Gaz Top! (the older amongst you might get that reference…!) This was an auspicious occasion, as tonight marked my 23rd time of seeing Gaz Brookfield “live”, either in his solo acoustic guise, or with his excellent Company Of Thieves band in tow, thereby supplanting my 90’s-00’s “live” faves, the Mighty Seafood, atop my “Most Seen” live act list. Move over Messr’s Line, Hendrick and co., there’s a new leader in town! And in town indeed, for Gaz’ Autumn tour promoting new album “Lostfolk” inevitably included a date in Swindon (unfortunately on a school night at the 18+ Vic venue, so Logan couldn’t’ join me; he’ll have to wait for Salisbury next month for his Gaz fix!). Said record is an absolute corker as well; continuing the forward momentum from last album “I Know My Place”, “Lostfolk” is an utterly accomplished (dare I even say, mature…) body of work, featuring musings on the relentless march of time, mental health et al, as well as the usual buddy boy drinking songs, set to some relentless and incendiary powerpoppy punk rock (with a tad, nay, a soupcon of folk thrown in, of course). Easily his best work, I had to hear this “live” with a full band, so I snapped up a ticket for his December SWX full band show, as well as tonight (and Salisbury with Logan)!
But this one first; I headed up the hill for 8ish, running into Dave Franklin and meeting Rich and Ady, whence we 4 put the world of rock’n’roll to rights (of course). Wandered into the backroom venue (following Linda’s lusty bellow heralding the first act!) for opener Will Davies of The Flour Babies. Been meaning to check out his band properly for some time but we just keep missing each other, it seems… anyway, solo Will was a hushed, introspective prospect, with some glacial acoustic Americana which early doors recalled “Fables”-era REM and Sparklehorse’s quieter moments, then later on, the likes of Death Cab For Cutie! Small wonder then that the sole cover was an obscure Modest Mouse number, followed by an original which, according to Will, ripped said number off! Thematically, lots of lovelorn material delivered in an understated, conversational voice which gave the impression he’d been through the wringer a bit and maybe just needed a hug. Anyway, good start and I promise (once again!) to check out Flour Babies properly!
Gaz’ tour support Ben “B-Sydes” was next; Mr. Franklin had introduced us earlier and I’d commented on his “All Roads Lead To Frome” set a couple of years back (gig 1,036), which I found enjoyable if a little low-key. Well, straight from the outset Ben seemed determined to prove me wrong tonight, with a considerably more overt, upbeat and dynamic set. His second number (“about stupid decisions, as my life is held together by [them]”) kicked in with a Bragg-esque “New England” riff, segueing into a plaintive yet strident Dashboard Confessional delivery. “This Used To Be My City”’s understated woah-oh’s were the exception rather than the rule tonight, as this set bristled with upbeat, almost emo-esque numbers, delivered in Ben’s heavily nuanced vocals, which reminded me a bit of Placebo’s Brian Molko (!). At one stage he hopped off the stage and handed me his pick to play the last chord of a song (!!); on another occasion he paused a number midway through to pithily comment to a couple of unwelcome chatty Cathys, “I know the chords, I’m just waiting for people to shut the fuck up!”; and another rousing choral singalong was the feature of set highlight “The Desperate Dance”. Another emo-lite gallop concluded a startling and splendid support set. Well done Ben!
A quick chat with Ben as well as Gaz (manning the merch) as I bought Ben’s CD, then I took my spot down the front, house left for a change, for Gaz. Opening with “Pen To Paper”, his wry musings on writers block (!), he then commented on the “semi-circle of doubt”, the empty space near the front of the stage. Oddly for a Vic Gaz gig, this remained relatively unoccupied throughout, only myself and (later) Ed and Linda daring to get that close. No matter, title track “Lostfolk” was next up, Gaz giving it his usual full-on passionate delivery, all energy and attitude. Happily (for me at least), Gaz found space for ALL the numbers off the new album tonight (despite an earlier comment of “don’t you hate it when you see a band with a new album out and they just play the new stuff?”) as well as a smattering of old faves such as the enthusiastically-received “Tale Of Gunner Haines” and the intense roar of “Black Dog Day”, which had segued directly in from similarly-themed newie “Afterthought”. Before this early double, Gaz had promised to, “get the miserable shit out of the way early so we can concentrate on enjoying ourselves,” and was true to his word; slow-burn newie “Oalaero” had an entertaining intro chat about Gaz’ search for a pedal steel player for the CD version, which then inexplicably diverted into a discourse on the Vic’s blokes’ loo décor (“the then landlord asked us regulars if we had any spare porn! This was pre-internet days – spare porn, what’s that?”), a punky “Uneducated Guess” was breathtaking and brilliant, Gaz’ take on Frank Turner’s similarly themed “1933”, and after the almost melancholy “Just Another Day” finished the set, Gaz commented, “I’m not going offstage [to come back on again for the encore] as it’s just a cupboard – there’s no strippers or cocaine!”. A venomous “I’ve Paid My Money” was an encore highlight, before Gaz took to the dancefloor for final number “Great Minds Drink Alike”, conducting the singalong with Ben Sydes filling in for Jake Martin’s lines. A great way to end another great Gaz set!
It occurred to me that this 23rd time needed noting, so Gaz happily posed for a pic with me, before I bade farewell and headed off. A new leader, and with 2 more “live” Gaz outings before Christmas, he’ll be out of sight by New Year. And a well-deserved accolade for the Top Man Gaz!