Gaz clearly doesn’t know his place..
I’ve been impatiently waiting for Gaz Brookfield‘s new album to drop only to realise at the eleventh hour I’d not updated my address from the order, so I didn’t get the sneaky day or two bonus time before release to get my teeth into it. But thankfully the Bandcamp download became active before I had a chance to visit my folks to pick up the CD, giving me the chance to spend the last few days getting acquainted with I Know My Place whilst commuting to and from work. And quite a bit in between!
From following this album’s progress on Facebook and having a natter with Mr Goodman in Banbury shortly after he’d had a sneak preview it was clear that Gaz had big plans for this production – rather than stick to the mantra of his previous releases and setting off as a solo acoustic guy (maybe with some fiddle from Ben Wain) he enlisted the help of a veritable who’s who of musician friends to add some depth and layers – and packaged it all together in a lovely digipak complete with an awesome piece of cover art by The Famous Artist Birdy Rose.
It’s no secret on these pages the esteem I hold Gaz in as a songwriter and performer (he’s quite a nice chap, too) – so I must admit it was a mixture of excitement and nervousness when I finally got my download onto something I could blast through my loudest speakers. Would the Gazness of this album be diluted by the influence of all these other talented folk or would it be enhanced with their input? Mr Goodman was absolutely raving superlatives about it, but well, you can’t always trust a cockney geezer, can you? But in this case, you most certainly can.
Drums and electric guitar kicks into The March of Progress – maybe that’s what this album is, after all – but then the vocals are reassuringly and unfailingly a Gaz Brookfield song. Auto-biographical reflections, self-doubt, underestimating himself – check! Foot is tapping reassuringly, after a couple or three spins there’s plenty of singalong bits. If Ozzy the van gets a song, then it seems only right the apparently long line of dodgy cars he’s owned get their moment in the sun – although Cursed is certainly not as heartfelt. This one is a proper ear-worm – you’ve been warned!
The yellow and gold Fiat Punto can’t have been that bad! Funnily enough I remember when learning to drive for some reason I really wanted a mustard yellow Punto. Ha, the folly of youth! I love songs like The Tale of Gunner Haines – because it makes you take to Google to find out more about the story behind it (I might save that for a seperate more detailed blog post though) – starting with vocals and guitar it kicks into a stomping tune charting the really sad events that befell Brean Down Fort in July 1900.
It’s All So Rock and Roll has really different vocals to what I’ve heard Gaz do before – I don’t know if dirge is the right term, I certainly don’t mean it negatively – but that’s what came to mind. It explores perhaps the more mundane daily doings that someone we might only see in their performer setting, getting over a hangover, doing some chores, doing anything other than something that might be considered rock and roll! The pace never really changes but some vocal layers do kick the passion up a level – culminating in a ‘la la la la’ singalongathon that you can’t help but join in with.
Life Begins might be a prequel, homage and sequel to Brian Stone’s Life Begins @ 50 – this one’s a jaunty biographical song about someone else. The keyboards and violin overlaid make it a proper cheery number, and ultimately the subject of the song is vindicated in what some might have said were questionable ‘mid-life crisis’ type decisions! Sand and Sea is perhaps the inevitable hankering for the seaside song – with just a guitar for the most part it’s lovely and chilled – then some layers of backing vocals and electric guitar work just adds a delicate flourish to the middle-eight.
Title track I Know My Place is next – it surprised me how familiar this one has got. Drenched in self-doubt and angry sounding, and one I already know translates well to Gaz’s more familiar solo acoustic setting. The layers of sound in here and insistent percussion really do add to the feel though, if it’s close to anything I’ve heard from him before it’s Black Dog Day from In The Company of Thieves. Whilst I’ve used the title of the song to say maybe he’s wrong in the sentiment, I don’t think the song is targeted at the likes of me who remain in awe of what he does – just those who think everyone should conform to what their idea of a functioning adult should be. I guess we can all relate to that to a degree!
I’m certain I’ve heard him test out The Ferry Song somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where – searching the blog didn’t yield any clues – so I was either very drunk or I’m imagining it. Guitar and keyboards accompany the heartfelt vocals with mournful fiddle refrains and occasional percussion for emphasis. It describes the love-hate relationship with a mode of transport that both seperates him and reunites him from a loved one – soppy bogger. To be fair, Ella and I have already attached it to trains so we can empathise!
After that melodic and romantic song you’re thrust into chugging guitars and empassioned vocals about the kind of person we’ve all encountered from time to time (hell, I hope not, but we might’ve been them too). I’ve Paid My Money is a scathing homage to those people who just don’t seem to know how to conduct themselves when watching live music – whether it be through excessive heckling or just plain rude talking over the performance whilst in a prominent position. Being a disrespective dick, to put in bluntly.
Before the album release you might’ve seen the video for Getting Drunk For Christmas – with an almost country and western sounding intro complete with slide guitar and a scraper (I think that’s what they’re called!). It’s a catchy number about the tradition of popping to the pub for a few cheeky Christmas breakfast beers – clearly a tradition that was shared with somebody no longer with us, so it’s at once a lament and a defiant celebration of honouring somebody’s memory by carrying on regardless.
Some awesome double-bass bowing from none other than Lukas Drinkwater is a deceptively gentle introduction to a swirling fiddle-infused start to the song which has strong hints of Ferocious Dog for me – Gaz does tour with FD a lot, I guess! The vocals on The World Spins Round certainly remain Gaz though – when the chorus kicks in though, you know what? You could have a mosh to it. It works brilliantly for me – Ben’s soaring fiddle cuts over the rapid drums and guitar – and the instrumental section is to die for. I’d love to hear a full band version of this bad boy live.
Then we reach the last track – Flaws brings the pace back down with guitar strumming and gentle vocals, in my last review of Nick Burbridge’s album I was extolling his lyrical mastery – well Gaz is no slouch when it comes to wordsmithery either. I actually had a big grin on my face at the simple cleverness of the lyric ‘we all have our weaknesses, they show us what uniqueness is’ – the gentle pace remains as the layers build along with other vocal overlays. A lovely way to ease you out of what is another absolutely cracking album by Gaz Brookfield (and friends).
I know it’s human nature to try to rank things – is it his best album? I’m not sure I can answer that without getting more familiar with it – his previous work has the advantage of being played a lot more, but certainly any fears I had at dilution through bringing in so many other talented musicians was unfounded, there’s plenty of familiarity (which has never bred contempt) along with some clear development into new ideas and directions but without straying too far from that winning formula that so many of us have fallen in love with over the last few years.
If you haven’t already then you should be certainly getting hold of I Know My Place – you can grab it from Gaz’s Bandcamp Page either as a digital download, a CD or Vinyl (if you’re quick – I don’t imagine he’s done a huge number of pressings beyond those that folk pre-ordered). I know people say 2016 has been a disaster for music with the number of notable legends lost, and whilst I’m inclined to agree, bloody hell we’ve had some pretty special releases this year – god help me if I try to rank them in some kind of 2016 sum up at the end of the year!