November 6, 2023

Photos by Will Carter

Toronto rockers The Commoners rounded off their UK tour in support of Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton with a headline slot at The Bourne Music Club in Sittingbourne, Kent. It was the Canadians’ second UK tour, having played a double-header with Troy Redfern at the same venue in April, and once again their mix of deceptively southern-states rock and good-natured banter proved popular with the crowd from Kent. For this gig, they engaged Medway power trio The Zac Schulze Gang in support, and the Gillingham kids were a revelation.

Zac Zchulze himself is a great guitarist and front man, with Ben Schulze on drums and bassist Ant Greenwell proving to be equally accomplished. They wrong-footed the crowd somewhat with their laddish, punky look and attitude and brash pub-rock style – it looked as if we were in for an energetic but unsubtle thrash, especially when they launched into a rapid-fire cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man to start. But by the time they played third number Dry Spell, featuring excellent solos from both bass and drums, and some impressively tight tricks with shouted numbers and key signatures, it was clear they knew their stuff. A slow, bluesy version of Rufus Thomas’ Walkin’ The Dog was followed by a manic rendition of Dr. Feelgood’s She Does It Right, but their set hit its peak with a breathtaking presentation of Rory Gallagher’s I Fall Apart. In a totally different vein from the rest of the set, with tasteful, sensitive ballad passages interspersed with heartfelt vocals and a powerful playout solo, it proved beyond doubt that they can handle a massively varied repertoire. There were a few Zac Schulze T-shirts dotted around the audience, but by the end of their half-hour, the crowd was cheering, and rightly so.

The Commoners rocking out (photo by Will Carter)

The Commoners kicked off their set with More than Mistakes, a Motown-influenced rocker from their 2022 album Find A Better Way. It was a safe enough start, but the band kicked into gear with the much heavier Shake You Off, in which singer Chris Medhurst put down his rhythm guitar and fronted the band with mic alone; guitarist Ross Hayes Citrullo favours a heavily overdriven tone, with his Les Paul slung literally at his knees. The band has now drafted in long-time tour keyboard player Miles Evan Branagh as a full member, and he proved his worth with a keyboard solo on Who Are You, which Medhurst dedicated to some random dude who tried to steal his hat at the airport!

Devil Teasin’ Me is a new song, currently getting a fair bit of airplay on Planet Rock; an uplifting and accessible number featuring a harmony guitar line and a lengthy instrumental section with a rhythm change as the vocals come in. This was followed by Restless, a waltz-time ballad introduced as the title track of their mooted new album, not yet released. Citrullo uses a violin bow on his guitar in the intro to the spacey, slow rock number Body And Soul, a song that the band have been playing live for years, and although it didn’t make the cut on either of their existing albums, it’s always a highlight when played live. Hopefully it will see the light of day on the new vinyl.

The set is mostly rockers of one stamp or another, with Branagh opening Deadlines with some nice bluesy piano, but the ballad Sweet Melissa, with open guitar chords and lots of swelling cymbals played with felt mallets made for a nice change of mood, and was another highlight. The set finished with two chargers from the current album, Fill My Cup and the excellent title track, Find A Better Way. It was a great way to sign off, and an encore was inevitable – when they came back to the stage, Medhurst made the point that every song they had played was an original, written by the band. Now though, they were going to wrap up with a classic cover – Feelin’ Alright, which was a big hit for Joe Cocker back in 1969, but was originally written and recorded by Steve Winwood’s Traffic the year before. They played an extended version, with a funky backing and some great, fluid but driving bass work from Ben Spiller; Adam Cannon kept the band spot on with rock-solid drumming throughout. Medhurst concluded with an appeal to buy as much merch as we could carry, so they didn’t have to pack too much back to Canada – “Air Canada hates us,” was his heartfelt entreaty. Well the UK loves The Commoners by the look of things; hopefully the trip was profitable enough to bring them back next year!