it’s: “Thank you very much!” and they’re off.

Retuning to encore, Edwards picks up a Gibson to play Hendrix tricks one moment, Ry Cooder funk the next for stonking rock with a heavy groove and group harmonies in ‘Jack The Lad’ before quieter moments lead us progressively to embrace the sounds of Gilmour, Santana, a little Peter Green, and again an undercurrent of freeform Zeppelin thrown in.
We have time for one final number and as the main man sings out “I hold my shield to the rat race” we are reminded that the environment and world affairs play a big part in the themes espoused by Wille & The Bandits. ‘Virgin Eyes’ proves a good number to end on.
You can’t fault the playing here tonight, and as the outfit develops it’ll no doubt progress further. However, sometimes less is more and on tonight’s showing the more virtuoso intricacies of the former line-up are not felt. If this pivotal redefinition provides the security for Edwards himself to function and grow as a songwriter then that’s all for the greater good.

1. Bad News
2. Find My Way
3. Scared of the Sun
4. Keep It on the Down-Low
5. Living Free
6. Still Go Marching In
7. Judgement Day
8. Mammon
9. Four Million Days
10. Angel
11. Make Love
12. Daylight
13. Victim of the Night
14. 1970
15. Encore: Jack The Lad
16. Virgin Eyes