A-Maze-ing – part three!

It’s no secret (nor, I imagine, a surprise) that if work holiday and funds were no object then I’d have spent the last few days gallivanting around the Netherlands to check out the new Ferocious Dog line-up, but when Gaz Brookfield announced his Nottingham date it made for a very welcome consolation activity to be undertaking.  In the meantime Lee and Jayne had pulled out all the stops to make it a full half-day of fantastic music at The Maze.

European-trekking decision was further vindicated by an unexpectedly high car maintenance bill – so I opted to drive for this one and stick to a few soft drinks.  We hit town in time for the doors to open and for a free parking space within a short stagger of the venue, and being one of the first fifty people through the door were handed a raffle ticket for a prize draw later (I never did find out what it was for, although I do know I didn’t win, ha!).

I do like The Maze as a venue.  Nestled behind the Forest Tavern on Mansfield Road it’s compact-but-big-enough, the lack of lighting in the rearmost loos did present a certain challenge but added a veneer of adventure to an otherwise mundane activity, the sound was superb and well, it was full of lots and lots of my favourite people to spend time with. I’d have gladly paid the ticket price just to see Gaz, to have six high quality support acts on the bill made it ludicrously good value!

First up was Pretty Babs, considering they’ve really only been a band since October time they are sounding bloody tight – of course, Sam, Liam and Brad have known each other for ages and Liam played bass in Sam’s band prior – but they’ve reinvented themselves with a much harder punkier sound which on reflection Sam’s powerful voice has been absolutely crying out for – coupled with some great use of feedback and intricate guitar solo work they’ve landed on a winning formula for me!

They launched straight into the set with Red Brick Town and into I Wouldn’t Rule It Out – Sam in particular looks much happier on stage like this, I talked to him afterwards and a combination of higher energy music and less pressure of just being ‘in a band’ rather than  The Sam Jones Band seems to have really enhanced his stage presence.  One old song that does remain in a rocked up form is Buttons and Pennies which is greatly enhanced by this less folky rendition.

A pretty seismic percussion and bass intro kicked off Fade So Low before Sam confessed to having a bit of a dodgy throat thanks to some spicy chips from KFC, didn’t seem to be putting him off his game though!  Down In The Alley is apparently about drunken mistakes and public sex (!) which was then followed up with Up From The Floorboards and finished up with one of two songs on the setlist Liam kindly furnished me with after the gig (ha!) – it was apparently inspired by An American Werewolf in London.

Real confidence and swagger though, and justified too – a sound that is both catchy, intricate and probably very commercially-compatible too.  They have been working hard on putting a new album together and I really can’t wait to hear it.  Quite literally an electric start to what was largely an acoustic evening – certainly got the crowd geed up nicely though – it was good to have something to listen to and it was barely 6pm!  On reflection I’m probably glad I wasn’t drinking as I’d have been hammered by the time Gaz was on!

Next up was Joe McCorriston – just him and his guitar.  For whatever reason Joe had fallen off my radar somewhat, I have his first album from around five years ago now (yikes) and remember seeing him on the Ferocious Dog scene back then – well there’s two more albums that have appeared since then, once this month of ghastly expenses is over I need to do some catching up!  I missed the very start of his set nattering with folk outside – but once I noticed he’d started dashed back inside.

My Hero was the first track I heard, and then a new song called Riding Rockets – he’s got a great voice, his lyrics are earnest and well accompanied by guitar.  Cardboard Is Heavy Sometimes was next followed up by Destiny and My Own Company (all on his latest album) – the latter enjoyed its first live airing in Nottingham a couple of years ago and was coupled with somebody throwing up infront of him as he got underway.  Always nice to know your hometown leaves a lasting impression with an artist!  Haha!

I didn’t catch the name of the last song but it was a really engaging set.  Regrettably Joe had to leg it soon after his set had finished to get a train back home.  It might have been this time the raffle draw happened – I’d popped outside again for some fresh air, the venue was starting to heat up as more and more people arrived.  Not long after Brad re-emerged from inside to inform me I’d not won, which wasn’t a surprise, ha!  Once again I missed the start of the next act, luckily Gaz popped his head round the door to say “the next act is on, she sounds awesome!”.

Jess Silk was underway as I made my way back into the room, shouty-yet-tuneful protest folk probably just about describes her, she was a really good though!  Apparently she was playing faster than her rehearsals would have suggested, but the songs sounded good to me at that pace!  Her next song was Hold Off On Your Bomb which eloquently lamented the human tendancie to warmongering, followed up with Build Your Boat (apparently also known as ‘the shouty one about global warming).

Atlas brought out her less shouty side and that worked well too (not that I’d say that ‘shouty’ is a particularly fair self-terminology for what she does!).  The finished up the set with Better Not Said and then an as yet to be titled song.  Definitely going to be keeping my eye out for future appearances – I feel like I have / should have seen Jess perform before but if I have a can’t tell you when.  With Naomi in the crowd dancing along it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Deerstock date in the future!

Outside again talk with Gaz was of a zombie experience he’d recently done in an abandoned shopping centre in Reading (an amazing sounding Christmas present from his wife) – I think it was probably inspired by the sinisterly dark toilets, which saw a procession of people utilising the torches on their phones in order to at least see roughly where they ought to be aiming / sitting (apparently it was a phenomena for both gents and ladies!).

Then it was time for Jake Martin. I first saw Jake at the same venue supporting Gaz getting on for a couple of years ago – and subsequently reacquainted myself with him at Ey Up Mi Duck and Farmer Phil’s last year – he’s a fun and sometimes brash solo acoustic performer, and highly entertaining.  He introduced himself as a ‘fluffer’ and kicked straight in with Introducing, the first track from his latest album and then into anthemic Revolution’s Always Late (which is the opening track for his earlier EP!).

A new song followed which he didn’t give a name for, followed by a bout of positive heckling from the crowd which he initially encouraged, but was followed up with quite an overwhelming response!  He followed that up with For Fuck’s Sake, Jake! which has a lovely bit of crowd participation in it allowed them to shout ‘You’re an arsehole’ at various intervals – this was taken up with gusto by the by now pretty packed out room.  Better Days was up next.

The next song was new, and inspired by the subjects people write songs about – he invited the crowd to find him on Twitter and suggest song titles to him, so do your worst!  He finished his set up with Another Crappy D.I.Y. Song About The Scene – not braving I Don’t Wanna Be Your Heroes (the song that might be interpreted as a slur on New Model Army, which I don’t think it really is – but, ha! It would’ve been funny as it was back last time I saw him The Maze given the allegiances of the audience!

I’ve got a lot of The Star Botherers in in the last week or so, and that’s certainly no bad thing!  They kicked off in very jovial mood with Just Around The Corner, then Star Wars Bride was dedicated to Kev and Julie who were treating themselves to a babysitter-armed night out for their anniversary.  Relatively new If I Was a Tory was up next which I managed to miss up at the Black Market the other week, so it was good to hear a proper live airing.

Ringing In Sick followed up with My National Trust.  I found myself standing with Andrew from next act up Headsticks – “These were my find of last year!” he said to me – they are bloody ace, it has to be said!  A quick interlude for them to play Happy Birthday to Rhii who was utilising the gig for her birthday celebrations (which included lashings of cake for everyone, always a good thing!).  Supposedly the last song was Bad Guys – there was a great bit of freeform bass and rap from Dave during this, a rapper’s delight indeed!  They also seemed to sneak in The Hubball Shuffle at the end as a bit of a bonus!

Ostensibly Headsticks were in their acoustic guise – although it doesn’t at all detract from the energy they put across.  World Away kicked off proceedings and then Paper Flowers – for such a reserved quietly spoken and genial chap off-stage I never cease to marvel at the transformation Andrew undergoes when he steps across the monitors, a proper livewire – glaring into the the crowd as he passionately puts across his lyrics.  I managed to make a sneaky copy of their set list to help me out, although setlists are only plans of course that aren’t always followed!

Cold Grey English Skies was next, with its distinctive bass-riff intro, and then Fanatics started a bit of the crowd-participation numbers – What Do You Want? probably being the biggest exponent of that!  Two Sides was next, which slows the pace somewhat.  I was a bit sad that Mississippi’s Burning suffered being skipped – although Flatline Town is a pretty epic tune too – Dying for a Lie led into the epic finale of Killing Me America – ending with Andrew closely eyeballing the crowd having traversed the monitors to get in amongst it before returning to the stage to end the set prone on his knees.

Awesome stuff.  Outside I found Gaz in pensive mood.  “I’m actually quite nervous” he confessed – which frankly baffles me.  He’d sold out the venue well in advance in his own right before all the other acts had been added to the roster, and well, I’ve seen him absolutely smash The Maze twice before.  “I hate following bands, it’s so hard to get the energy levels of the crowd back up” he said – I hopefully offered some reassurance that I was extremely confident that that would NOT be problem here!

Whatever nervousness was beset evaporated as Gaz Brookfield took to the stage, once he’d got his in-ear monitor working he kicked off with Solo Acoustic Guy – there can’t be much better way to get a confidence boost than have a packed crowd bellowing your songs back to you!  Better still next song March of Progress from the new album was also lustily sung along with.  He was pretty apologetic about playing new songs several times throughout the set – there was really no need, a big chunk of the crowd had already made them amongst their favourites too.

Diabetes Blues is a bit of an anthem though, and it showed – The Tale of Gunner Haines is one of my favourite tracks from his new album, it translates excellently to acoustic mode too (I yet still might do a blog post about the subject of the song), whilst Under The Table way back from Tell It To The Beer had the crowd singing and swaying along.  After this Gaz discovered the power of cheer-controlling – raising his hands to get a tumuluous response from the crowd, cutting it instantly when his hand dropped.  That must feel pretty good!

It’s All So Rock and Roll has a slower ponderous pace to it – and whilst since detaching myself from football has made me a little less parochial I must confess that I did have a burst of home-town pride when the crowd burst – unprompted – into the ‘la la la la’ section of this relatively new song, it clearly delighted Gaz too from his facial expression, afterwards tell us it was only the second time this had happened for that particular song – it’s little moments like that that really make a night like this special.

Towns was next, right up there in the increasingly long list of Gaz-anthems.  Probably my favourite track from I Know My Place is The World Spins Round, it’s an epic folk punk track on there, and it translates very well to solo acoustic mode too.  Four Chords and The Truth took us back in time to his first album again.  At this point Sam Jones performed an act upon me that I promised not to write about in detail, so I’ll save it for when he’s famous, I reckon! Ha!

Back to the new album Gaz acknowledged the potential plaigerism of Brian Stone in Life Begins, but did probably rightly point out that Brian has probably nicked more ideas from Gaz over the last couple of years too!  Godless Man was kindly dedicated to Ella and I – apparently the song doesn’t quite sit the same in his head ever since I pointed out its potential for being heard as a song about an atheist piece of fruit from the Indian subcontinent!  Sorry, Gaz.  It’s an ace song though – sort of a follow-up of Death Bed.

Incidentally I think a godless mango probably ends up in a chutney or maybe an exotic fruit salad when he dies.

Cursed documents his fairly hate-hate relationship with cars – something I can relate to this week, although in general my car has been pretty reliable to be fair!  He also revealed he’s currently selling his motorbike so if anyone’s interested then I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear from you!  Man of Means took us right back to Trial & Error, then another quieter new song The Ferry Song – tends to make soppy Ella feel a bit emotional, but luckily Suzy was on hand to provide a bit of comfort!

Title track from his new album I Know My Place sounds great acoustic, and is – to my surprise – about his decision to quit Facebook from a personal perspective, obviously he needs to keep his page alive to promote.  It makes the lyrics make so much more sense in this context, I’d always thought it was just simply relating to society in general rather than the bizarre and sometimes frustrating virtual society that Facebook can become.  Land Pirate’s Life was next and then he announced he was going to play ‘the song I always play last’ now, so we were treated to Thin with all of its included singalong bits – which again needed no prompting!

There was no encore as such – there wasn’t really anywhere to go off stage to as the room was so packed – so the encore of sorts was Bigger Man with the deal that if folk wanted more they had to shout for it.  The shout was deafening – Gaz looked astonished whilst I imagine he was always expecting to play another – he went for Let The East Winds Blow which again has epic crowd participation opportunities which the crowd certainly didn’t disappoint in contributing.

An absolutely astoundingly good set – no matter how many times I see Gaz perform he always delivers if anything beyond my expectations.  After a marathon round of goodbyes I managed to catch and ask him if he felt reassured after his earlier lack of confidence – the smile said it all really, I think he’d probably enjoyed it as much as we did!  There was time for a cheeky kebab (if I’m ever in the vicinity of Victoria Kebab I always go there!) before driving home dropping Jonny and Katie off en route to save them a horrendous sounding bus and taxi voyage.

A-Maze-ing night – now I just need to think of a headline that doesn’t use a-Maze-ing again!  Ah sod it, I’m gonna recycle like a good ‘un!

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