If I were looking for an analogy to sum up the performance it would be this. Remember when you were a kid and those dreaded visits from aged aunts always resulted in the comment, hasn’t he grown? Well, in a way that is a quick sound bite for Gaz’s performance tonight. Those too familiar with an artists work are probably the ones that least notice over all growth and artists rarely see, or at least acknowledge it in themselves. The last time I caught one of his gigs, to paraphrase a line from one of his songs, it wasn’t, “the right place at the right time” and about 8 months had passed even since I watched him being totally ignored by the denizens of that trendy pub full of fake tan and just the right designer labels. Tonight, however, as the support to Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls moonlighting from The Wonder Stuff, it was exactly the right crowd.
What was immediately obvious, to get back to the opening statement, was what a step up he had made, both with the recent batch of songs from the Tell It To The Beer album, but also his stage presence. Always blessed with warmth, a self-deprecating humour and the ability to communicate with an audience between songs, playing to an appreciative audience, many who had come along as much to see him as the main act judging by the amount of people singing along, proved to be the obvious confidence boost. The result was a charismatic performer hitting his stride with ease.
Accompanied by studio collaborator and occasional stage guest, Ben Wain, the violin flourishes that he brought to the song hit the musical nail on the head. I don’t want to use the L-word too readily, but at the more frantic reaches of the set the two were reminiscent of a stripped down….well, lets just say in the song writing stakes, Mark Chapman had better watch his back. Call it what you will, agit-folk, nu-folk, anti-folk, the increasing bite in his songs find him more and more heading into the Frank Turner, Billy Bragg territory, the fact that at the front of the crowd I notice both New Model Army and Attila The Stockbroker be-shirted folk lapping the songs up is a sure sign of this.
A show doesn’t just carry on charm alone but Gaz does have the songs to back it up. Songs drawn from personal experience, songs that are wistful tales, stories with wonderful resolution and if not always exactly filled with optimism, certainly flavoured with a reflective contentment. The message – it’s as much the failings and the failures as the successes that shapes who we are.
On that note, amongst a clutch of great songs, one in particular is just brilliant. A poignant two fingers up, a real triumph over adversity, a bittersweet personal tale summed up by the title, Be the Bigger Man. This is a song that should be played at school assemblies for its positivity and message. That said, all the favourites from the previous album, Trial and Error, also get an outing, Diet of Banality, West Country Song and Thin make an appearance and the sum total is set of strong, relatable and well rounded songs, infectious choruses and meaningful storylines. Suffice it to say, the boy done good.