Written by Scott Brett
Photographs by John Bull – ROCKRPIX
The Appleyard in North Kent’s Sittingbourne has a 100 year history as a former social club connected to the local paper-making industry, having been refurbished in 2018, and renamed, into the multi -event complex we arrive at tonight. A sizable crowd has been drawn here to see award-winning, Californian troubadours Robert Jon & The Wreck, supported by the formidable singer/songwriter Troy Redfern and hosted by The Bourne Music Club.
Cutting a cool, iconic dash, somewhere between ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Aragorn and any one of a number of Eastwood’s maverick gunslingers, Troy Redfern strode onto the stage with the air of a musician wholly confident in his ability to grab the crowd’s attention, shake them right up and take them with him on his odyssey of raucous, blues-based rhythms and rumblings. A lone figure, the virtuoso, journeyman string picker had come to showcase select tracks from his latest, intergalactic art-themed album, The Fire Cosmic, and oh boy how he showcased them! As with all great songwriters, Redfern has that uncanny knack of brilliantly bringing together a seemingly unconnected, chaotic soup of sonics and fashioning them into something truly unworldly, truly beautiful, leaving onlookers awestruck and enraptured.
And so it proved tonight. His playing was exquisite, intense, mixing heavy sliding narratives with razor sharp individual notes, his Resonator guitar at times feeling like it had taken on human form and was weeping and wailing in his arms in the wake of another of life’s disasters. Opening track Sanctify, a single from the new album, hit home hard from the off, with an addictive, driving, rockabilly backbeat; it had those in attendance raising eyebrows and craning necks. Think it did the attention-grabbing trick! The intensity was lightened briefly, when Redfern jokingly advised he was going to introduce us to his band, before turning and pointing to his kick drum! Quickly back in the saddle, subsequent eye-wideners Falling Down, taken from previous album Island, and Ghosts, from the new album, cemented the audience’s appreciation of his complete mastery of his art, and it was left to an incredible rendition of the blistering Waiting For Your Love, again from the new album, to seal the deal and win him over a whole new set of admirers. Three Cs sum up Troy Redfern: consistency, conviction and commitment. Spectacular.
ROBERT JON & THE WRECK
Time to let off a blast of steam in the bar after all that emotion, before I head back into the office for the evening, drink in hand, to rendezvous with the main event; Robert Jon & The Wreck.
On the road again to promote their sixth studio album Shine a Light on Me Brother, they hit the stage in glorious unison, these five seasoned brothers-in-arms launching into The Devil Is Your Only Friend with a confidence and tightness that comes only from knowing the musical family gathered around so well. The sound is total, full, rich of tone, with the listener able to not only hear the band in its entirety, but also able to hone into every instrument singularly and appreciate just how well these maestros have all bases covered. With a delicious, punchy, voracious vocal from main man Robert Jon Burrison and some serious string bending antics from the amazing lead guitarist Henry James, the opening track goes down a storm with the faithful and we’re off and running.
Hot on the opener’s heels, the west-coasters follow up with magnificent renditions of Do You Remember, Hey Hey Mama and Work It Out, with James unleashing a string of blisteringly dextrous solos, supported by some glorious rhythm section work from drummer Andrew Espantman and ever-smiling bassist Warren Murrel. Some unbelievable vocal harmonies from the whole band have the audience moving into party mode, whooping and hollering for the first, but not the last time tonight!
With no let up, they fly into new single Everyday, which is delivered with total conviction, before firing off ‘live’ favourite Oh Miss Carolina, where Steve Maggiora on keyboards wins his stripes with some awesome ivory work, adding musical accents left, right and centre to the work of his compadres.
Thrusting ever forwards, they rattle off album greats Blame It on the Whiskey, Tired of Drinking Alone and Can’t Stand It, the latter of which sees Murrel creating some astonishing bass line grooves as he proves what a solid performer he is. He even enjoys a bit of Berry-esque duck walking!
The thunderous drumming of Espantman is showcased on the next couple of tracks, those being This Time Around and Don’t Let Me Go, the latter of which also sees James playing some impossibly whippy slide guitar.
At his point Robert Jon puts in a request for all concertgoers to stand,as a sizable section are seated, but adds “…only if you’re able to”, alluding to the fact that the audience demographic isn’t perhaps as young as it once was. He then adds “…well we are in Sittingbourne I suppose!!”
Following the comedic interlude, we move into ‘most popular cut’ territory, beginning with the title track of the new album, Shine a Light on Me Brother, a rousing, handclapping, evangelical beast of a tune. Everyone’s up for this one and the place is as lively as a bible-belt Sunday morning. The whole band excel, with Maggiora looking like a man possessed as he frantically runs his fingers up and down his keys. Fabulous, uplifting stuff.The classic Old Friend keeps the party on track with everyone, including the evening’s security, singing along to the catchy chorus. James plays a wicked lead and Robert Jon hits the ‘Rock’ overdrive booster button and goes vocally stratospheric.
Penultimate track Cold Night is a firm favourite in the hall and, although lengthier than others tonight, keeps us all spellbound, nobody daring to take their eyes or ears off the band for a second, as we are treated to an unbelievable display of full-on, sublime musicianship.
Leaving the stage with chants of “more” rolling around the hall like a Mexican wave, the guys reappear to deliver a monster of an encore in the shape of Glory Bound, with the band as tight as they were at the start of the show. Everyone’s up and rocking by now, soaking up the last few rays of sound after what has been an incredible night of entertainment.
Robert Jon & The Wreck are heading for true greatness, of that I am certain, delivering their brand of whiskey drenched devilment with honesty and humility, endearing all that are lucky enough to cross their musical path to them. They have thoroughly conquered this small part of North Kent tonight and I’m sure they will go on to take the rest of the country by storm on their remaining September UK tour dates. An awesome night.
Robert Jon & The Wreck: https://www.facebook.com/robertjonandthewreck
Troy Redfern: https://www.facebook.com/TroyRedfern
The Appleyard: https://www.facebook.com/theappleyard.sittingbourne