From one hard working, punk-influenced singer songwriter with a head full of forthright opinions and the wit and wherewithal to articulate them in song, to another… Gaz Brookfield’s return to Swindon as part of his 2014 Spring tour promoting his excellent “In The Company Of Thieves” CD was a Valentine’s Day must for Rach and myself. A first gig for me at my former Friday lunchtime watering hole The Queen’s Tap might be slightly different to my recent appointment with Frank Turner at the cavernous Motorpoint Arena, but I was expecting a similarly passionate and committed performance from this, my 11th Gaz Brookfield experience.
T’was a horrible night for venturing out, though, but off we set after Rach’s mum arrived to babysit, getting picked up by Sarah and wandering into the pub, windswept, about 8.30. Gaz was fiddling with his set-up in the corner stage area but spared some time to chat, thanking us for braving the storm. Hey, if he could drive up from Bristol up a blustery M4, it’s the least we could do…! We commandeered 3 barstools at the bar corner with an unimpeded view of the performance, as opener Lonely Tourist kicked off proceedings at 9ish. A slight, dapper expat Glaswegian with a self-effacing attitude, his set was immediately beset with some technical issues (prompting Gaz to jump over and fiddle with some knobs on his mixing box to no avail, then just thump the damn thing, which seemed to do the trick!) but he admirably ploughed through them. This was an impressive set of short, sharp songs which invariably galloped along, occasionally with a feel similar to early Idlewild or Frightened Rabbit, with “The Ballad Of Paul Tierney”, a song about a journeyman footballer – his namesake, incidentally – a highlight (I liked the line about going “on loan to Crewe”!). He referred at one point to his songs as, “Scottish misery,” but they brought a smile to my face and warmed the early crowd up nicely.
We had a few more in at this point – including friends Kayte and Jason, out on a Valentine’s Day date! – but our view was still clear when Gaz kicked into his set at 10. Opening with “SN1”, always a good barometer for crowd engagement in Swindon, his impressive and unique guitar percussion powered this along, and the “arrrr”s from the crowd in response to the line, “sunny hills of Wiltshi-yerrrrr!” indicated we were in for a good, all-inclusive evening. “It’s windy out there! Everyone’s coming in with this [breathless, slightly stunned] face on!” remarked Gaz before an early “Frank And Sam”, then a galloping, rambunctious “Land Pirate’s Life” was prefaced by Gaz commenting, “I suppose I’d best play some songs from the new CD, that’s what the tour’s about…!”
Once again the man was on top form; shorn of the band backing him up this time, he was nonetheless as open, gregarious, riveting and passionate a performer as ever. “I’ve been saying [to other crowds] not to laugh at this opening line, but you’re allowed to,” he remarked before the opening line of the excellent “Towns”, “I grew up in Swindon…” elicited a huge roar. A few more infrequently played tracks followed, including “Glass Half Empty” (“the only love song I’ve written…[as you’re here] I’m guessing either you’re single, or this is your Valentine’s Day night out and your partner has brought you to see some sweaty idiot shouting… I don’t know which is sadder!”), and an excellent, pointed “Death Bed”, which was a highlight. Then a dramatic, dark “Black Dog Day”, the best number from his new CD, an as-ever stunning “Be The Bigger Man” (“I’ve done politics, I’ve done religion, now it’s bullying”) and a venomous yet singalong “Diet Of Banality” returned Gaz to familiar “live” territory. Practically the whole pub joined in for set finale, “The West Country Song”, before Gaz was persuaded for an encore of “Thin”, another singalong to close nearly 1 ½ hours of damn fine entertainment.
I picked up a Lonely Tourist CD and we bade farewell after this, Gaz’ 900th gig overall and my 11th time, with doubtless many more to come. Surely it won’t be long before Gaz’ true talents are recognised and he steps up a Level or 3 (!) to achieve something approaching Turner-esque recognition. It’s no less than the man deserves!