Featured image by Simon Green.
The London Garage in Islington was packed for a hotly-anticipated gig from up-and-coming superstars When Rivers Meet, featuring husband-and-wife team Grace and Aaron Bond, their first headlining tour with the full band. But first up was another artist currently creating a buzz, Troy Redfern, doing his solo rock act with an acoustic resonator slide guitar. In half an hour and five songs, Redfern owned the stage, closing with his highly individual take on Hendrix’ Voodoo Chile, keeping up the bassy riff while psychedelic slide and squeaky feedback kept up the atmosphere.
The unique acoustics of the Garage Auditorium ensure that the whole building vibrates in sympathy with heavy bass, and main act When Rivers Meet open their set with some deep kick drum from James Fox, which could have registered on the Richter Scale. Did I Break The Law, the opening song of their debut album last year, followed by Walking On The Wire, two riffy rockers, start the set in fine style. Grace picks up an open-tuned mandolin for My Babe (an original, not the Little Walter song), to play some slide, which is followed by Battleground, with a brief section of clap-along from the audience.
They calm proceedings down somewhat with a heavily country-inspired ballad named Don’t Tell Me Goodbye, which Grace says was deliberately written to give their latest album a bit of variation, which otherwise comprises almost exclusively heavy-chorded rockers. She then picks up a different electric mandolin for Free Man, while Aaron opts for a slide guitar. Lost And Found has a noticeably Led Zeppelin vibe, although Grace explains at some length how it was inspired by Thunder – the band, not the weather – who were considered a big deal at the pub where she used to work behind the bar, and where she and Aaron apparently met. We also find out how long they’ve been together, although I will keep that material to myself in order to preserve a bit of mystery.
We also know that they had both just given up their day jobs to devote themselves full-time to the band, when lockdown hit in 2020. So the following two songs were favourites in their early live-streaming days: the excellent Innocence Of Youth, which alternates between a bluesy shuffle and melodic pop-rock, and which Aaron plays on a 3-string cigar box slide, and the ballad Bury My Body, which they perform for the most part with just acoustic guitar and their two voices. In an admirable display of versatility though, Grace does a bit of whistling at the beginning and plays the violin at the end. It’s actually the first in a three-number run of ballads – for the next one, in another impressive change-around, drummer James Fox swaps his kit for an electric piano to play Tomorrow, then Aaron picks up his cigar-box guitar again for Friend Of Mine. This tasteful section was one of the highlights of the evening to be honest, as the balladeering style suits Grace’s voice to a tee, and it gives the couple a chance to duet, which also works very well.
The longest number of the set was the title song from their debut album, We Fly Free, featuring a solo section on the six-string bass from Roger Inniss, which builds to a groovy display of bass and drum interplay. Four more numbers to finish the main set culminate with the rocker Want Your Love, with Aaron playing the six-string slide.
They opt for a two-song encore, both reasonably succinct numbers without showboating, but the first, Never Coming Home from the new album, was probably the highlight of the evening for me, and was definitely the earworm that was stuck in my head on the drive home. Notwithstanding, they wisely finish with Testify, the most out-and-out driving rock number of the set, and an excellent closer. Their catalogue veers between gritty blues rock, melodic pop-rock and country-infused ballads, with a great range of sounds and instruments, and Grace’s powerful vocals soaring over the top. But the main appeal perhaps, lies in the couple’s easy East Anglian banter with the audience, with Grace sometimes interrupting her own flow to answer specific comments from the crowd. It’s entertaining and it’s fun, as ideally all concerts should be.