For a moment, rock star Gaz Coombes seemed genuinely lost for words. The great singer-songwriter and all-round local hero, sweltering on stage in the heat of the packed Sheldonian Theatre looked happy – yet emotional; as well he might do.

Sunday night’s show at the Christopher Wren-designed venue marked its 350th anniversary and saw the former Supergrass frontman onstage with a full orchestra, under the baton of Luke Lewis, and friends from the Oxford music scene.

“It has been magical to play this amazing building with these wonderful, wonderful players,” the Wheatley lad told the crowd during a standing ovation after the show – which raised cash for Oxford good causes The Yellow Submarine and Young Women's Music Project and was supported by some amazingly generous music-lovers at the University of Oxford, who, incredibly, provided the venue for free.

A home of classical music in Oxford for all its three and a half centuries , the theatre has never seen anything like it –and neither had we. Elegantly composed but essentially indie-rock, Gaz’s music took on new proportions under Luke’s arrangements. Moments of skeletal beauty – Gaz singing along with a gently strummed guitar or at the piano – were interwoven with blasts of epic bravado – rising tides of strings, brass and woodwind from the Hot Fruit Orchestra, which built to powerful crescendos, threatening to burst through the historic theatre’s beautifully painted ceiling and take the damn roof off.

Oxford Mail:

The full power of the songs was given free reign with accompaniment by Gaz’s long term collaborators, guitarists Nick ‘Growler’ Fowler and Garo Nahoulakian – every inch the rock stars, casually throwing in crashing chords and delicate fingerwork adding electricity to the gathering storm of sound. Behind them Gaz’s backing singers – ‘The Roxys’ (Piney Gir, Emma Brammer and Samantha Whates) added to the mix with soaring backing vocals and legendary local drummer Mike ‘Micky Sticks’ Monaghan provided subtle tambourine and percussion.

Songs came from Gaz’s three solo albums with a deliciously feisty new song Salamander. Highlights were too numerous to mention, with the crowd lapping up reimagined versions of Matador, Seven Walls, Wounded Egos, Oxygen Mask, Detroit and encore tunes Walk the Walk and Slow Motion Life.

But the deal was really sealed when he came on for a second encore, admitting to having played everything, but picking up an acoustic guitar for a solo rendition of Supergrass classic Moving – telling us he just wanted to do it to see how it sounded in that space.

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The hairs on the back of every neck must have pricked up for one of the single greatest Oxford musical moments of all time.

What a tune, what a venue, what a man... what a night!


Oxford Mail:

Sublime collaboration

* The concert was the result of discussions between Gaz, Luke Lewis, Nick Fowler and Liz Green - who brought together all the fabulous talent to perform in the magnificent venue that is the Sheldonian Theatre.

The orchestra was made up of Music Faculty students, alumni and Music Faculty professors. Professor Eric Clarke, the Heather Chair (one of the oldest posts at the University) and Professor Laura Tunbridge and the Choragus, Professor Gascia Ouzounian led the orchestra. The Hot Fruit Orchestra is a ‘scratch orchestra’ so no-one had ever played together before. Some of the music students even had exams the next day.

Liz says: "The concert provided a real life learning opportunity for many as it’s rare for students to get an opportunity to play with a legend."

The venue was provided for free as part of the Sheldonian Theatre Curators' 350th Anniversary Community Engagement Scheme - a way of allowing the community and different groups of people to access this important historic venue.