Sunday, 7 May 2017

1,036 “ALL ROADS LEAD TO FROME”, Frome Cheese And Grain, Saturday 6th May 2017

Logan is becoming quite the Gaz Brookfield aficionado at the moment – performing a duet with him a couple of weeks ago on Record Store Day not hurting this at all, of course! – so I’m currently up for any opportunity to take him along to see his current musical hero. This one was therefore a real tempter when I found out about it; an all day Saturday festival at Frome’s excellent old market hall venue, featuring a slew of up and coming local and regional acts, topped with Gaz in full band mode… and all for a measly tenner in advance! The date fell on Kasey’s 8th birthday, which might have thrown a spanner in the works but for the fact that Rach was taking her to Bristol that evening, for a performance of “Joseph” at the Hippodrome. So, a bit of car logistical organisation later, Logan and I were good to go!

We headed off at 2, after Logan’s lunchtime swim session and a bite to eat, parking up in Frome’s main town centre car park where the Cheese and Grain is located, and hit the venue to suss out the arrangements. A 2 stage affair, this; one located in the darkened main market hall, the raised stage (excellently dubbed The “Hey, Didn’t The Foo Fighters Play That Stage?” Main Stage, in honour of a recent Glasto-related secret gig by Grohl’s lot) primarily featuring bands, and a second stage (equally splendidly named The “I Knew Frank Turner Before He Was Famous” Acoustic Stage) at the far end of the back bar, leading into a decked beer garden, for the solo/ acoustic acts. Scheduling was for one act to start on the Main Stage as soon as the preceding Acoustic Stage act had finished, and vice versa, ensuring pretty much constant entertainment throughout, and such proved to be the case. Excellently coordinated throughout, this put some Reading Festivals I’ve attended to shame in that regard! So as we arrived, TURNER were partway through their mainstage set; a 3-piece led by a black clad gothy female vocalist/ keyboardist, they played some promising sounding vaguely doomy material with a brisk indiepop inflection. The girl can sing, no worries there, and had a nice line in patter, asking for some punters in the sparsely populated crowd to, “stand between me and my parents [sat at one of the tables circling the mixing desk] so I can’t see the disappointment in their eyes!”

Grabbed a drink with Logan and chilled (baked?) in the sun-drenched beer deck, with the melancholy acoustic stylings of GEORGE WILDING as amenable background music from the back bar. That done, we ventured back to the main hall for MICK O’TOOLE – not a soloist as I’d surmised, but a gang of 5 ruffians (none called Mick O’Toole!) hailing, “from Cowtown, Wiltshire!” and on a mission to get everybody jigging and drinking cider as copiously as they themselves do. They kicked up a superfast and rambunctious folk/ punk collision with definite Irish overtones, especially from the fast-picking banjoist, recalling Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. I definitely couldn’t drink a whole one – my (remaining) pancreas would explode! – but they were good fun, finishing with a wilful demolition of Ewan McColl’s old standard “Dirty Old Town”.

Into the already-packed back bar for NICK PARKER, one of Gaz’ backing band The Company Of Thieves, and accompanied by 2 others, violinist Ben Wain and guitarist Chris Webb. Nick was excellent; opener “Double Denim Dad” was a jolly and racy Frank Turner-esque tale of youth, and “Make Yourself At Home” dealt with a time having to “support” John Cooper Clarke by playing in this very foyer! With some excellent tunes to augment his witty, wry and observational lyrical bent (which for me harked back to early new wave wordsmiths such as Dury, Costello, and Difford and Tilbrook), this was a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging set, and by the penultimate “Es Tut Mir Leid” (which featured 4 audience members holding the German chorus phrases aloft) and an almost Lemonheads “Being Around”-alike “Terry And June”, the whole room was singing and clapping along. Great stuff – smashed it, Nick!

SPARK THE SAIL, next up in the main hall, were a young 5-piece with male/ female dual vocals, racing through some galloping and exhuberant punk-pop. Decent stuff and some nice choral harmonies, but it all felt a little earnest after Nick’s set. As this had also bumped us up to nearly 5.30, we headed off for some tea, via a chat with Grant, a fellow punter who’d commented favourably about Logan’s duet with Gaz on Facebook, He’d informed us that Gaz was suffering with his voice today, which was substantiated with a (one-sided!) chat with Gaz and guitarist Chris, on the way back from the chippy with our tea. I joked that Logan’s services might be required, to which Chris replied, “oh, so this is THAT Logan!”

Finished our chippy tea (compliments to Pang’s Chippy – good nosh!), then headed back into the bar as JAKE MARTIN set up for his 6.20 acoustic set. An introductory song (featuring the lyrics, “I drink too much at shows” and, “I don’t think I’d like you and you’d probably hate me too!”) set the appropriate tone for this, a bolshy and flippant folk/ punk, drinking man’s acoustic set. “Revolution’s Always Late” saw Gaz bring Jake his drink (stepping over Logan, sat front centre, in the process), prompting a lyric change to, “my cider’s always late!”, then, despite claiming that this was, “the BBC version of my set – I’m trying hard not to be myself”, Jake introduced “For Fuck’s Sake Jake” with an, “oh… fuck…”, thereafter encouraging the crowd to lustily join in the, “you’re an asshole!” line in this otherwise slow-burn, plaintive ballad. So Logan did – with gusto! A racy, dismissive “Modern Life” was allegedly, “about the time I drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels and ate a wheel of Camembert to myself – I had such lovely dreams!” and closer “We Sing The Words All Wrong” was an all-inclusive manifesto for fellow workaday travelling balladeers, which again got the whole crowd singing along. Another great set!

A chat with Grant’s wife, eulogising over Logan, which was nice, then we checked out STAY VOICELESS, pulling a double shift as replacements for the late cancellation of Ghost Of The Avalanche. They kicked up a strident and melodic hard-rocking set of emo-punk with some passionate choral crescendos which occasionally had shades of Biffy Clyro. A promising set of uncompromising noise, if not particularly easy on the ears. B SYDES, current tour-mate of Gaz and Jake Martin, next up in the back bar, was another solo acoustic act, albeit with a more plaintive delivery with shades of early Dashboard Confessional. “This Was My City Once” was my favourite of his set, a broken-hearted and naked paean to his former home town of London, and overall his set was fine if a little lower-key than the likes of Jake and Nick Parker. By now we’d been joined by my friend Matt and his wife Liz, thence decamping briefly and separately into the main hall for the noisy stylings of FREEZE THE ATLANTIC, then, after both coming to the conclusion that their big power riffery and shouty, well-played but somewhat generic Biffy/ Queens Of The Stone Age tinged swampy noise wasn’t really for us at this point, reconvening in the beer garden to chat and catch up! Logan and I also grabbed quick chats and pics with Nick and Jake, both boys encouraging Logan to pick up his guitar again!

This brought us towards our raison d’etre, as it were, so the four of us wandered into the main hall as the Thieves set up and soundchecked on the main stage. Logan and I stayed front and centre as GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES eventually eased into their set, taking their cue from Gaz, who’d carefully preserved just enough of his larynx for this set. His singing voice sounded gruff and hoarse throughout, but that didn’t stop him delivering this quickfire 45 minute set with his usual high levels of energy, passion and enthusiasm, although the voice and time restrictions did preclude anything other than quick cursory between-song comments. One of those, however, was a dedication, “to my little man Logan!” before a brilliantly full-sounding “The Tale Of Gunner Haines”, which got Logan singing along raucously again! Backed up by his 7-piece band, excellent musicians all, Gaz again nailed it; a superb performance, also demonstrating sensible “game management” by swigging copiously on a big bottle of Evian to help prolong his voice. “Apologies to anyone who’ve tried to talk to me today – and apologies for anyone who tries to talk to me afterwards,” he croaked before a splendid Ben Wain fiddle-led “Land Pirate’s Life”. No need to apologise, Gaz!

The galloping and sneering punk rock of “I Know My Place” preceded a countrified, swayalong “Thin”, not the final number tonight but, as Gaz remarked, “you’re contractually obliged to sing along as if it were!” “Let The East Winds Blow” galloped joyfully by, before quick thanks to all and sundry from Gaz preceded an all-inclusive, singalong finale “West Country Song”, closing out the Set Of The Day perfectly. Great stuff!

And pretty much it for us too, as this took us to 20 to 10, so we bade a departing Matt and Liz farewell, and Logan happily collected signatures from Gaz and band inside and out (inside to the upbeat Irish folk/ rootsy strains of CRAZY ARM in the bar) before we headed off into the inky Wiltshire countryside after an excellent, superbly organised and totally successful event. All roads did indeed lead to Frome today, and worthily so. Great day!

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