You Wear It Well - life after Britpop - Gaz Coombes and Tim Burgess live in London, November 2022
Britpop was an odd beast. It was hype, laddish culture and an excuse for leery beer drinking bollocks. But it also produced some fab music and its hype brought bands to the mainstream that would have been siloed in what would have previously been an indie dead-end, exclusively loved by trench coat wearing trainspotters (i.e. me).
At its best, Britpop was celebratory, fun, joyous; at its worst jingoistic, misogynistic, football fan bullies transferring their locations from the terraces to the mosh pit.
But some of its bands made truly brilliant music, and I was the perfect age to revel in its best bits (see England's (Day)Dreaming - 16 of the best Britpop songs). And a lifelong love of Fred Perrys and Dr Martens kicked in then and has never left me.
Two of my favourite bands from this period were Supergrass and The Charlatans. Both pre-dated Britpop, The Charlatans taking off in 1990 and riding the ‘baggy’ Madchester wave before seamlessly rebranding to this new movement. Meanwhile, Supergrass had been on the periphery as The Jennifers before taking full form and being one of the leading lights in this very English (rather than British) style (Britpop was a nonsense label created by lazy journalists to group vaguely similar bands together).
Both bands were led by singer songwriters of great skill and charm. Gaz always came across as a gentle cheeky chappie, while Tim was a cool but always smiling frontman with a great, if idiosyncratic voice, and fab stage presence. Both seemed like guys you’d like a drink with. They were real music fans and you always suspected that that they were a big part of the bands they fronted, not just a third or a fifth.
Fast forward 25 plus years since Britpop mania, and both now have duel careers. They still front their bands of old, with The Charlatans still making great new music (they have never stopped). Supergrass went on hiatus, if not actually splitting, for 10 years before returning as a live act, but very much just that. No new material offered or planned it seems.
And that makes sense. We first see Gaz Coombes at Lafayette in London (3 November 2022) - it’s my second time seeing him live this year and 7th as a solo artist. His three albums to date have been experimental, interesting, Bowie-esque and a far step away from Supergrass’s comedy laced pop (see Raging Bull – a look back at Gaz Coombes’ Matador). Alongside Johnny Marr, Maximo Park and Ailbhe Reddy, he has joined a list of bands that me and Mrs JO’B have vowed to see whenever they play London. He’s here tonight to promote his forthcoming (and indeed fourth) solo album, Turn The Car Around.
Similarly, I have seen Tim solo a couple of times now and he’s produced five solo albums, plus an album with Peter Gordon. Each has taken him a step further away from The Charlatans, whist he continues to make cracking albums with his alma mater that also evolve, but are still quintessentially Charlatans.
I particularly love Oh No, I Love You, the album he co-wrote with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, having carried the latter’s guitar for him after a gig so he could proposition him to co-write some songs. I love the fact he is a fan of music and bands first and foremost. And through Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, he is now a national treasure and hero.
His latest album, Typical Music, is anything but. A rambling, eclectic, messy and ambitious double album. Quirky and varied, it makes me think of Sparks, which I hope he would take as the massive compliment I mean it to be. When you think it’s going left, it swings right. He plays the same venue a week later.
Though both artists have progressed, changed, challenged their audiences and both have and are making music I adore, the two gigs could not be more different.
He’s so loose
Gaz’s show is celebratory, cool and heart-warming. He has a great, tight band that seem to have been playing with him for the last few years, including the marvellous Piney Gir on backing vocals - we love Piney!
The set opens with two new songs - Overnight Trains and his latest single, Don’t Say It’s Over. Both are cracking numbers, building on the style he has developed since going solo. He says the venue looks like something out of Gotham, perfect for a fight scene. With its pine wood and neon lights, to me it looks like an 80s nightclub.
Piney indulges in some marvellous horizontal tambourine playing and they belt out Wounded Egos from the last album, World’s Strongest Man, while his standalone single, Salamander, sounds like Roxy Music at their squalliest.
Gaz starts to explain what the title track for the new album, Turn The Car Around is about, but he just can’t be arsed. Another new song follows - Long Live The Strange is an ode to the connections people form at gigs. The vibe around us is great, everyone is loving the new stuff, and digging the songs from his last couple of albums. There are some young and a bit pissed lads beside us, but they love it, one telling his mates what a “banger” Deep Pockets is (he is right).
It’s hot on stage and Gaz comments it’s the wrong night to wear a suit and hat, but he looks dapper in his tilted trilby and super sharp razor light blue suit. A far cry from the dodgy T-shirts and scruffy jeans of the Alright video, Supergrass scampering around like an Oxford Monkees…
The acoustic The Girl Who Fell To Earth is a beautiful paean of love to his daughter, whilst This Love is a fucked-up love song.
Sonny The Strong was the lead single for this new album, but I didn’t love it when it came out - it’s a grower and much better live.
The closing run of songs includes more ‘bangers’, especially the soulful groove of Detroit, the beautiful love song Matador and the rollicking strange prog krautrock of The English Ruse. And then he’s gone, leaving a happy excited audience. Our friends Vincent and Elena and their mates head off, while me and Mrs JO’B stay for one more beer, enjoying people watching the cool fans that also hang around.
One is stylish and carries his National Gallery paper bag proudly, whilst another looks like he’s just stepped off of the set of This Is Spinal Tap. It’s a mixed and quirky audience, but all are beaming and all have followed Gaz’s journey away from his alma mater. There is not one call for Supergrass songs through the show. and we buy tickets for the next London gig a few days later, full of anticipation to hear the rest of the new album live in Camden in 2023.
A week later, we’re back for Tim. We are excited in the cloakroom queue to see Sharon Horgan. Like many deluded fans, me and Mrs JO’B both feel like if we met Sharon we’d be marvellous friends. But that’s just a testament to her fantastic writing that we feel we somehow know her. Reader - don’t worry, we didn’t bother or stalk her. We’re weirdos, but not that type of weirdo.
There are rumours Ms Horgan and Mr Burgess are an item - none of our business, but if they are, what a talented and interesting pair they must make. Anyway, enough celebrity tittle tattle, this is not the place for that shite.
The venue is again full and we enter as Blue Monday throbs from the DJ’s decks on stage - it really is like being back in an 80s nightclub. It’s a very different crowd to Gaz, at least where we are stood. It’s very laddy, it’s very beery and shouty. An annoying man in a garish hoodie won’t shut up as he stands behind us and talks through the whole gig, while drunk fans shout out for Charlatans songs and one shouts to someone in the band he seems to know repeatedly. It doesn’t bode well….
Tim is gracious with the shouts, and kicks off with a brace of new songs, from Typical Music. He is understated as ever, loose jeans, plain white T-shirt, baggy cardigan…no need for the sharp suit, he’s still effortlessly cool. Flamingo is a slow, gentle starter, “when my fire goes out, we’ll be left in no doubt”, seemingly an ode to a lost friend, which sadly he’s lost several over the years.
It’s quickly followed by new album title track, Typical Music, which belts along at a messy pace, and is great fun. On stage it’s a great show and Tim is an endearing performer, but the audience seem utterly disinterested where we are stood.
Lucky Creatures from I Love The New Sky is a violin driven stomper, part Divine Comedy, part groove. It’s curious and feels similar yet nothing like his main band’s material.
View From Above sees Tim playing a cool, curious guitar, his cardigan catching as he straps it on. Here Comes The Weekend, the first single from this album is the show’s first proper belter, and has the audience dancing. It sounds like Stereolab playing the music at a funfair and it’s magnificent. But still the talking, the shouting for old Charlatans songs continues…this is an audience, at least where we are stuck, that just don’t get he has many more strings to his bow.
The set continues, lifting only from his last two albums. It’s great that he keeps moving forward, experimenting and playing new styles and songs. You can imagine him crate surfing in the basements of dingy record shops, happy as Larry and finding a new style to influence his next batch of songs. A day flicking through vinyl with him would be huge fun, I am sure. Wish he’d played White from Oh No, I Love You though.
Finally, he launches into one for the braying fans - The Only One I Know is belted out, though twisted, morphed into a cool almost krautrock / hoedown version, which is fabulous. The beery fans are sated, yet soon start shouting for North Country Boy again. Give ‘em an inch…
We stay for a couple more songs, but we give up, beaten by the hipsters or geezers out to drink and talk, and lairy shouts for old songs
We head home, wishing we’d managed to squeeze into a different area of the tiny venue, but also wishing the guys where we were would show a little more respect and enjoy something different.
What a shame. We will see Tim again, and I hope he continues to keep moving forward, experimenting - maybe a smaller, but more interested audience will follow.
Gaz remains on our must-see list, and do check out Tim’s Typical Music, and look out for Turn The Car Around in January. Elder statesmen of Britpop have moved on to smaller things, but it’s alright….let the good times be never ending…
All gig pics by Mrs JO'B