By Ed Dyer (AKA Gig Monkey)
Gaz Brookfield is something of a long term Ocelot favourite, so much so he even did us the honour of gracing the magazine’s cover twice a few years back.
Many of you will be pretty familiar with him too, by dint of his ferocious work ethic (he clocked up his 1000th gig last December and tours relentlessly).
Continuing in this vein, he has just released his fourth full album, launching it as is becoming tradition, with a show at The Fleece in his adopted hometown of Bristol (Swindon still lays greatest claim to you though Gaz) meaning I got to take a short road trip to make sure he isn’t getting soft in his old age.
Thankfully, the only thing that has sold out about Gaz is the venue, as once again he filled the room to capacity (the first local solo artist to do so, a feat he has repeated at least three more times).
Opener Dan Donnelly (of Wonderstuff fame) was brilliantly witty and eloquent; David Grey, his song about being a David Grey rip-off being a particular highlight.
Gaz took to the stage with his occasional backing band The Company of Thieves to a hero’s welcome and proceeded to blow the roof off with a set delicately balanced between new material (which some people had already learnt the words to, despite the pre-sale copies having only been out a day or two) and classics, which were sung back to him with some gusto.
So, the live show remains an impressive experience, but how does the record stack up?
First thing I discovered was it conveniently lasted the exact same amount of time as a late night journey back from central Bristol to Old Town, Swindon. The second discovery was less unexpected, as the album is, once again, a proper belter, continuing Gaz’s pleasing habit of improving his craft as a songwriter, musician and producer.
You get all the usual social commentary, personal opinion and tales of life as a gigging musician. As is typical, this is a very personal record, with Brookfield singing stories drawn from his own life experiences, often very touchingly, but imbued with dry wit and humour. The opening run of tracks cover such diverse subjects as his loss of religious faith, the dilemmas of settling down and home ownership (the line “mortgage is French for death-grip” still makes me laugh), current economic and political topics. Live favourite The Diabetes Blues addresses with eloquence and humour the moment he was diagnosed as a diabetic and is followed by a song about facing mortality, humour again used as a way to communicate a deeper message.
Amongst the serious themes, of course, there are some much lighter moments. Maps addresses Gaz’s love of looking at maps, something we have in common and a song that has brought him to the attention of Ordnance Survey! Solo Acoustic Guy tells of the benefits of not having a band, whilst Ode to Ozzy is a touching love note to his faithful tour van.
The best is saved until last however, as Cornish Fishing Village is Gaz growing up, musically a much more expansive song with layer upon layer of instrumentation that swells and builds like the seas around the places he sings about in a beautiful paean to the landscapes he desires to be in.
His work is so personal, both subjectively and because he puts so much into what he does, meaning Gaz has a habit of trying to avoid reading reviews of his work, whether bad or good and never sends out copies to reviewers (yes, I did indeed buy the album), so I know he probably won’t read this, but hat’s off to you sir, this is a hell of a record, it was a hell of live show, and I look forward to the next time.