Gaz Coombes – O2 Institute, Birmingham

Monday 21st May, 2018

It was a fairly last minute decision to go to this gig, made possible by a confluence of factors. It was a touch reckless and exciting but for music I love, and the opportunity to photograph Gaz, I was willing to have a Monday night adventure.

Britain’s 2nd City has some fine musical heritage and venues but I’ve only been to a few gigs here in my life. The O2 chain venues I’ve been at have varied, from the rather nice in Manchester, to the “I’ll never go there again” in Bristol so I had little idea what to expect.

It had been a fairly big day, full of nerves. Dropping the boy off to go to school camp was huge as he has only been apart from me or his Dad for 1 night before now. My baby going away from home for 4 nights. Then a job interview. Then work (never not stressful). Then a coach journey (traffic?!) and to top if off my first opportunity to photograph to Gaz Coombes.  I’m always nervous about photographing a gig, this was my first with new camera, first since last October and first in the venue and of the artist. Fortunately everything preceding the gig had gone as well as could be hoped and I had 2 hours of listening to music on the coach to calm me.

I was in early enough to scope the venue out and find vantage points from which to see the gig after my 2 songs of photographs had been taken in the pit. Thankfully a couple of balconies and stairs would be enough to ensure I didn’t spend the majority of the gig watching the back of other people’s heads.

This was to be the third time I’d seen Gaz Coombes live this year, after Tom introduced me to his music earlier this year. Why I hadn’t come across his music beforehand I’m not sure. He ticks all my boxes, supremely talented singer/songwriter who can play almost any instrument, varied and interesting output, intelligent songwriting about personal and political issues and a jolly nice chap to boot.

Support came from Piney Gir, gorgeous harmonies and rather nice guitar. A more polite support act I don’t think you will find and some of the audience met Piney with the same level of respect. I shot the first couple of songs of Piney’s set to help get used to the lighting and the venue and then watched the rest from of her set from the side. It was an ace vantage point and I liked what I heard. Puppy Love and the track after that were my favourites.

Then Gaz. Camera primed I swallowed the nerves & dived in. After not very long the memory card filled up and I had to dive off to retrieve another (thank you very much to the helpful road crew for his torch assistance) and then the camera had a flipout and it took what felt like ages to sort. My heart was racing and panic was starting to set in. I only had 2 songs dammit! My nerves were such I’ve no idea what those opening songs were.

The atmosphere was good, but not great. I know it was a Monday night, Birmingham, but you could have been more up for it is all I’m saying.

After those first couple of songs in the pit I gathered myself up and made my way towards the back where the stairs and balcony were to be able to enjoy the rest of the gig. And enjoy it I did. The sound was pretty good up there and I had a decent view. Gaz and his band are lovely to watch as well as hear, he was much more confident on stage tonight than the first time I had seen him. He played a decent chunk of the new album, Worlds Strongest Man, which made me happy as I like it very much indeed. The emotions evident as he sang them, this album clearly means a lot, and taking it on the road to share, more so.

The band were all brilliant. I couldn’t single a man or woman out, although I do have a soft spot for bass players as you know and Gaz has written some bloody amazing bass lines. And the harmonies offered by Emma, Amy and Piney as backing support adds so much that it would be churlish not to mention them.

I missed the final track as my boy called me from camp because he missed me and needed to hear my voice. I was thankful for being at the back so that I could nip out the foyer to talk to him. Talk about torn emotions, maternal love and musical love competing for attention!

The encore songs were my highlight, Wounded Egos one of my fav tracks on the new album and Vanishing Point (a song about panic attacks) seemed apt for how parts of my day had gone. I had also found a spot to watch, near the front of the venue, up some stairs where I was close and had space to cut loose a little. I also snuck in some great shots from there, fabulous.

The absolute joy of photographing a band you love is how close you get to be in the pit, nothing between you and the band at all. Being able to be creative around the music and feel a part of it in a visceral and physical way is such a privilege. The downside is that I don’t get to be a fan and get lost in the music as I am watching the lighting and stagecraft to be able to capture the right moment. It is harder than you may think, and with the advent of camera phones people seem to underestimate the skill required to be a photographer.

A huge thank you to Gaz and his management for allowing this fan to get her photography geek on.

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