Friday, 3 February 2017

1,021 GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, RAZE*REBUILD, Nick Parker, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 2nd February 2017

Well, in the words of “Songs Of Praise” impresario and all round good egg Mr. Dave Franklin, “well, that escalated quickly…” I’d already sorted myself a ticket for this one, expecting an enticing acoustic solo throwdown between probably the 2 finest songwriters produced by the ‘don since, well, Partridge and Moulding, namely Bristol domiciled but always-Swindonian Gaz Brookfield, kicking off a lengthy tour promoting recent, game-changing album “I Know My Place” with a return to his old stamping grounds, and Si Hall, mainman and inspiration for the Mighty Raze*Rebuild but an impassioned solo performer in his own right. Then Gaz decided to gather the troops and make this a rare full band outing – the first since the triumphant Fleece show, gig 1,016 and more pertinently the only such gig on the tour – so Si followed suit, confirming a full Raze*Rebuild outing. Hoo boy, this one’s going to raise the Vic roof, no messin’…!

Sales were brisk for this one, a virtual pre-gig sellout with, impressively, about half the tickets snapped up by out-of-towners! And you could generally tell who they were too – they’re the blokes spending time admiring the “interesting” décor in the Vic’s gents toilets! But I’m a little ahead of myself… a swift drive up the hill got me the closest parking space in the nearest car park (had a feeling I might need it afterwards…!), and I ran into Gaz crossing the road for a brief chat, then Mr. Franklin on the door and finally Stuart (giving this one a late shout), and old punk buddy Olly and his charming wife Caz in the Vic itself. Wandered down for Nick Parker’s opening set at 8.30 – accompanied by violinist Ben Wain throughout and guitarist Chris Webb for most of the set, this felt like a Company Of Thieves warm-up, albeit performing Nick’s own, upbeat and generally more whimsical material. Shades of Costello or Dury here too, particularly in the clever wordplay and observational subject matter, with numbers variously about shopping in thrift stores or playing in the foyer at a John Cooper Clarke gig! Some audience participation too, with 4 punters holding up German phrase flashcards for the singalong “Es Tut Mir Leit” punctuated an entertaining opening set.

I took a break then the place filled up good and proper for Raze*Rebuild; good thing Stu saved my spot down the front! SoP co-promoter Ed introduced them onstage with, “Dave Rose thinks they’re the best band in Swindon and I’m inclined to agree… well, ever since Gaz left…!” Si and the boys then proceeded to underline my belief with an utterly blistering, incendiary set, laying waste to the Vic from note one. Drummer Jamie advised me afterwards that following their recent Level 3 set, where the sound had taken awhile to bed in, he was determined to give it some extra welly early doors, and it certainly showed; the sound was huge, beefy, almost palpable for the rampant “Back To The Fall” and herky-jerky new wave-isms of “Jaded Heart”, and I planted my feet and gave it loads. Some banter with a fellow front-row punter sporting a Carter USM shirt, and (ironically) with long-term fan and thorn-in-the-side (!) Paul Carter, just behind me, preceded Si giving an impassioned reading of the bleeding-raw, Buffalo Tom-like “Kat, I’m Sorry”, and a hushed “You’re The Chalk” was a breath-grabbing slow interlude, before switching up a gear or twelve for a brilliantly clear “All The Gear”, tonight’s set highlight. All too soon, “Sand In The Petrol” closed out a whirlwind ride of a set, Si remarking, “this is such a great night to be a part of.” By my reckoning, Raze*Rebuild were a massive part of tonight; this set probably as good as I’ve seen them, the distilled essence of pure rock’n’roll, powerful, anthemic and passionately delivered. Follow that, Gaz!

Took another breather then wormed my way back to my stage-front spot as Gaz assembled the troops; impressive enough that the 7-strong Company Of Thieves all fitted onstage without tripping over each other! With a flippant shout of, “alright?” to the assembled and enthusiastic masses, Gaz kicked into gear, although initially things seemed a little understated – Gaz’ folkier material suffering after the rampaging noise of Raze*Rebuild, perhaps? Whatever, it was soon sorted, with a toughened-up “Gunner Haines” (preceded by a preamble about Brean – “stuck in the 1970’s,” apparently! – and the premise for the song) excellently and expertly delivered, and the band of expert players thereafter fully hitting their stride, backing up Gaz’ usual enthusiastic and all-inclusive performance perfectly.

“Life Begins”, a ramshackle joy, was dedicated to Gaz’ dad (“I wrote it to embarrass him at his retirement party – as all good sons should!”), an all-action and fiddle-driven “I Know My Place” was, “all about my quitting Facebook because it’s shit!” and an otherwise-excellent, breathless “Land Pirate’s Life” saw Gaz briefly forget the couplet preceding the racy middle 8, turning to the front rows (well, me actually…!) for lyrical prompting! After a roof-raising set finale “West Country Song”, Gaz and the band ploughed on, remarking that the band wouldn’t all fit backstage, so the encore starts here! “Be The Bigger Man” was its usual pointed and impassioned self, “Let The East Winds Blow” a galloping folk-punk road trip, and prior to one last singalong for “Thin”, a breathless Gaz bade farewells with, “Swindon, that was pretty fucking spectacular!” Indeed it was, another splendid performance from a supremely talented frontman.

Gathered breath, setlists and signatures afterwards (lists 700 and 701 respectively!), chatting and complimenting all and sundry after a couple of brilliant performances from Gaz and Raze*Rebuild. Stu and I then hit the road, home for ¼ to midnight, and it then hit me – too much dancing tonight, I’m going to really ache tomorrow… aaah, who cares after a great night out like that? Superb stuff!

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