Gaz Coombes – Riverside, Newcastle


Wednesday 24th October, 2018

This was to be my fourth and last Gaz gig on this tour. Getting there involved crossing from one side of the country to the other by train. The last, and only, other time I had been to Newcastle was back in the late 90’s for a Unison low pay demo. To encourage young people to join in they put on a concert. So, for a fiver, I saw (and head of heals fell in love with) Divine Comedy. Ash were the headliners, and it remains the only time I’ve walked out of a gig before the end as I was bored!

I checked, double, triple and quadruple checked my camera equipment over before I left the house on Wednesday morning to get the train. There was no way I wanted to miss this, my last chance to photograph the band.

There were a lot of emotions swirling about inside me for this gig. A sadness that this little adventure was coming to an end. Who knows when and if I shall be able to see Gaz and the gang again. Excitement that I would get another chance to see them tonight. Nervousness about my photography. A longing and aching in my heart that is born of the slow ending of other things, a heartbreak in slow motion is an indescribable pain.

Riverside is an odd place, and I like odd places. A bar and balcony above as well as the flat room below. Photographically, small pit at the front of the stage, relatively low stage and lights. Could be interesting I thought. Our plan was for Tom to hold me a spot at the front that I could get back to after my 2 songs worth of snapping.

I completely forgot to mention the support band in last weeks review of Brighton (forgive me?) so I shall make amends for that now. Willie J Healey are the name, a young 4 piece who play blues influenced rock. They have been doing a solid job supporting on this tour, are nice lads who can play a mean game of ping pong. I like them.

I was a bag of nerves before Gaz and the band came out. I usually am before I photograph. I know I can do it and I know, for someone with no training and an entry level camera, that I do a decent job. I am still nervous every time. Partly because I don’t get to do it very often. It is always such a treat and an experience I am grateful for. As a fan, and I am always there as a fan first, to be that close to the music you love, to have the opportunity to be creative around it, to try to capture some of what you find so joyous about music and distill it in a moment of stillness forever, is thrilling.

In the last week I’ve had some moments of real clarity and insight into myself and my relationship with music and art. “Drawing is a way of seeing” said the Ashmolean whilst encouraging us all to use a pencil to sketch the art in front of us. It’s something I’ve never done. I can’t draw or paint in the same way I can’s sing or play an instrument (my rudimentary bass does not count). I picked up a pencil and had a go, and it was amazing. Not my drawing skills, but the way in which it made me look afresh at paintings. It then hit me that photography is also a way of seeing. It forces you to look at angles and perspective and light in other ways. You see the world through different eyes. The only things I can photograph well are the things I love. Architecture, art (sculpture in particular), landscapes and live music. I cannot for the life of me do portraiture. I’m just not good with people like that. But I can shoot a band. With my fans eye. With my deep and abiding love of music running through my veins. This is why when I can get the chance to photograph a band I do. And why it means so very much.

Gaz only allows photographers two songs, the usual is three, so the pressure is on. They have been Worlds Strongest Man and Hot Fruit every time I’ve photographed him and seeing the band play 4 times in the space of a week has given me the advantage of knowing where to stand for the best shots (well I hope it has!)

After those 2 I got back to Tom at the front and became a fan in the crowd. And I have become a real fan of Gaz. Given that this January I’d never heard his solo music at all and hadn’t been a Supergrass fan when younger (I was more into Garbage, Skunk Anansie and Pulp) it’s fairly remarkable that I’ve been to see him 7 times in 2018. When music gets inside you like this, when you just connect with it, when it goes into your head and heart and will not leave, it’s pretty special. There aren’t many artists I would see 3 nights in a row. Gaz has become one of them.

He and the band played brilliantly, as always, and the sound and lighting were great. But. The atmosphere and crowd were strange. There was a pocket of quiet contemplation and other pockets of chatting. SHUT THE FUCK UP WHEN THE BAND ARE ON. Heckling, when it happened, was very rowdy and a touch random. It wasn’t a coherent crowd is perhaps the best way to put it. The more gigs I go to, the more I think Gruff Rhys is really on to something with his crowd theory musings. Every gig is different. No matter how many times I see the same band or artist, every night is different. Atmospheres change,what is going on for you, and everyone on that stage changes. For me, an emotional sponge, it really does affect how I feel about a gig. I cannot tell you how unbelievably confusing it is to be the sort of person who instinctively picks up on how everyone around you feels, mopping it all up like a giant J cloth, and yet simultaneously not be able to understand what those feelings are. I seem to spend my life in a permanent state of emotional confusion.

I need the music to explain it back to me, to give me permission to cry or laugh or soar skywards with joy. I need the rumble of bass in my chest, the visceral and raw power of a guitar and the thump of the drums at loud volumes to drown out all the other clashing, conflicting and confusing things that are around me. For the time the gig takes I can be lost in an all encompassing world of emotion, where it is safe to feel all the things I do. There were, as expected, tears. Girl Who Fell To Earth, The Oaks (although I do prefer the latter with the full band) and right at the end Matador. That last one almost broke me. Gaz’s vocal is so controlled, the yearning and reaching so brilliant, I was in floods. If my feet had not been stuck to the floor (yep, that sort of venue) my legs may have buckled from under me.

I danced as best I could to 20/20, English Ruse and Detroit – all 3 of which are kick ass tunes. It was ace to hear Weird Dreams for the first time, I hope that stays in the set, although the shift in tone and gear may have been slightly too early.

I have never seen Gaz give a bad performance and he delivered solidly again in Newcastle. I was in a difficult headspace and the emotional landscape so unchartered that I was unable to fully let go. That odd crowd didn’t help. I am still so thankful that I got to be there and experience it though. Live music is always worth it.

As Gaz always comes out to sign stuff and chat at the end of a gig I took the opportunity to say thank you and goodbye. That felt really sad, bidding farewell to this band of people who have welcomed me with open arms. Being accepted, as myself, is not something I am used to. I shall miss that very much. I shall miss the people, the laughter and the sense of belonging. Of being part of something. It has been one heck of a week, one amazing adventure and I remain thankful to everyone who has been part of it. And there will always be Cardiff. Always.

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