As the front-man of one of the most underrated bands to come out of Britain in the last 30 years Gaz Coombes was always a bit different. Funny lyrics (admittedly, not all written by him – some of the best lines came from Danny Goffey), a solid pack of band-mates, fans, liggers, etc., a veritable messer with a devilish glint in his eye and yet he was deadly, deadly serious about what he did. Turning down offers of lucrative sidelines from Calvin Klein, Steven Spielberg and the like, music was his only outlet and despite being young, free and with a penchant for oral hygiene – there was always a steely undercurrent and determinism about him. In short, you like him and know he’s good for a laugh but you wouldn’t mess with him. And don’t call Supergrass ‘Britpop’ either.
So, now as a solo artist, very little has changed. Two albums into the third phase of his career Gaz is still serious, funny, likable, threatening, educated and relatable. The only difference is that now it’s just him and his guitar a couple of samplers and pedals rather than a band. As he strolls onto stage tonight there is a ripple of applause as he shoots straight into his set with no fucking around. ‘Oscilate’ and ‘Hot Fruit’ are offed before he really acknowledges the crowd. “Hello Dublin…” etc. His chatter is polite and direct and he clearly cares not for small talk.
The set is a fair mix of both albums and his movement between instruments is a nice touch; not one for leaving a particular style to linger on the palette for too long there really isn’t a dip or a chance for the crowd to mutter about whatever people do at small, intimate gigs. Thankfully, and rarely, there was no opportunity for people to “shhhhhh” like they do at most acoustic gigs either. “This is a song I wrote with some friends of mine a while back” he says in introducing ‘Moving’. A song which has a chorus that could work in any setting in any style. In its acoustic guise it takes a bit of foot stomping from Coombes to lead us in but the crowd are visibly into singing along loudly and forcibly.
The first of only two Supergrass songs to be played tonight, rather than just leaving people wanting more – undoubtedly they do, no point saying otherwise – they also serve to remind us of his pedigree as a songwriter. Even if ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ is arguably Supergrass’s second most disposable song, it’s still catchy and uplifting and contrasts nicely with a lot of his new material. So in a hot, sweaty and heaving Whelans we get an up-close and personal perspective on an engima of ’90s music. All sideburns, cheekbones and baggy eyes maybe but also a musical thoroughbred to the core.
Gaz Coombes, supported by Hannah Lou Clarke, photographed for State by Leah Carroll.