Sunday 19th May, 2019
When the opportunity presents itself to see Gaz Coombes (who I love) playing with an orchestra (love me a bit of violin I does) in a University of Oxford building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (now I do like a bit of neoclassical architecture), celebrating its 350th birthday, to support charities that help women into music and autistic people to flourish (things I passionately believe in), you don’t turn it down do you? Not when you are me. It is almost as if this gig/concert (goncert perhaps?) was made for me.
It also gave me the opportunity to meet Claire who I have known on twitter for years. She is one of the kindest people I’ve known and she lives in Oxford. Hey, I’ll be in Oxford on Sunday 19th May, let’s have a cuppa and some cake I said. So we did. And it was really rather lovely to cement a virtual friendship into a real one.
Things didn’t start well. I stumbled and fell over a staggered step I hadn’t seen. I realised my seat was at the very far end of the row. As far from the exit as you could get. I felt trapped and uncomfortable. That only got worse as the place started to fill up and the combination of being so far from a safe leaving point, the chattering noise (echoing as it would in a domed building) and the height meant I was properly panicking by the end of the support. Somehow I found my way back down and out into some fresh air, but I was not in a fit state to climb back up. The benched seating was so high I couldn’t touch the floor without leaning forward, giving up any back support. My head was spinning and my back was aching. Seeing I was in distress the usher found a manager, who was calm and helped to find me alternative seating lower down and nearer an exit. She offered to take me somewhere quieter and get me water. Thank you, Sheldonian for training your staff so well that they recognised I needed help and offered it appropriately. It made an enormous difference. I wish all venues were so accommodating and kind. Thank you, Jools, for the big Mum hug, it was exactly what I needed. Also thank you to the kind lady seated to my right, wearing an exquisite silk jacket that you let me stroke, the softness of the fabric and your gentle voice also steered me back to the moment I needed to be in.
Out came the orchestra and then Gaz. They opened with Matador and well, I was crying within a few bars. It’s a pretty emotional song on its own, but with the addition of the orchestra, well, a whole new level of making Emma cry was reached. It was a pretty powerful way to start us off. Every time Gaz played the grand piano, I was a very happy lady as I’ve only seen him play keys before and there is something very special about the sound of a piano. So much more warmth, depth and resonance, it just added that extra layer, the magic something. The amazing band of musicians Gaz plays live with usually, plus the Roxy’s on backing vocals, dipped in and out. Every time we had the full band and the orchestra playing together it was heaven. Actually, the whole damn thing was. The acoustics were brilliant and what really shone out was the quality of Gaz’s voice, which can get a bit lost in the noise of an electric band. Backed by brass, wind and strings, it bought out the vulnerability of his voice and wonderful tones that almost made some of the tracks seem brand new. Well, one was, Salamander, but you get what I mean. Hopefully.
I’m trying to pick highlights, but there were too many. The trio of Oxygen Mask, GWFTE and The Oaks, all of which had me in tears, the quiet loveliness of Seven Walls, hearing 20/20 and Detroit devoid of drums but with a full orchestra, Slow Motion Life in the encore making me all goose bumpy and gutted it was all to be over soon, all of it basically.
GWFTE always makes me cry, but when the strings kicked in and the mirroball scattered stars across the ceiling, well I was a goner. It was so beautiful. I wanted to drink in the sounds of the violas, cellos and violins. I wanted to inhale them. To have them become part of me, to keep them cherished forever somewhere deep inside. There is something so spellbinding and wonderful about a fleet of strings played together and hearing them married to some of Gaz’s songs was sublime. It was almost perfection. It was almost too much, at times I was biting my lip or had to look away as the tears were flowing a little too freely. Gaz, what you do to me! Toying with my heart and emotions with your music in such a way. I love you for it. Please never stop making music that speaks to my soul.
Luke Lewis’ clever and brilliant orchestrations highlighted just how good a songwriter Gaz is, how dense and layered his songs are. I loved what you added with the orchestra, it took music I already love to a different place and made me fall in love with it over again. It was a magnificent night and the roars of applause that bought Gaz back out twice show how well received the night was by the rest of the audience too. Huge slaps on the back all round are well deserved I feel.
This was one of the gigs I had been looking forward to with nervous excitement for ages. That it delivered everything I could have hoped for, and more, was pretty special. I’m not sure I want to hear Gaz play without a full orchestra now! I’m also not sure I want to go to gigs that aren’t in either historic buildings or art galleries either.
I hope that plenty of cash was raised for Yellow Submarine and Young Women’s Music Project by the event, that was, after all, the point. Maybe some people reading this would like to make an online donation here or here (donate button at the bottom of the page).
Thank you everyone who was involved in dreaming up this magical, amazing, wonderful evening of music. It had all the ingredients to make it very special, and it was.