Happy birthday.. Woop and He-lennnn…
… alright, in my head the headline went with Levellers song Happy Birthday Revolution – but that might be a bit of a stretch (I think it’s a Rev Hammer song originally anyway!). Come to think of it, it fits the first line of Ruby Bridges too!
As usual I digress from the start. I love nights like tonight! A bit of a no-brainer thing to say really, I’ve been in a pub watching Gaz Brookfield – but when festival and gig friends have parties it’s ace, because you get to be part of the melting pot of all the different strands of their lives coming together. So it was that Jamie and Helen celebrated their respective birthdays – crossing the streams of family, friends from other areas of their lives and festival weirdos like me in the White Hart in Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
Being a work day – and being near enough directly on my way home from work – I drove up straight from the West Midlands with the thought of grabbing a bite to eat in the pub. The birthday duo were already present, ‘supervising’ Jon setting up the sound. Time for a natter: Helen works for a competitor of my work – but we didn’t bother talking shop, that’s not what nights like this are for! Soon enough Gaz arrived, followed shortly after by Teresa, Simon, Dave, Caroline, John, Angela and Joel – so loads of familiar faces along with the other lovely people heading into the pub.
It’s worth mentioning the pub – a surprisingly roomy heavily beamed drinking den with a stuffed bear in the cellar you could look at through glass. That’s right. A stuffed bear. There’s a picture over there if you don’t believe me. Apparently history would have it the landlord of the pub in days of yore once kept a live bear in his cellar, which come kicking out time he’d set upon reluctant drunks who wouldn’t vacate the premises!
And here’s me getting a bit uppity when you get a surly bouncer asking you to leave a gig venue because they are keen to open a crappy club night!
But, t’wasn’t to just be Gaz we had the pleasure of seeing – a support act was lined up too in the form of Covered (I think it was that, and not Cupboard, haha!). I know two of them were called Jess and Joe, I’m afraid I missed the third member – but they comprised an acoustic guitar, a telecaster electric guitar and a perpetually smiling singer, definitely full of joie de vivre, I do love to see an artist clearly enjoying performing. She definitely seemed to! She announced that they were going to make up the set list as they went along.
It was a fun and engaging set of pretty diverse cover versions – kicking off with Riptide by Vance Joy, and taking us on an eclectic journey including Crazy by Gnarls Barclay, Blame it on Me by George Ezra and Before I Fall to Pieces by Razorlight (ha, I knew what it was – although I wouldn’t know if you slipped up on the words in truth!). Hello by Adele made an appearance – I’m always more tempted to sing the Lionel Ritchie song of the same name personally.
As Debbo and Phil arrived still aglow from the successful fundraising event that was Rockstock and Rolling out the Festival Barrel turned out to be, things rocked up a bit including Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi, All These Things That I Have Done by The Killers and finishing up with a nice bit of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns ‘n’ Roses. Varied, fun and well performed to boot – and the lady singing had a fantastic voice coupled with her delighted-to-be-there demeanour. A great way to ease into the musical evening.
Then Gaz took to the stage – with the most cursory of soundchecks duly completed he kicked off with Solo Acoustic Guy and straight into Diabetes Blues. Apparently last time he’d played in Ashby for Jamie’s birthday he’d just been diagnosed – now obviously he’s worked out how to live with it, and even had a bottle of cider as proof! Under The Table prompted some raucous singing along from the off, and led us into the another alcohol themed song in Sailor Jerry’s Kitchen. His previous visits to Ashby had clearly had an impact – most of the room seemed to be singing along!
Maps was preceded by the sad news that the promise of a video to be recorded in the OS offices isn’t going to happen due to red tape – and also a worrying revelation about Gaz’s state of arousal on the occasion he did visit those offices. Godless Man was next, evoking as ever images of athiest fruit – I managed to plant the (mango) seed of the mishearing with Phil, so that’s him thinking silly thoughts every time he hears it now! Then he glanced up and played Glass Half Empty for me, in the absence of Ella. It’s nice to have a bit of bromance – although I’m not sure he really wrote it for me.
Limelight was up next, I always smile and think that it’s an increasingly inaccurate song considering his billing at many festivals I’m attending this year – although I guess they are small niche festivals. LW3 is his homage to Loudon Wainwright III. He told us he’d been waiting four years to hear back from Loudon’s ‘people’ having sent them the song to play to him. LW3 is touring the north of the UK soon so he emailed his UK ‘people’ to basically beg for the opportunity to get a short support slot to fulfil a dream – he did get a reply, alas it wasn’t in the affirmative. Loudon doesn’t know what he’s missing!
Unperturbed by this he did treat us to Road Ode by the aforementioned Loudon Wainwright III, despite never being likely to get to meet his hero – he did divulge why this might be a good thing. It did involve the possibility of face-licking. With the first half of the set drawing to a close there was time to play Happy Birthday to Jamie and Helen before what is apparently now a tradition in Ashby of a half-time cake break – giving Gaz a chance to cool off, and tell me an amusing anecdote about the reason he got the support slot with the Levellers where I first saw him perform.
He was back for the second set which kicked off with Man of Means then If These Walls Could Talk. Grant Shapps didn’t get his usual introductory insult for The Ballad of Elizabeth Duke, then next up was Deathbed which had some epic loud singing along right from the off. Gaz has told me before that hearing folk singing your song back to you is the best feeling ever – I can imagine it would be incredibly moving. Next up he took the pace down with the beautifully slowed up version of Black Dog Day.
After I discovered the only reason this arrangement of the song exists is because when he was recording his Solo Acoustic Guy album he was coming down with a sore throat and couldn’t face into the full on version (you’ll remember he needed to cancel a couple of Ferocious Dog support slots due to what this illness developed into!) – what a happy byproduct of a shit situation though, it’s sublime. Land Pirate’s Life was next, way down the bill from when it used to open sets – but just as popular with the crowd.
Gaz finished his set up with crowd favourite Bigger Man and then the epic singalong that is Let the East Winds Blow. Ashby-de-la-Zouch definitely didn’t need instructions on the crowd participation parts! Normally you get a prompt and instructions on how to do the echoey bits of the chorus, but no, this crowd had been providing that right from the first opportunity – I always think that when a crowd is already well-drilled Gaz should challenge them to do the ‘to see my love again’ backing vocals his band does when they play. Maybe next time!
There were loud calls for an encore as Jamie took to the mic to thank Gaz and whip the crowd up some more – what I discovered tonight is that Jamie would make an excellent event compere at festivals or all day gigs where some kind of announcer type person is needed. Debbo and Phil had also clocked this I noticed! We got the encore we craved, Gaz came back to play Thin, which of course has another fun crowd participation section which was lustily contributed to by practically everyone in the front section of the room.
Just when he thought he’d finished did a second encore comprising of a Dan Donnelly style Plastic Jeezus morphing into Ring of Fire, a pause whilst playing and thinking of ideas saw me take the opportunity to shout ‘Vanilla Ice’ – so we had a verse of Ice Ice Baby thrown into the mega mix before finishing up with the end of Plastic Jeezus again (which had a drawn out end, Jamie prematurely ending up on stage and ending up looking like a backing dancer!). A great way to finish up the evening’s entertainment!
Great though the performance was, it was awesome to see someone celebrating by bellowing along to a favourite performer and dancing about – packing out his local pub with friends from near and far, and as mentioned above, that melting pot of people from different areas of life. Family, festival friends, rugby friends, neighbourhood friends all together having fun together and appreciating some cracking performances. Jamie was quite emotional by the end of the night – his beaming face at what had clearly been a splendid start to his weekend of birthday celebration an absolute picture.
A very happy birthday to Jamie and Helen. And I’m sorry for the bloody awful quality of my photos, I know phone cameras aren’t amazing but mine seems to have been particularly poor tonight (which is why I nicked one of Caroline’s from Facebook too!).