Prince of Thieves?

It feels weird not going to see Gaz Brookfield at The Maze in Nottingham – but in full band guise with his fellow Company of Thieves he was on at The Bodega this evening.  We got in to town a bit early to grab some food and meet folk in The Pit and Pendulum for some pre-gig drinks (lime and soda in my case – on driving duty – it’s all so very rock and roll!) – it was great to see so many folk out though, especially Lisa, Paul, Suzy and Bryan who I’ve not seen for a while!

By the time we ambled over to the venue over the road Chris Webb was already underway in an already well populated room – it’s a genuis move of Gaz, recruit people into your band who can also provide not one but two support acts!  I headed to take in his performance and hadn’t realised I was stood directly behind Gaz doing similar, amusing!  Meanwhile I’d become transfixed by watching how Chris strums his guitar, with his hand perpendicular to he guitar but his thumb out to pinch bass tones from the top two strings, whilst alternating picking or ‘flick’ strumming the four thinner strings.

It was mesmerising!  As I said he was underway when I went in, so the first song I picked up was called Breakfast which is from latest album Bungalow.  I’ve already mentioned the clever guitar playing, he’s a clever lyricist too – I couldn’t tell you what they were, but expect to become more au fait as I made sure to pick up a couple of his albums from the merch desk at the end of the gig!  I missed another song title, but then came Heat which had a frankly baffling array of lyrics – not just a feat of memory, but breath control too to get all those words out!  That’s also on Bungalow.

He finished up the set with Let’s Go Crash a Ceilidh (on album Story for another Storm) and finally Compass.  I’m happy to say that all the tracks I managed to note a title for are on the two CDs I picked up – I plan on getting them ripped and on my phone so they can provide the soundtrack to my driveathon tomorrow.  Obviously I’m incredibly familiar with Nick and Gaz’s work so it was a lovely surprise to be able to get a really solid new music experience out of the night as well!

We popped out for a quick vape break outside – catching up more with Gaz as Jamie arrived with his customary massive beaming grin on his face!  We got back in just in time for Nick Parker and Ben Wain striking up the second support act of the evening – Nick was busy arranging lyric sheets being handed into the crowd for later in the set – Ella and I definitely don’t need those these days, so we passed up on them to let other folk have the chance to join in!

Meanwhile on stage they kicked off with Departures, that wonderful airport-people-watching tale – needless to say the crowd didn’t need to be invited to do the ‘ba baaaaaa ba da ba ba baaaa!’ bits, and those that might not’ve been aware of it were more than happy to join in too once they’d realised what was going on.  I must admit, I do feel proud of my home town at moments like this – apparently it’s not all that normal for a crowd to be so engaged right from the first support act at a gig, to me I’ve always thought it’s a normal thing to do!

I joked with Gaz earlier in the night it’s because we’re tight and want to get our money’s worth out of our tickets, but it is heartening to see – and a no-brainer to me, most of my favourite acts to see I discovered because they supported someone else I went to see!  Down with the Yoof was up next – Andy was resplendant at the front in double-denim, a double-denim Member of the British Empire no less, a high honour!  The mass duet for Guess I’ll Never Know sounded great.

I still think I prefer it as a more traditional stage duet, but it does sound great as a crowd song too, and really original to use the crowd to do a melodic song too rather than a chant-a-long!

Es Tut Mir Leid saw the German phrase placards out – I think it’s fair to say that children are better at holding up placards in time with the chorus than adults on this showing, but they got there in the end, bless ’em!  Luckily I suspect the bulk of the crowd probably knew the phrases by heart already!  That left Terry and June which was dedicated to Suzy and Bryan who Nick singled out as introducing him into our crazy circle of festival and gig nutters – I for one am very glad indeed that she did.  Nick is one of my absolute favourites.

Which left us with a good hour-and-a-bit of Gaz Brookfield and the Company of Thieves, by which point the room was rammed.  I love The Bodega as a venue, I’ve seen some truly special gigs in there (and this is another one!), but not so much of a fan of a sold-out Bodega, it gets very full, very warm (there’s two massive aircon units overhead, I’m not sure they were on!), and it’s an oddly shaped room with a bar that means everyone gets in each other’s way.  I’m surprised that the organisers didn’t consider putting him on in The Rescue Rooms given his popularity in Nottingham – hopefully next time!

As ever, Gaz looks immediately comfortable in his own skin playing in Nottingham – from the first moment the bulk of the crowd are singing along, and he looks like he gets that extra buzz from having stage mates (six of them!) to vibe with.  They launched into The World Spins Round to get the room bouncing from the off, and then into March of Progress.  Gaz mentioned mid-set that I Know My Place is more than a year old, bloody hell where did that time go?  You’ll be pleased to know writing is underway for a new album.

Diabetes Blues had some thunderous singing along to the chorus, The Tale of Gunner Haines is one of my absolute favourites, and it really is best enjoyed in full band form (although I like it acoustically too!), the harmonica was out for Under the Table (although Andy had sneaked me a photo of the set list – although I kept tabs just in case, I’ve been stung my photographing set lists  before!), then Life Begins pays tribute to Gaz’s dad and his different stages of ageing.  With my 40th sneaking ever closer it becomes a bit more scary each time I hear it!

It’s all so Rock and Roll had probably the loudest ‘la la las’ from the crowd I’ve heard with the possible exception of the Bierkeller gig late last year, by the time The Busker Song was on Ella and I relocated to the back bit of the venue, it turned out to be a bit of a masterstroke – it was easier to see, cooler in temperature and a bit less claustrophobic.  The vehicular duo of Ode to Ozzy and Cursed were up next, with lots of knowing nods from members of the crowd who’ve endured similar crises.

Next Gaz unveiled his shiny new telecaster as the set rocked itself up a few notches, I’ve Paid My Money of course isn’t appropriate for this crowd, but we’ve all be at gigs populated by chatty bastards talking all over the music, then onto the slower Ferry Song with a gentle melodic keyboard intro (and a lyric slip, but well rescued by Chris), then onto the full on version of Black Dog Day, and finally I Know My Place before the acoustic guitar was back.  It looked like it was really hot on stage, Gaz marvelled at being provided towels, but the energy levels on stage never dropped.

Diet of Banality was next, probably amongst the first songs I’d have heard Gaz play way back when he was supporting Levellers at Rock City, which leads neatly on to Land Pirate’s Life, a song he actually wrote that night in the dressing room (and amusingly for me not only the first night I saw him perform but the first night I met him, not that I imagine he remembers, as I’d won a prize and was loitering backstage awkwardly awaiting some Levellers to go and collect it!). Thin finished up the main set – the bellows for an encore were pretty damn deafening.

Whilst there was a proper stage, it’s fair to say whatever backstage area they had wasn’t easy to access so Gaz had already said they wouldn’t go through the charade of going off and coming on, but Nick came up with an ingenious improvisation of them hiding behind towels and dropping them to mime such an act, leaving time for a three-song encore of Man of Means (by the end of which Gaz has begun bleeding over his guitar!).

Bigger Man was next (the singing along to this was bloody epic even from our vantage point at the back of the room), then it was back to the telecaster for a rousing finalé of Let the East Winds Blow.  Needless to say, the Nottingham crowd needed no instructions nor goading for the singalong portions. A superb performance from acts and crowd alike – for me it didn’t quite hit the magic of a Maze gig, but by gosh it was a special evening to be sure – we’ve been spoilt really over the last few years.

With it being an early start (10pm curfew), we managed to goodbye our way around the venue, I bought the two CDs Chris had on the merch desk and we headed out – I’d got my eye on the poster on the back stairs but alas my hesitation to pinch it earlier in the night bit my on the arse as someone else had already grabbed it by the time we were on our way out.  Because we weren’t being very rock and roll it also meant we were home by 11, and I’ve managed to rattle off two blog posts for the weekend too!

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