Gaz a-Maze-s us again..
I defy anyone to have had as fun a saturday night as we just did for the princely sum of £8. I’ve used this kind of comment before, but the entry fee would have been good value for any one of the four acts on offer at The Maze, nestling behind The Forest Tavern on the fringes of Nottingham’s city centre. To have basically paid a couple of quid to see each of them is frankly insulting really. I was surprised that the crowd wasn’t a little fuller in truth, not that that detracted from a most excellent evening.
With Ella arriving in the afternoon fresh from album recording with The Leylines we headed into Nottingham to meet Paul, Sarah and Andy and attempt to find somewhere to eat that wasn’t booked up – initially attempting to fulfil a craving for barbecued food we ended up settling for the newish Handmade Burger Co in the revamped-but-still-soulless Victoria Centre – which at least was on the way up to The Maze. The food was decent – and by the time we’d finished the grotty weather had eased up making the schlep up Mansfield Road a less traumatic prospect.
Once in the pub there were plenty of folk already assembled awaiting the venue at the back to open up, including Sam Jones who’d had an unfortunate beard over-trimming incident making him resemble someone still at school. Haha! It wasn’t long upon getting through to the back before Star Botherers took to the stage. Or at least two thirds of them – Dave apparently competing in an international bingo tournament in Skegness (so Bart informed us!). This left us with just Bart on guitar and vocals, and Brad adding percussion and backing vocals.
Even though we had four acts the sets weren’t cut too short – starting off with Hubble Shuffle they rattled through a fun set including Star Wars Bride, One Inch Death Punch and a chance to shout about the price of jam – always welcome – with My National Trust. From the latest EP Just Around The Corner is fast becoming one of my favourite songs of theirs, and better still we were treated to a newer-still song, Ringing In Sick charted the demise of someone working in an unhealthy work environment – a poignant message about us not being born simply to work ourselves to death.
A strong finish was on offer with Bad Guys and Freethinker – whilst obviously Dave’s bass was missed the set still hung together really well, even if Brad couldn’t precisely remember some of the interjections Dave normally provides in some of the songs, and even if Bart snapped his sixth string part way through – he soldiered on and it didn’t sound too off at all. A thoroughly enjoyable start to get the crowd nicely warmed up for what was to come. A brief chance to natter with folk who’d subsequently arrived arose as the acts changed over, but it wasn’t all that long..
Maelor Hughes was up next, with the layout of the venue – and possibly because I wasn’t drunk – I opted to loiter further back than I might ordinarily, it works pretty well sometimes to just watch and appreciate – the sound is normally better further back! Morning Sun, my favourite of his, was early in the set. A singalong chance (or at least an ‘Oi Oi’-along) was up next with Better Day, before which Maelor rubbed salt in the wound for Sam by suggesting he’d been asked for ID when buying milk earlier in the evening after the beard disaster. Poor Sam. I didn’t take the piss out of him at all. Definitely not.
Next up was the new song that he’d lost the lyrics for as they’d been put through the washing machine (I’m sure one day I’ll learn what it’s called – it’s good though!), followed by another one I’m guessing must be newish as it didn’t immediately register, it might be called Take Me Home Again. Then it was on to the very familiar, a rousing cover of Levellers’ The Boatman was followed up with Fight With Me (hmm, maybe that is my favourite song of his), Big Golden Pot (ever more relevant in today’s political climate) and ending with his homage to his home town that is MIlltown Boy.
Two down, and still two to go! I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing Nick Parker play once before at Ebony’s birthday bash, but I’m already quite smitten – so I was already looking forward to seeing him again (next up will be at Ey Up Mi Duck for me). He took to the stage along with Ben Wain on fiddle, and launched into I’ve Never Been To Dublin Before (which is apparently no longer true, it’s a great song though). A Drink Too Many was next and into Could We At Least Try. Nick is, a bit like Maelor, a quite self-depreciating performer – his songs are wittily written and delivered.
Even his dog got in on the act – apparently writing the next song (which I didn’t catch the name of – but I did love his dog’s barbed view of his prowess at writing political songs ‘You think an opinion poll is a cocky European’). Genius. Another surprise up his sleeve he invited Paige Seabridge to join him up on stage from the crowd and they performed a mesmerising cover of Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard (from the film Once) (I’m not going to pretend I’m that knowledgable – I had to ask Paige what it was after – I thought it might be a Civil Wars song – haha!).The remainder of the set consisted of a song about a frustrated nanny, the ludicrously charming and saccharine-without-being-sickly Terry and June (which apparently one of Nick’s heroes has lyrics from tattooed upon them – but he’s sworn to secrecy on their identity, although it’s not The Edge), before he dropped a frankly awesome ambient acoustic re-imagining of Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby. Gaz and Maelor sat on the merch desk seemed to find it highly amusing I could recall pretty much all the words. Ah, misspent youth, eh? A splendid combination of nostalgia and originality!
And then t’was time for Gaz Brookfield. He took to the stage and played an amusingly extended intro to Solo Acoustic Guy, waiting for the crowd to quieten down. I’ve observed from previous gigs how chatter over acts performing irritates him (with good reason, it irritates me too!), but it was quite funny watching this subtle way of addressing it – waiting for folk to quieten down before grinning and launching into the song – the only one he’d perform as the title suggests, as a solo acoustic artist.
Ben Wain and his fiddle were back on stage for the second song in Diabetes Blues and its reprise, the harmonica was back in no time ready for drinking anthem Under The Table before we jumped to the political machinations of Grant Shapps with The Ballad of Elizabeth Duke. For the cartographiles in the crowd Maps was up next (shame Chris hadn’t made the gig – he loves that song!) and then Sailor Jerry’s Kitchen. The increasingly inaccurate Limelight – lamenting the lot of the perpetual support artist – made a welcome appearance.
A bit of nostalgia then with Man of Means, the first song on his first album – the first he wrote for the now Mrs Brookfield and – as revealed on the night – the first song Ben Wain had played with him. It’s a lovely earnest song regardless of sentimentality. Land Pirate’s Life gave most of the room the singalong opportunity – with the few remaining silent folk compelled to join in with Bigger Man (which he dedicated to Ebony who had missed his set at her birthday party – which any self-respecting 18th birthday party celebrant should be proud of, of course) before finishing up with Thin.
He had, however, revealed that suitable crowd response could elicit an encore – the crowd did indeed respond suitably, so Gaz invited Nick back to the stage so that he, Nick and Ben could “fuck about with some songs that have a limited number of chords” to finish up the evening. They started up with Waterboys’ Fishermans Blues with Nick and Ben taking up the bulk of the vocals and Gaz taking very much a back seat, leading into Irish Rover led by Ben and taken up by Nick.
Far From Home by Levellers was next up with Gaz leading – and Maelor opting to join the stage too (albeit I don’t think his guitar was ever plugged in!), with the finale of Plastic Jeezus played in the Dan Donnelly style morphing into Ring of Fire then Honky Tonk Woman and back into Plastic Jeezus. A great way to end a set – musicians having a laugh with one another and belting out some familiar songs – they were all a sweaty mess but the end, they’d put their all into their respective performances – they received a well deserved ovation from the crowd.
Then came the not inconsiderable task of extricating ourselves from so many friends to head home – I’d remarked to Gaz after the gig that it was unusual for him to not finish with Let The East Winds Blow, to which he laughed he’d forgotten to play it – Ben had been puzzled by it too. Whilst I love the singalong fest that it provokes it doesn’t take away from the experience at all for me. Back to the car for us and home, resisting the tantalising urge of the amazing Victoria Kebab just down the road (a resistance I’m currently regretting!) and hitting the road for home.
A magical night – it’s hard to believe that it didn’t sell out, I’d wager there were more people at The Maze for Gaz back in June. As I started the post off with – what could you be doing in Nottingham that would’ve provided better entertainment and for only £8? And if you were stuck at home watching some kind of awful ‘talent’ show then that modest investment was surely worth sparing you that trauma? That said, a healthy crowd – talking to Lee on the way out he was a happy chappy – if the promoter is happy, then it’s been a good night on the attendance front too!