My first time back in Stroud, amazingly, since my first ever gig (the mighty Killing Joke, nearly 37 years ago!), but the 20th time for one of my most enduring “live” favourites of late, folk/punk travelling troubadour and confessional poet-ruffian Gaz Brookfield. Only the 2nd artiste to hit the 20s in my “times seen” chart after late 90’s faves Seafood; my last few Gaz live experiences have been with his excellent Company Of Thieves band as back-up, but this early Summer run of shows sees him doing his Solo Acoustic Guy thing. This one not only was close by, but all-ages too, so Logan was able to join me for a boys night out!
Hammered through the leafy Gloucestershire backroads, finding the adjacent car park easily but getting a little turned around trying to find the venue itself! Doors were still officially “shut” as we queued up a shade before 8, but they let a grateful Logan in for a quick loo-trip, then we headed in, first in at doors to be greeted by Gaz. Logan filled the impressed singer in with his recent Swim22 exploits, then we got drinks as locals filed in before opener Joey Costello, on at 20 to 9. A couple of numbers in, we’d had 2 quite contrasting tunes; a slow-burning, wistful and melancholic wallow about being absent from loved ones, followed with an eerie yet more upbeat number in the subsequent “Undertow”. Turned out “Undertow” was the outlier, the set returning to a hushed, sparsely embellished body of songs, occasionally Drake-like pastoral, occasionally touching on parched Americana and balladry reminiscent of a Janovitz, but always underpinned by Costello’s impressive Buckley-esque multi-octave vocals. The boy can sing, no doubt... Charmingly self-effacing too (“this is a song I wrote about nobody really liking me...”), this was a lovely little set, bookended by a suitably quiet singalong for the old standard “(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You”; shame so few of the crowd availed themselves of it, Costello sometimes fighting to be heard over the hubbub from the bar...
No such problems for Gaz, however; following a quick car dash to dump a mini-poster Gaz signed for Logan, we took a spot right down the front as Gaz urged the crowd to, “come on, come on,” and gather closer to fill “the semi-circle of doubt” down the front. “Solo Acoustic Guy” kicked things off, before Gaz challenged the Stroud crowd (!) with, “you guys up for a singalong?”, the audience responding in the affirmative for “Diabetes Blues”.
Thence followed an object lesson in the art of the solo performance, a masterclass in winning an initially reticent crowd over. Gaz, relaxed and urbane, trotted out his repertoire of stories illustrating his songs; the full explanation behind a superb “Tale Of Gunner Haines”, a barbed, “this song is about how boring I am!” comment before “All So Very Rock And Roll”, a comment about Ozzy the van being so named, “because it's always fucked!” before a touching “Ode To Ozzy”, and introducing an acerbic, confrontational “I've Paid My Money” with, “I'm not directing this at anyone in particular...!” As ever, the man worked up an impressive sweat delivering his usual full-on in your face acoustic fayre, robust, rabble-rousing and rambunctious.
I enjoyed the expanded lyric during “A Buskers Song”, “if you ask he'’ ll play your favourite song... unless it's “Wonderwall” in which case fuck off!” and the story of being threatened by Simon Cowell’s lawyer (bastard!) before a pointed “Diet Of Banality”; then, as the set rocked sweatily and noisily along, Gaz noted that he had a backstage at this venue... “and I'm fucking using it; it makes me feel cool!” So, after the usual singalong set-closing “Thin” Gaz took a bow and left the stage...
to return moments later, to the clamour of a by now fully engaged crowd. And a lovely moment during the encore; finale “The West Country Song” saw the crowd form a “hokey cokey” circle which morphed into an impromptu and well-natured dance pit, Logan and myself included, prompting Gaz to unplug his guitar and join us in the middle of the melee! Great stuff, a lovely way to end a great and inclusive performance.
After catching our breath, we bade farewells to the artistes, stopping off at a kebab van on the outskirts of Stroud for sustenance before a midnight return home. So glad I got to take Logan to see Gaz in this form; and proud that this talented yet unsung hero is now up to the twenties for me. Seafood, you have worthy company!