Review by Pete Finn by MPM
Not being the superstitious type, heading out on Friday 13th held no more fear than any other day. In fact, I used to live at No.13 and my daughter was born on the 13th, so in reality it’s been a lucky number for me. Tonight, I and MPM Tog Jason ‘Slasher’ Manson are heading to The Asylum situated in the heart of Birmingham.
The Asylum is a 600-capacity purpose-built music venue, The Asylum has been designed and built by musicians, with musicians in mind. The Asylum 2 is a smaller more intimate 100 capacity venue that established itself in the local Birmingham music scene under its previous name The Madhouse Bar. The venue is around a ten-minute walk from Snow Hill station.
Our journey into Birmingham takes us down the Aston Expressway, and people of my generation will understand when I say the road reminds me of the arcade game ‘Frogger’. After a brief tour around the industrial estate on which The Asylum is situated, we park up on the road outside and the two old Muppets make their way to the venue.
We’re checked in, there’s a ‘Charitable Donation’ bucket on the desk for those on the Guest List which is a nice touch, we go inside, tonight we’re in the main room, it’s a nice sized square hall, all painted black and has a raised platform around the edge with picnic bench seats on. It looks good.
Troy Redfern grew up along the Welsh and English border in an area known as The Welsh Marches, near to a large elongated hill called Hergest Ridge, a name associated with Mike Oldfield. These natural open spaces with their ‘free to explore’ philosophy, match Troy’s free spirit inspired indie/ blues tones. He has released six albums ranging from 2013’s ‘Playing With Fire’ through to 2021’s ‘The Cosmic Fire’.
Troy Redfern walks out onto the stage through the red lighting and smoke, he acknowledges the cheers and applause that greet him. He’s playing solo tonight. Dressed in black jeans, a dapper leopard print shirt and sporting his customary Rambler/Gambler hat, guitar slung over his shoulder.
He stands in front of the mic, and the slide intro starts ‘Scorpio’, the opening track from his 2021 album ‘The Fire Cosmic’. It’s heavy, his voice with a gravely sound, complementing the guitar very well. Within the opening three lines those stood outside are drawn in, Troy is stomping his feet as he plays, the mid-section has a great chugging riff before the solo starts, he leans back almost kneeling as he plays. He has grabbed my attention and all of those in here tonight, this guy can play, a great opening to the set.
Next, we have ‘John the Revelator’ this is taken from ‘Island’ released in 2020, the original was recorded in 1930 by Blind Willie Johnson as a Gospel track. Another version was recorded by Curtis Stigers and The Forest Rangers used in The Sons of Anarchy TV Series.
Redfern is narrating the lyrics, slow and precise, he’s telling us a story, and we’re all listening. The track develops through some almost funk riffs into some real bluesy slide guitar sounds, the guitar neck is pointing at the ceiling, standing proud. It encourages you to tap along. He eases from the solo to singing seamlessly. The end is met with great applause. They’re enjoying Troy Redfern here in Birmingham this evening.
From my position by the sound desk, I can see outside and the Merch area, both are empty, everyone is in the hall, nobody wants to miss a note.
Troy hangs his slide on the mic, “I haven’t got a band with me tonight, so I’ll introduce you to my guitars, (apologies if I’ve got them wrong, it was quite quick) a 1929 National Triolian Resonator, 1935 National Style Resonator.” We have something from the new album, ‘Waiting For Your Love’ from ‘The Fire Cosmic’ is up next, this was also released as a single. It’s quicker, this has purpose and swagger.
An undercurrent of dirty blues, and driving riffs. Troy is straight into the slide from the off, the notes filling the room like a shower of wedding confetti. This went down very well judging from the cheers and applause.
Another single from 2021’s ‘The Fire Cosmic’ starts, it’s ‘Sanctify’. The vocal is quick, and has an Alice Cooper sound to it, this is a real toe-tapper, a rock ‘n’ roll tempo. You easily forget that there’s only one man on stage as the sounds travel around the hall. I’m watching his left hand slide up and down the guitar neck, I bet it covers more ground than the advised 10000 daily steps, it’s phenomenal. The track builds to a crescendo finish, which is met by yet another good cheer.
Troy changes his guitar, and announces that this is his last track, one we may know. The piercing notes make the hairs stand to attention. It’s the classic ‘Voodoo Chile’ released by The Jimi Hendrix Experience on their 1968 ‘Electric Ladyland’ album. Everyone is paying attention, the heads are nodding along, Troy is at the edge of the stage leaning over the pit. He, like us, is soaking up the experience of live music, he’s kneeling down. I’d say it’s controlled frantic if there’s such a thing, he plays one handed. The track concludes to huge cheers. Troy thanks the crowd and leaves the stage. They, like me have loved it.
In 1980 Whitesnake released possibly one of the best live albums ever, ‘Live…in the Heart of the City’ during ‘Love Hunter’ guitarist Micky Moody plays a solo, an iconic slide guitar solo. Laying my cards on the table, tonight I’ve seen and heard a slide guitar being played as equally well, and if my cards were a deck of ‘Top Trumps’ the Troy Redfern card would be winning the hand, because, the guy can sing too. Brilliant.
Setlist: Scorpio, John the Revelator, Waiting For Your Love, Sanctify, Voodoo Chile.
It was during 2016 that husband-and-wife duo Grace and Aaron Bond formed When Rivers Meet. They originally lived in Norfolk, and met at Downham Market, before moving to Brightlingsea in Essex. When they first met, Grace had been touring festivals with a Meat Loaf tribute act, and Aaron had been playing in local rock bands.
Their harmonic vocal-led approach to song writing, incorporating a dirty electric guitar, slide resonator mandolin and violin which create a blues rock sound that oozes 1970s classic rock with a gentle nod to the 1930’s era blues that inspire them. In 2019, the couple began touring the UK in their VW camper van (it’s parked outside the venue tonight), which included a performance in Skegness at the Great British Rock and Blues Festival.
November 2020, saw the duo release their debut album ‘We Fly Free’ which was positively received by the UK radio, and rock music magazine media as well as reaching No.1 in the Blues Album Charts on iTunes. On November 19th, 2021, WRM released their second album ‘Saving Grace’ and the single ‘Never Coming Home’. The album met with outstanding reviews, and the single was added to Planet Rock’s main playlist.
Tonight, is part of a 23-date headline tour of the UK to be followed by Europe and US tours later in the year. The band line-up has Grace Bond (vocals, mandolin and violin), Aaron Bond (guitar and backing vocals), Roger Inniss (bass) and James Fox (drums and keyboards).
The lights go out, there’s the sound of gusting wind, the white lights above the stage are flashing. The band walk out, there’s a steady drum beat from James Fox. Grace follows onto the stage smiling, acknowledging the crowd. Opening their set tonight is ‘Did I Break the Law?’ from the first album ‘We Fly Free’, the driving beat and circular riff grabs your attention straight away, an astute simple hook that has Grace Bond’s vocal dancing along it, she is speaking the lyrics, the tempo increases as the track opens up. Aaron demonstrates some fine slide work on the guitar. Roger Inniss’ bass tones are heavy. The crowd start to clap along. If this opener is an indication of what’s to follow, it’s going to be a great night.
Grace picks up her electric mandolin and staying with the first album is ‘Walking on a Wire’, more strong beats from Fox, Inniss’ support is clear. More spoken lyrics, this time Aaron’s backing vocal is a big feature adding depth to the sound. The couple, side-by-side perform a slide duet. I like the way the lyrics are in-between the beats; they complement each other well. A Fox drum roll brings the track to a close. Grace thanks the crowd for the applause.
We stay in 2020, but this time we visit the ‘Innocence of Youth’ EP which gives us ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’. The metronome drum beat is a characteristic of the song. Jangly guitar intro that develops into a strummed/scratched guitar sound. The vocals are out and up front in this. There’s a nice scratch guitar lick coming from Aaron.
Grace tells us the next track is about Lockdown, ‘Battleground’ is off ‘We Fly Free’, a more traditional rock riff, short and punchy. There’s nice tempo changes as the stop/start lyrics and melodies keep your attention. Grace is swaying and pointing to people in time with the music, before holding a big note to finish. We’ve had four tracks so far and four different styles, this is a real showcase of talented song writing.
Grace continues, saying she is excited about being able to tour again, and it’s been a long time coming. Laughing she says she needs to calm down a little, so the next track is a slow one.
The first track from the recent ‘Saving Grace’ is ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’. A slow ballad with delicate beats and gentle guitar, initially Grace is singing, before husband Aaron takes over for a verse. The couple then duet. Inniss provides the heartbeat for the track. A passionate and emotional track sung with feeling and consideration.
Grace has grabbed her mandolin, ‘Free Man’ from the 2019 EP ‘The Uprising’ has a fabulous slide guitar riff, and a smart backing vocal effect. It has a ‘Spirit in The Sky’ vibe, a happy sound. Grace calls for some arm waving, the ladies next to me are dancing, I can even see some “Dad” dancing. This has everything as we’re treated to a piano break. I enjoyed that one.
Aaron comes to the mic to say hello, Grace tells us they are big Thunder fans, and they used to travel to see them together. This next song was about some of the couple’s early days, from ‘Saving Grace’ is ‘Lost & Found’ a simple circular riff and beat produce a very effective start. Grace’s vocal has the tempo control, with the band happy to follow her lead, with a great bass line from Inniss and marching drums from Fox. The room was full of noise, it was a very popular track.
Aaron gets the cigar box guitar out for ‘Innocence of Youth’ from the 2020 EP of the same name, it has Grace speaking the lyrics over a quiet beat, these vocals start to trade blow with a punchy blues riff from Aaron. The cigar box guitar sounds wonderful. The energy increases as Fox fires his drums quicker. Grace leads the clapping. The sound fills as the band join in and play together. Grace demonstrates great vocal range as the styles change. This is a wonderful rollercoaster ride of tempos.
“This is how it all started”, Grace tells the crowd. The acoustic guitar and haunting whistle introduce ‘Bury My Body’ from the ‘We Fly Free’. Grace and Aaron are either side of the mic and singing together, their voices entwined in harmonies. They’re serenading one another, as they stare into each other’s eyes. Grace picks up her violin. The haunting sounds continue for the outro. They finish with a kiss.
From the 2019 EP ‘The Uprising’ we have ‘Tomorrow’, James Fox is now off his stool and playing the keyboard, it’s a soothing start as Grace’s vocals ease us into the track, with Aaron’s gentle strumming for accompaniment, slowly and purposefully the rate increases as Inniss and Fox amplify the emotion.
Aaron has the cigar box guitar back again, ‘Friend of Mine’ from ‘We Fly Free’ gives us a slightly different blues/country sound, the soundtrack to a wilderness, an expanse of notes and beats. An intriguing mix and use of sound. Clever.
Next, we have the title track to the 2020 album ‘We Fly Free’. A dirty blues riff with a sleazy beat, Grace starts to speak the lyrics against an almost silent beat, but the sound explodes with a crash of drums. Grace is off the stage and into the crowd singing and dancing. Aaron asks Grace to go to the bar whilst she’s down there. Roger Inniss produces a pounding bass solo, the James Fox takes over with the drums, before the pair combine. Their beats are making the inflatable Jägermeister bottles above me bounce. Someone has bought Aaron a pint and passes it to him. This track has been great entertainment.
We re-visit ‘Saving Grace’ for ‘He’ll Drive You Crazy’, a quicker rock focused track, with strong riffs and crashing beats. The beats get the crowd nodding, Grace has the violin out, her vocal is powerful and direct. The band pause near the end, apparently Aaron has forgotten how the track finishes, he remembers and it powers to a close.
Grace starts the song off as she narrates her vocal for ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling’ from ‘Saving Grace’, this has another throbbing bass beat. Aaron’s lead solo adds dimension as it draws the listener in, it has a stoner sound to it. Fox’s drums become more influential, as Inniss matches him beat for beat. That one went down well.
After thanking their team, Grace has the mandolin poised as we start ‘Kissing the Sky’ from ‘We Fly Free’. A steady beat with the bass of Inniss rumbling underneath. Grace’s vocals are slow, matching the timing of the beats perfectly. Aaron’s solo has his guitar screeching.
The last track is the heavy bass powered ‘Want Your Love’ from ‘Innocence of Youth’. Harmonies and riffs make a full and melodic track, again tempo changes are used to great effect to build atmosphere. Grace has the violin out again; the crowd are nodding along. Grace calls for some clapping, before having a ‘Woah’s’ sing-back, there’s a big crashing finish. The band finish and leave the stage, to great cheers and whistles.
The encore sees the band return with ‘Never Coming Home’ off of the recent album ‘Saving Grace’. The lyrics are quicker, again Grace shows control and breadth of her vocal range. The hall is jumping, the sounds build the party feel. Grace is swaying and pretending to lasso people in the crowd, as she hits and holds the high notes.
“We’re gonna sneak one more in”, a grinning Grace declares. The final track is ‘Testify’ again from ‘Saving Grace’ a 70’s rock vibe can be felt through this. Grace brings the violin out for one last time, the band are enjoying this, clapping beats, and rocking riffs. Grace is now down in the pit on the crush barriers. A great track to finish on. The crowd show their appreciation as the band line up for a bow.
Setlist: Did I Break the Law? Walking on a Wire, My Babe Says That He Loves Me, Battleground, Don’t Tell Me Goodbye, Free Man, Lost & Found, Innocence of Youth, Bury My Body, Tomorrow, Friend of Mine, We Fly Free, He’ll Drive You Crazy, I Can’t Fight This Feeling, Kissing the Sky, Want Your Love, Never Coming Home, Testify.
Tonight, has been a ‘Hat-Trick’ of firsts for me. The venue and the great artists I’ve seen here. Troy Redfern rightly owns the title “Britain’s King of Slide Guitar” (I’d really like to hear his version of the ‘Love Hunter’ solo). When Rivers Meet have easily justified and demonstrated why they have received the accolades they have, and I’m sure there will be many more to follow. For me, 13 has yet again proven to be a lucky number.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM