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.