Gaz Coombes – The Forum, Tunbridge Wells

Saturday 15th June, 2019

The third and final stop of the adventure. I had gotten home from Reading at 1.45am and had to be back at the station at 1pm to get to Tunbridge Wells. Not the most direct of routes, but a lot better than Tom’s journey which was flying in from New York, via Dublin, to Bristol and then straight on a train. Yep, we both love Gaz that much.

I’d never been to Tunbridge Wells, or the Forum before, but since when has that stopped me? A former public toilet then brass rubbing centre, before being turned into a gig venue a couple of decades ago. It is very intimate, odd and I liked it immediately. At first sight I thought it was a Scout Hut or community tea room, set up on a bank with its white walls. I think the capacity is something like 250 in one brick walled room. It is basically so small that the sound desk is built up on stilts, above the merch table, opposite the tiny bar. The stage, set low, but not as low as in Reading, at the opposite end.

We were just about early enough to get to the front (ish) and caught Chris Simmons’ excellent set again. Tonight was my first opportunity to watch his full set without camera in hand, so I could simply take in the songs. He has a raspy quality to his voice, sounds like no-one else I’ve seen of late, with great range and full of emotion. He gives himself fully to his music with passion and humour, I like him a lot.

Gaz was Gaz, brilliant, really on form at this one, giving his all for the last night of the tour. The crowd were up for a good time whilst also being respectful of the artists onstage, so it was the perfect mix. It was the same set list, why fix a thing that isn’t broken, with its ebbs and flows from the sad and profound and romantic to the loud and rocking and back again. I have enjoyed hearing some of the gentler songs that he doesn’t play with the full band, hearing stripped back versions of some of the ones he does, mostly hearing that wonderful voice of his on every track. I was here purely as a fan of the music, no camera, no filter between me and the songs I love so much. This was probably the best performance he gave of the gigs I saw on this solo run, he seemed relaxed and at ease on and off stage. I am sure that the great atmosphere and reaction from the crowd added to that, what a cracking little place and bunch of people to share a Saturday night with.

One of Tom’s Ride chums, Leanie had come along for her first Gaz gig, with her partner Jon. We appear to have converted them both to the club, they left with copies of Worlds Strongest Man and Matador under their arms, with Jon admiring Gaz’s voice “he could have been in the Beach Boys!” and Leanie everything about him I think. They are both musicians so I guess it takes more to impress them than your average punter and they were definitely impressed. That we had loads of other things in common and got on like long lost friends was an unexpected and lovely bonus to this evening. Music, as ever, bringing people together.

I made sure I saw Gaz to say thank you for everything, ditto Adam, for arranging the photo passes and looking after me this week. It had been an amazing, if exhausting three days and nights – Exeter to Reading to Tunbridge Wells via short stops at home in Bristol. Imagine how many more gigs I would get to if I could drive! I guess I don’t do bad for a single Mum with half a dozen long term health conditions, a limited budget and reliant on public transport, do I? I take the opportunities to step outside of everyday life when I can, who knows when and if I’ll be able to do so again. I take none of it for granted and am humbled and grateful to have the access I do. Thank you, Gaz, for the music, for the opportunities to photograph, and for being a thoroughly decent bloke. I think it is fair to say that your music has changed my life in the past 18 months. It has made me feel alive again. It has reawakened my passion for photography and I’ve met some lovely, lovely people. If I never get to do all this again, I won’t regret a moment. I do love hearing you with the full band, but I also love these intimate solo shows. Thank you, always and forever.

 

 

Gaz Coombes – Sub 89, Reading

Friday 14th June, 2019

I got back from Exeter and had four hours before I needed to leave again to get to Reading. I spent one and half of those asleep and about the same shouting at my laptop, willing it to work so that I could at least look at the photos I’d taken the night before. There were major delays on the rail line I would need so events seemed to be conspiring against me!

When these rescheduled gigs were announced I almost didn’t go for Reading. I’d been to the venue only once before, for a fairly awful Ride gig where the sound was terrible and the atmosphere flat. But I do love Gaz, and Reading is an easy train journey from Bristol and the trains run til late so I can get home so it was added to my gig itinerary.

My memories of this venue had proved kind, it was an awful place and I will not return to it. Sticky, dirty, no toilet roll or soap in the toilets, security that gave no fucks at all until it was time to turf people out and the worst gig atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. I heard rumours of a fight in the crowd and it wouldn’t surprise me if they turned out to be true. Friday night in Reading spoiling for a fight was the overall feeling. There were more blokes at this gig. Usually Gaz gigs are a good mix of couples, groups of women, even other solo women like me as well as men. Reading was full of pissed up blokes and I did not like it. Gaz had to implore people to “shut the fuck up!” from the stage, more than once, something he told me he has never had to do before.

That’s all the negatives out of the way. For reasons I can’t fathom, given all I’ve said above, this was a superb gig.

Chris Simmons’ support set was a lot louder, it needed to be to drown out the impolite crowd who didn’t give him the respect he deserved and the more I hear his music, the more I like it. Of course this was helped by being in the teeny tiny photo pit at the front where I stayed for the whole of his set. The stage and lighting rigs are both low, so getting any workable shots was really tricky, but I think I’ve managed it.

The incredibly lax security had one major upside. They didn’t kick me out of the pit until the encore so I got to sit and enjoy the gig with nothing at all between me and the stage. I was sat at Gaz’s feet admiring and marvelling at his talent. That might have been a bit weird for him (sorry!) but as a fan it was a such a thrill. A total treat. Sometimes I do pinch myself that I get to have this fantastic life of gigging and being around the musicians and artists I love. I’m a single Mum who works part time in the NHS. My day job is really dull, important, but boring. When I get to have flights of fancy like these few days it just means everything.

Gaz was on fire – that righteous anger he must have felt came out in the music and it sounded amazing. Even though he had to shush the crowd (gently at first) I was insulated from the worst of the noise and had the best seat in the house. For whatever reason the emotions hit me very hard at this gig. Tears began to fall in White Noise and other than the respite of Deep Pockets (when I was dancing like a banshee) kept falling until the end of The Oaks. As much as the sound was amped up, so were my emotions. Everything felt extra exciting and my senses stimulated to heightened levels. It is like having fire coursing through your veins, an energy that you cannot control or tame that makes me feel alive like nothing else on earth. It causes the tears to fall and my body to move. I wish I knew why some music and some gigs are so special like this, I wish they all were, but for the times they are I just hold on to the feeling for as long as I can.

Security finally asked me to leave the pit at the end of Gaz’s set, so I moved to be with Adam and the rest of the crew at the sound desk where I realised just how tasty the atmosphere had been. Those sections of the crowd didn’t deserve the encore, but Gaz is nothing if not a pro, so he gave them Walk the Walk and Caught By The Fuzz. The place went off like a firecracker at that point and I was damn glad to have the safety and security of being behind a barrier with the crew. Thank you for looking after me, lads. You deserve a lot of credit for making this gig sound so good, well done team.

I pocketed a set list and that with my photo pass and wristband will be treasured memories of this week. This could have been a disaster of a gig. If I had been in the crowd, rather than in the very privileged position of the pit I’m sure I’d be writing very different words. Ultimately, I was there for the music, the wonderful life affirming music that cuts so deeply into my soul that it makes all of it worthwhile. All the travel. All the late nights. All the lack of sleep. All of the being away from my boy. Music, always music. Gaz’s does things to my senses that I need. It shuts up all the chaos and noise of my head and forces me to be in the moment. Just me and those notes. When it works it is magic, pure magic and I love it.

I got home to bed at 2am, dreaming of Seven Walls. The second night of the adventure was memorable for lots of reasons. Bring on night three!

 

Gaz Coombes – Exeter Phoenix, Exeter

Thursday 13th June, 2019

Yep, Gaz Coombes again. No, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen him live now, I will still keep going back for more. Why? Because I love his music. It really is that simple. He writes densely layered music that is about so much more than most pop music, exploring deep themes of love, loss, leading a different sort of life, masculinity, living in our uncertain times and the confusion of his own mind. They are songs that speak to me, that move me, that mean things to me. Why would I not want to hear those songs played live as many times as I can?

I’ve never been to Exeter, despite it being a short train journey from Bristol by train. I’ve passed through it en route to prettier bits of the coast for caravan holidays with my boy, but have never taken the time to stop in it. I wish I’d had more time to explore the city as its history and architecture seemed pretty interesting, but I had time to eat dinner and breakfast and go to the gig and not much else. I shall have to take a day trip on the train down there some other time.

The Phoenix looked like an interesting venue when I looked it up online and it proved to be a lovely gem of a place that I would be very happy to return to. The staff were incredibly friendly and really looked after me on the night. I was there as a photographer as well as a fan and the security staff were so helpful and clear about where I was allowed to be (most of the venue as it turned out) and even found me a safe space for my bag while I was moving around. Thank you!

There was no photography pit or barrier, so I was going to have to shoot from the crowd, which I’ve not done before, but as the crowd were unwaveringly polite and accommodating that ended up being very easy. I was also allowed at the sides of the stage and up in the balcony (I regretted not having my zoom lens with me a great deal) and so I got to experience this gig from all angles. What a treat! I got to be at the front, at the stage side and on the balcony with a seat and a clear view. Awesome for me as both a photographer and as a fan. The sound was great everywhere (top job, Adam) and the people so polite I was worried they would need to be told to clap! You could have heard a pin drop through every song, it was so quiet.

Support was from Chris Simmons again and I took the opportunity to photograph him as a warm up. He is very expressive and passionate so is really easy to photograph well. He wears his heart on his sleeve in his music and that is why I like it. By turns funny, touching and sweet, he was a great choice of support. Have a listen to his stuff, he’s good.

By the time Gaz came on I was feeling pretty relaxed, the rum I’d downed to settle my nerves probably helped with that! As did chatting with the other photographer and the crowd. It can be hard going to a brand-new place, alone, where you have no idea what and where you will be allowed to go with your camera. Thank you, Exeter, for being so lovely and welcoming.

Gaz opened with Matador and Wounded Egos again so I sort of half missed them while trying to capture the shot and then moved up into the balcony to enjoy a perfect view and a seat for the rest of the set. Highlights include the sublimely beautiful Seven Walls which is rapidly becoming one of my favs. It is gentle and subtle and so full of love. Played on keys it showcases Gaz’s lovely voice to perfection. Ditto The Oaks, with its yearning, aching sense of loss that you can feel deep into your bones. Then again I also love Gaz rocking out Deep Pockets on guitar. He can do it all and that is why I travel silly amounts of miles on trains to see him over and over again.

This was night one of a three night Gaz gig adventure, Reading and Tunbridge Wells were to follow. Exeter was excellent and I am very glad I went.

 

Vivaldi: Four Seasons by Candelight – Clifton Cathedral, Bristol

Thursday 6th June, 2019

This was part of the Clifton International Festival of Music, which I stumbled upon last year and thoroughly enjoyed. Sadly this year the timings meant that this was the only one of their events I could make. Clifton Cathedral is a modern, Catholic Cathedral, built in concrete mid 20th Century and has a lovely feel and acoustic so I knew Vivaldi would sound lovely.

Even if you think you don’t know the Four Seasons, you do, sections of Spring and Autumn have been played on and in everything on TV for decades. I have never heard it played live before, though. Parts of it are quite lovely and parts are quite dark. as befitting its theme.

The Figo Ensemble and Nicolette Moonen were excellent players and the music sounded great in the space. It was more safe and staid than my usual choice of music, even of classical music, and so although I found it pleasant an experience I wasn’t carried away. I am still glad I went along, live music of any kind is almost always worthwhile.

 

Nick Hart – The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Wednesday 5th June, 2019

I wanted to go to this gig as I’ve become a bit of a folkie and Nick sings traditional songs in a traditional way. I  had heard a couple of his songs on Late Junction and liked them, so thought it was worth hearing him live. Plus I’d not been to the Wardrobe before and everyone assured me it was a lovely, intimate space and great for folk music.

I was really tired and probably should’t have gone out. Thanks to Muse at Ashton Gate the traffic was gridlocked, buses were in chaos and my legs were not up to walking the 1.2 miles to the venue. That it took me about an hour to get there shows you just how bad buses and traffic are in Bristol!

Within about 10 minutes of sitting down in the Wardrobe I knew I’d made a mistake. I did not feel welcome or comfortable at all. The bench seating was murder on my back, not helped by the inconsiderate people sat behind putting their feet up which wobbled me about a fair bit. The crowd were young, hip and rowdy and not in a good way. A lot of them seemed to know Nick and were musicians themselves, which really should have made them more respectful as an audience, but as I’ve witnessed at other gigs, actually makes them worse. The atmosphere was very insular and chummy, which is excluding when you aren’t part of the gang.

I can’t remember who the support act were or very much about them, sorry.

I almost left at the interval. Instead I moved to one of the few seats at the back, reasoning that they would provide more support for my back. Besides. Nick is a great songsmith and I wanted to hear him sing.

His voice and songs didn’t disappoint, he is very good. I’ve not heard anyone else sing like him, and the storytelling shone through. It is a shame that I felt so out of place in the Wardrobe, otherwise I feel I could have really enjoyed this gig.

 

 

 

Van Gogh & Britain – Tate Britain, London

Saturday 1st June, 2019

One of the painters I have always loved, from girlhood, is Van Gogh. As a child I practically grew up in the Tate and the National Gallery as my Dad would take us there, on the bus, at weekends so he could study the art and we could pretend to do the same. Working class culture included and includes a love of art and other ‘high’ cultural pursuits. Something I wish was recognised and remembered as the art world can feel cosseted and closed and inaccessible to anyone without the right connections and background.

I have very clear memories of the corridors of the Tate, of the calmness and quietness of the building, of the majestic architecture and the whiteness of the walls. I remember finding paintings of horses and ladies boring and of being quite scared by some of the modern art (David Hockney’s Splash) but falling deeply in love with Henry Moore’s sublime sculptures and the wonderful colours and swirls in impressionism. Van Gogh and Cezanne stood out to me, even as a small child, as being full of life and excitement and I responded accordingly.

I have taken myself to many an art gallery or exhibition since and have been lucky to have seen some wonderous things. I have fallen to my knees in worship at El Greco’s mind bending religiosity, gasped in wonder at the Sistine Chapel, wept tears at Donatello’s wooden Mary Magdalene, felt seen and understood by Frida Kahlo and have held my hands behind my back when near Rodin sculptures as the temptation to stroke the cool marble is altogether too much. Art, like music, does things to and for me that I am unable to explain. There was a wonderful impressionist exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford a few years ago where I spent a very happy afternoon gazing in admiration and love at Van Gogh, Cezanne et al. I have yet to get myself to Amsterdam to see the Van Gogh museum, but that is something on my bucket list. Maybe one day I will get there.

For now, I had to content myself with being able to visit this exhibition in London. Which contains less Van Gogh than I would have liked, but as seems to be the trend in curation now, positions an artist within some other context. I am not entirely sure that the brief time Van Gogh spent in London was as formative as this exhibition would have us believe, and although some of the juxtaposition was good, I wanted Van Gogh, not whoever you thought he was influenced by. The flow of people (and by God there were a lot of people) seemed to feel the same, as the works that were not Van Gogh didn’t have a queue to look at them. It was so very busy that I felt uncomfortable at times. The layout wasn’t clear, the exits either and with no natural light and a flow of people everywhere I felt quite shaky at the start. This wasn’t helped by the exhibition being closed until 10am, even for members, who are usually able to access earlier, due to a private show for some corporate sponsor. I understand all too well the pressures art institutions face in the age of austerity, but they are supposed to be there for us all. Their mission and raison d’etre is to provide free access to the public of great art. That fails when the needs of greed are placed ahead. I cannot afford to be a member of the Tate, so I wouldn’t have been able to enter any earlier, but there were a large number of others in the queue who would have been and that would have freed up space for the rest of us. It would have helped reduce the overall numbers. I had deliberately chosen to go first thing, believing it would be quieter then, so I was quite unprepared for a long and winding queue in heat.

It took me a fair few rooms to find the calmness and beauty I was seeking in the art, simply because I had started off in such an overwhelmed state, which is a real shame. It was also a shame that so many other visitors spent the entire time taking photographs or posing for Insta worthy selfies with the art. In order to experience art, you have to give yourself fully to it. to be in the moment with it, to share in its beauty and glory you cannot be pouting and worrying if your contouring is ok! I honestly saw one couple, who did not even look at the paining, pose and preen as if they were on a catwalk. It saddened me that the only prism they were able to even vaguely comprehend the art was through that sort of filter. And I am saying that as a photographer! As someone who uses photography as a means to see, explore and feel. I have, at times, photographed sculpture, but that is a fluid form and I have never done so in a busy and crowded exhibition such as this. Well, other than two sneakily taken shots of the Sistine Chapel but I can be forgiven for that; I had fallen down in breathless wonder at it.  So please, I beg of you, if you are visiting one of these big blockbuster shows, have some consideration for the people around you and put your phones down. At least some of the time. Look at the paintings on the wall, not the through the lens screen. It would help if galleries enforced no photo rules and sold affordable prints and postcards so that people could take home memories without resorting to their camera phones. Give yourself fully to the moment, to the art, have a relationship with the painting in front of you. Great art, great artists, do that, they create dialogue and conversation with you through their paint.

There were wonderful Van Gogh drawings and sketches that I had never seen before and I cannot begin to explain the thrill of seeing up close his signature in paint, or handwritten letters. They made Van Gogh human, in a very tangible way. Although his art has always been very humane and filled with love. The whole tortured genius trope is one far too well worn, and misapplied in Van Gogh’s case. Sadly, despite what the commentary of this exhibition would have you believe, it persists as the myth of the one who went mad and chopped off his ear pervades in our culture. I knew nothing of that as a child, when I first encountered Van Gogh’s art. What I saw, and what I still see, is colour and shape and form and emotion and love. A pure and open way of looking for the good it the world. You cannot paint in such vivid yellows, blues and greens as Van Gogh did, if you do not see beauty and light and goodness in everything you paint. The hues are so dazzlingly bright, the thickness of the paints so deep and layered that they must have been out there with speediness and with purpose, to talk to us about how he saw the world. I recognise the skewed angles, the intensity of colour and light, I recognise the sheer overwhelming and sensory nature of Vincent’s view. I share it. The world to me is as vivid and bright as he saw it. Sometimes that is incredible and wonderful and sometimes it is simply too much. Perhaps this was the source of his pain and why he required solitude. I recognise that need too. Mostly I recognise a beautiful soul, who saw the world in his own way and was driven to share that through his art. Vincent, you beautiful and wonderful creature, your art continues to and will continue to affect for generations. Starry Night and some of his self-portraits were so incredibly moving. Tears crept into the corners of my eyes and I didn’t want to move away from them. One of the self-portraits made me want to cradle his face in my hands and tell him, Vincent, it will be alright, it really will. The power art has to transport and transfer us from our own place and time is like no other, it is a form of time travel for me. Art is transformative. It has emotional power beyond words.

When I reach the end of an exhibition I always walk back through, against the flow, to find the pieces that spoke to me the most and to wish them farewell. I drink in the last looks, capturing them in my memory and heart as moments I will be able to dwell on. Then I look at the floor and walk back towards the exit. I need my last looks, I need my final vision, to be one of beauty and hope and truth. I need it to be of my choosing and not the curators. I need to have felt that deep connection to the artist, to their world. I need to feel. I need to leave with that sense of wonder in my heart I felt as a child. All too often we lose that sense of wonder, of exploration, of openness. Art is a way back to it, to the pureness of expression, of impression. Perhaps that is why I have always loved Van Gogh so very much.

I will take away from this exhibition a renewed love of an artist and style I have always admired, along with a wish to see more of his work. That trip to Amsterdam needs to happen. One day. One day.

 

 

Kubrick Exhibition – The Design Museum, London

Friday 31st May, 2019

Friends had urged me to go to see this exhibition. I had declined. I am not a Kubrick fan; he was a bully and had a problem with women. However, I was in London with time on my hands and Tom wanted to go, so I said I would go along as seeing an exhibition I wasn’t interested in might be an interesting experiment. Besides with my art pass it would be half price to get in and I’ve not seen the Design Museum in its new home.

Come the allotted afternoon and Tom, who had wanted to go, was in and out in about an hour. Me, who hadn’t wanted to go in the first place, was in there approaching two and a half hours. I remain unimpressed with some of his films and the problems I have with a man bullying an actor into stress induced hair loss (Shelley Duvall in The Shining) remain. However, I was utterly fascinated and enthralled by this exhibition. There was an awful lot of material there. Kubrick was exacting and kept an enormous archive which made up the bulk of what was here. Sensibly the curation started with an overview, before delving deeply into a number of his films. Section by section, sets. costumes, design proofs, shooting schedules, diaries, scripts and film reels told the story of Kubrick’s movies. I was, and still am, amazed that the set designers made London’s docklands look so much like Vietnam that I couldn’t recognise locations I knew well from childhood. Ditto the brutalist architecture used so brilliantly in Clockwork Orange. Each film was condensed into a mini film as part of the exhibition so that you could either watch afresh, or renew your memory. I didn’t stop to watch them all, but the ones I dived into were expertly edited vignettes.

I strolled straight through Lolita; a film that should never have been made. I don’t care what arguments you make; the novel is about a middle-aged man abusing a child. That should never be told or reframed as a love affair. Any sexual act between an adult and a child is rape. That Kubrick deliberately downplayed the sexual actions in the film (more for censorship reasons that one’s of conscience) makes no odds, in fact it makes me angrier. That men believe Lolita to be titillating and romantic turns my stomach.

Clockwork Orange left a very deep impression on me as a teenager, it confused me as the dispassionate and cold way all the characters were presented made it difficult to know where sympathies should lie. It is one I feel I should rewatch to see if my horror holds up. The choreographed, set to music, brutality and yes beauty of the violence and sexual violence are incredibly problematic. Are we horrified or excited by what we see? Are the women in the film objects? Do they have a voice? Yes and no, hence my issues with Kubrick. Women have little to no agency in almost any of his films. Female characters seem to exist to be brutalised, fetishized or both in almost all of Kubrick’s films. If they are there at all.

The section I enjoyed most was Dr Strangelove, probably because it is the only Kubrick movie I’ve seen and liked. The concept and set design work done by Ken Adam was extraordinary. As was Ken, who’s life and work moved me very much. German by birth, he defected and flew in the RAF against the Nazi’s. His original sketches and drawings for the set and concepts of Dr Strangelove were probably my favourite exhibits. He was a brilliant man and in Kubrick, who’s standards were so fantastically high, he was pushed to achieve his very best.

If I separated Kubrick the man from Kubrick’s art (an ongoing and difficult debate) I found I could really enjoy this exhibition with its painstakingly put together displays. Reflecting on it now, I can say that the love, care and attention that everyone who worked with Kubrick put into those films was astonishing. That doesn’t necessarily translate into them being good films (Eyes Wide Shut looks positively awful from the 10-minute clip I saw!) or of being worthy of being held up as masterpieces. Or of having a huge retrospective exhibition in a prestigious museum. Kubrick was a misogynist bully and he made films that revelled and glorified in violence against women. As much as I enjoyed the exhibition as an art exhibition, I cannot feel happy about having gone.

As an exhibition it was very successful, and I’m sure has made the Design Museum an awful lot of money. But there was no room within it for the legitimate criticism of Kubrick’s work and methods. He was exonerated by the simple act of this exhibition existing and that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Gaz Coombes – Cheese & Grain, Frome

Thursday 30th May, 2019

Another night, another Gaz gig. This was to be the fourth time I’d seen him in a fortnight. Yes, I know that is quite a lot. None of them had been in Bristol. Oxford, Cardiff, Wolverhampton and now Frome. I rack up some miles to see music I love.

Despite living not that far away I’d never been to Frome before. Its an odd place, well it is Somerset, but a friendly one so Tom and I have vowed to return at some point to explore its pubs (Tom) and charity shops (me).

The Cheese and Grain is a venue I’ve heard about many a time. A lot of the folk artists I like play there, so I was expecting it to be a good venue. Which it was.

I was at this gig as a photographer and as a fan, so it was to be a proper treat. I am always super nervous before photographing a band, I don’t get to do it anywhere near as often as I would like to and I lose faith in my ability to do it. The last time I’d been in a pit was for Ride in December last year and although that turned out alright, this was a venue I didn’t know and with lighting I couldn’t predict. Having a very quick scan of the images and although it wasn’t a disaster (like the time I forgot to take my camera battery and had to use my phone instead) but you can tell I am out of practice. Nevertheless it is always a thrill to be there in the pit, especially as I was the only photographer there, and there was nothing at all between me and the music I love. It is a very intimate space you occupy as a photographer and I know not all artists are comfortable with it. That’s partly why I am so nervous, I have to step into their world and be close to capture them. When you get it right there is a beautiful symbiosis of artist and photographer working in harmony to capture a moment. There has to be a lot of trust. It is why I marvel at those who can do portrait photography, which I can’t, as you inhabit a very close space with someone when you photograph them like that. My live music photography is different not because I’m an amateur using fairly basic equipment, but because I see things in a different way. As a fan.

I took the opportunity to photograph Chris Simmons, the support act, to sharpen me up and get used to the lighting. It also gave me the chance to hear his music, which Tom had assured me I would like. He was right. Chris on guitar with another fella (I’m sorry I’ve forgotten his name) on cello. A combination I’ve not heard before and that I loved. The passion and energy they both put into playing was aces, I did not know that the cello could be so sexy to watch! Chris is a likeable bloke with a raspy tone to his voice. He sings with deep emotion and that made him lovely to photograph, he was very expressive. He has an album out that is worth a listen. I’m glad that I’ll be hearing him again in a couple of weeks when I see Gaz again.

Vee had kindly held my front row spot while I was photographing so getting back to my fan spot was easy peasy, cheers, love. From there I could spend the rest of the gig purely as a fan, enjoying the music and feeling lost in the best way. I think it was the same set list as the night before, with that emotional trio in the middle, which did make me cry this time. The crowd were rowdier and provided impromptu backing vocals for Deep Pockets and Walk The Walk (I miss you darling Roxy’s) as well as inquiring about Gaz’s leg (he had a nasty break last year, delaying this solo tour by a number of months) and making requests for Supergrass numbers. The patient ones got their wish with the same great combo of Moving and Caught By The Fuzz in the encore. It was another solid performance from Gaz, who never gives less than his best. After 25 years in the business he knows how to work a crowd. It is lovely to see that he retains not only the hunger for playing live, but also the humility of sharing his music with fans.

After four Gaz Coombes gigs in less than two weeks you would think I’d had enough, but I’m seeing him again in a couple of weeks. Three times. When music buries itself in your heart, mind and soul you want to hear it played live as much as you can. So I shall. Thank you Gaz, for it all.

 

 

 

Gaz Coombes -Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

Wednesday 29th May, 2019

It was a fairly last-minute decision to go to this gig. I had initially promised myself I would be sensible and not go. That after 5 days of being with my boy the last thing I needed to do was dash off on an expensive train to Wolverhampton to see Gaz play solo. Had it been with the full band there would have been no hesitation in my decision. None. Solo Gaz is great, but I’d be seeing him in Frome the next night anyway (plus Exeter, Reading and Tunbridge Wells in a couple of weeks) so a night off from gigging seemed to be the right thing to do. Except. This is me. And the lure of a gig, of a Gaz gig, of the man I love (Tom was already there), all pulled me towards Wolverhampton.

I spent the afternoon taking my boy swimming as promised (Mum duties always come before gigging ones), frantically packed when we got back and then handed him over to his Dad before running off to catch a train. I left my house in Bristol at 5.40pm and arrived in Wolverhampton two hours later, dropped my bag at the hotel and dashed to be at the venue in time for Gaz. All of which was hardly ideal preparation! I missed Chris Simmons supporting and upset some of the crowd by making my way through them to find Tom at the front. Being in among the crowd like that makes me edgy. I have to be either at the very front, or very back, to be able to see and feel comfortable. Still I had made it.

The Newhampton Arts Centre is an odd place. Near the football stadium (and they are never in the best part of town, are they?) and on a residential street, it was about the last place I expected to find a really nice gig venue. The room itself was nice, open and decent sound. Sometimes you find the best places in the most unlikely locations.

Gaz opened with Matador, which for once did not make me cry. In fact I didn’t cry at all during this gig, which is a first for me seeing Gaz. I did smile, laugh, sing along and enjoy myself though. There were songs I’ve not heard him play before (or at least I don’t think I have) and what was a treat. I came to Gaz’s music at Worlds Strongest Man and heard that album toured twice, so there are songs from Here Come The Bombs and Matador I’ve heard only once or twice or not at all. The joy of these small solo shows is that Gaz has the freedom to play a setlist that matches that intimate, fan only vibe. He gets to play some of the quieter, softer songs, the ones that show off his lovely voice to its fullest effect. Some of the ones I really love, like Seven Walls and White Noise. The triad of Oxygen Mask, GWFTE and The Oaks is a very emotional and powerful combination. I’m not sure how I didn’t cry. The first time I heard Oxygen Mask was as I was walking to work, through the oncology department, the day after I heard about the loss of a twitter friend to cancer, so it always reminds me of that moment. Of the loss of Maz, a woman with a heart full of righteousness and kindness. GWFTE just does things to and for me, the way magical music does and The Oaks has the plaintive, yearning of loss that I know only too well.

Gaz’s repertoire is broad, it’s one of the things I love about his music, no two songs really sound the same and all three albums are as different within themselves as they are from each other. So he could move from the emotional moving songs into the rock out anthems of 20/20 and Detroit, complete with sing along chorus with ease to leave us smiling and clapping along. He ended with an encore of Walk the Walk and not one, but two Supergrass crowd pleasers. Now, deep breath, I have a confession; I wasn’t a Supergrass fan back in the 90’s. I was more into Skunk Anansie and Garbage. I wanted to be Skin or Shirley, heck I still do, and those women filled with rage at a masculine world spoke to teenage me more than the indie pop janglings of the Brit Pop boys. So it was no nostalgia trip for me to hear Moving or Caught By The Fuzz, but the reaction of the rest of the crowd indicated that they were more than pleased to hear both! And I’ve had the latter stuck in my head ever since, what a cracking pop tune for a 15-year-old to have written, precocious talent that lad had. I think I was missing a trick back then.

I am really glad I changed my mind and got on the train to go to this gig. Seeing artists and musicians you love play live is always worth doing. Even if you’ve seen them before and are seeing them again. I’ve never regretted anything I’ve done for music. How could I when it has given me this rich life filled with experiences, friendships and memories.