Celebrate my 50th birthday with a Gaz Brookfield gig? Happy to do that! The 13th time overall for our favourite punked-up guitar-bashing former Swindonian travelling balladeer, and it’s been quite an interval, relatively speaking, between this and the last time out (September 14, gig 925), given that I’d missed his last trip to the ‘don (Valentine’s Day this year) as I was Ex Hexing! So Rach and I were happy to make the most of this one!
Picked Dean up on the way, and met Sarah and Lloyd in the Vic after somewhat of a parking-mare (lucking out on 3 parking places and ending up down Avenue Road, by the Town Gardens!). Dean and I popped in early doors to catch openers The August List (Dean getting in on my ticket after mistaking Sarah for Rachel and giving her his ticket; whoops!), on at 9. An Oxford 2-piece, featuring a seated sensitive singer songwriter type on guitar, and his female partner on some sort of mutant squeezebox, they plied some dusty, sparse alt-country which initially (and favourably) recalled the quirky backwoods murder balladry of Violent Femmes, but then drifted slightly into more conventional fayre as my attention wavered. Not too bad really, but not entirely to my tastes, so I left them to it before the end of the set, to chat with the missus in the bar!
So my return was delayed a little and I missed the start of Gaz’ tour support Jake Martin’s set. Sorry I did, as Martin, a scruffily-bearded and entertainingly potty-mouthed young oik, was tearing it up in front of a large and vociferous crowd. Feted by Gaz himself, and no surprise really as he was a Levellers/ Frank/ Bragg bolshy mini-me, albeit with much more profanity and piles of in-your-face attitude, doing his own thing and inviting you in, but caring not a jot if you don’t “get” it, he’s coming through anyway..! The lengthy between-song banter and quick, self-deprecating wit was as entertaining as the music, if not more so on occasion. One memorable example arrived after he’d invited the audience to sing “arsehole” back to him during the next number, the easy terrace chant chorus of “King Without A Castle”; then when one audience member did so immediately, said loudmouth was put down with an immediate response of, “you sir, have the look of a premature ejaculator!”. A subsequent “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Heroes” made the point that Martin’s voice was anything but his own, the key lyric of “we paint our own pictures” succinctly underlining this, and by his set’s conclusion, he had the crowd raucously singing and clapping along, and left to an ovation after declaring Swindon, “the best crowd of the tour!”
Gaz was up in short order, by which time we’d grabbed a spot down the front, stage right, for his entrance. Flying solo tonight, he was straight on it with newie “Diabetes Blues” from his just-released “True And Fast” album (a copy of which I’d picked up earlier), a lament on his seeming inability to drink cider anymore thanks to a misbehaving pancreas (which I can empathise with!). If tonight’s selections are anything to go by, said CD is another entertaining and personal set; we had paeans to his van, and a number expressing a desire for home ownership (after which he announced he’d recently taken on a mortgage – good for you, Gaz! – and thanked us all for financing his career – “if not for you lot, I’d literally have no roof over my head!”). The prior “Godless Man” was the best of the new lot on display tonight, a barbed and opinionated musing on the afterlife, which got me onside by referencing the immortal Bill Hicks!
New numbers aside, we still were treated to plenty of familiar oldies (Gaz remarking, “I hate going to gigs where the bands have a new album and just play that – I’m not going to do that!”); “Under The Table” set the tone early doors with the whole crowd singing and swaying along, “Black Dog Day” was bilious and vicious, an impassioned reading of his best song, and a more upbeat “East Winds Blow” again saw the audience fill in the chorus hook. “Be The Bigger Man” completed the set perfectly (“this is my last number – only it’s not really my last number!” before encores of an all-inclusive “West Country Song” and “Diet Of Banality” saw Jake Martin filming Gaz from onstage, and the boys bigging up their matching Star Wars tattoos (Jake showing his off, Gaz’ one kept under wraps for modesty’s sake!). A final “Thin” (“this really is my last number ‘cos I’m fucked!”) brought another splendid Gaz performance to a close, the man once again red-faced with effort, the sweat soaking his Marvel t-shirt underlining the shift he’d put in tonight.
We set off promptly as this had taken us through to midnight; but the late one was well worth it. Gaz himself thanked the crowd fulsomely during his encore, as, “without you [the audience], I’d just be a sweaty idiot in an empty room”. Never gonna happen, chap; we’ll always be back for more entertaining evenings from a true star and born performer!