Quite a sense of occasion surrounding this one, all things considered: a sold-out gig at The Fleece for The West Country’s hardest-working and finest folk/ punk troubadour, Mr. Gaz Brookfield; a gig celebrating the release of his 5th and maybe best album in “I Know My Place”, an album where the man deviated from his usual DIY ethic and embraced the glories of a “proper” studio and a backing band of excellent musicians, aligning them with probably his strongest and most consistent set of material yet; my 45th gig of a very busy 2016 gig year and overall my 15th time of catching Gaz “live”; and a chance, after a long time of asking on his part and thanks to The Fleece’s recent “over 8’s” admittance policy, to take Logan along to see one of his favourite artistes!
This would also be the culmination of a big “Boy’s Day Out”, as Rachel had taken Kasey to London for a show, and we had indulged ourselves in the excellent “Rogue One” at the cinema and a Nando’s lunch! Given that this was a Saturday close to Christmas, we headed off early doors in anticipation of heavy traffic and parking issues, but none were forthcoming and we parked up behind the venue just before doors, chilling by the river to kill time. Popped in early doors and bumped into Gaz, manning the merch stand, so took the chance to introduce Logan, chew the cud about the new album and Star Wars, and get a pic. Grabbed a sarny around the corner, then back in to find a spot on the barriers, stage left, for opener Jack Cookson. A young, curtain-haired bloke sporting a mouth organ and fat acoustic, he played material alternating between nice, quiet pastoral stuff (viz. “Ocean Song” about his dad) and groovier numbers with a more bluesy feel, punctuated with some laid-back and affable chat, which unfortunately was often lost against the background hubbub. A shame, as he was a genial opener, with his Kevin McDermott-like closer “Thistles” the best of his set.
Jake Martin, next up after a loo break, was however a different kettle of profanity; he really got the crowd onside and revved up with some terrace chant choruses delivered in an overt, Billy Bragg-esque swagger. The otherwise lovely, melancholy “King Without A Castle” saw him exhorting the crowd to enthusiastically sing back the, “you’re an asshole!” hook, “Modern Life” was a galloping and vicious polemic, bitterly railing against its’ subject matter, and the final number was a Frank Turner-esque road-weary travelogue. In between we had some smart, entertaining patter (“I tried to write the perfect punk rock song but realised I was a talentless little twat with a guitar!”), but also a great realisation of the trials and tribulations of life scratching a living at the lower rungs of rock’n’roll. He went down a storm, unsurprisingly, given his obvious similarity to tonight’s headliner, and left to a loud ovation after a fine set. Nice one Jake!
We’d made some friends down the front, including a friendly rocker with a huge beard and a collection of chunky steampunk metal rings, and Gaz’ mum (!), and whiled away the intermission in jovial chat. Gaz and his merry crew of Thieves – a 7-piece band in all, including usual cohorts Ben Wain and Nick Parker dedicated to violin and mandolin respectively! –didn’t keep us waiting long, however, invading the stage at 9.15 to a shout of, “Bristol! Been a long time!” Then straight into the jolly, almost old English Music Hall feel of new CD opener “March Of Progress”, followed by a rip-roaring “Diabetes Blues” which got the enthusiastic crowd roaring along and shaking the rafters loose of centuries of cobwebs in the process. Great start!
Backed onstage with the same copious talent featured on the new CD, armed with that record’s excellent material to augment an increasingly impressive back catalogue, and cheered on by a partisan sell-out hometown crowd, tonight might have seemed the musical equivalent of an open goal for Gaz. However you’ve still got to stick them in the back of the net, and I’m glad to report he totally smashed it tonight. Damn near burst the net, in fact! “The Tale Of Gunner Haines” was preceded with a preamble colouring in the edges to the story, the toughened-up rendition seeing Logan bouncing and singing along to his favourite from the new CD. Ben Wain’s virtuoso fiddle was a highlight of a galloping “The World Spins Round” (Gaz describing it as, “a fucking good workout!”) before Nick Parker took centre stage, embellishing the sway-along “It’s All So Rock’n’Roll” (“finding beauty in the mundanity – if that’s a word,” according to Gaz) with some lovely mandolin, then “Life Begins” featured some Dury-esque honky tonk piano from Jon Buckett. “Ferry Song” – apparently the result of a dare from Nick for Gaz to write a song about a ferry in the 10 minutes before boarding one! – was a touching and melancholy ballad, highlighting the breadth and confidence of Gaz’ songwriting, before the older material took centre stage again, a galloping “Land Pirate’s Life” again eliciting a rousing reception, and “The West Country Song” seeing Gaz balance precariously on the barriers in front of us (to Logan’s delight!) to conduct the terrace-chant chorus singalong.
“Be The Bigger Man” saw the longest and loudest ovation of the night, a clearly moved Gaz remarking, “Bristol… I have no words…!” then encore “Thin” rounded off a superb showing, Gaz commenting, “this is the most fun I’ve had all year!” before climaxing the performance with his trademark scissor kick jump. Quite appropriate, in fact, as this was possibly as good as I’ve seen him, a man raising his game in advance of what surely must be a near-future well-deserved breakthrough to a wider audience.
Fond farewells to our front-row friends, then a really nice surprise, our rocker friend generously presenting Logan with one of his steampunk rings to wear at future gigs. Lovely gesture, lovely bloke. Thank you, my friend! A quick signed list for Logan from a breathless Gaz in the corridor afterwards, then I took a weary boy home, after another excellent occasion, to continue to kick-start his gigging days with a real bang!