WITH international fame and armfuls of crowd-pleasing hits, indie-rock icons Supergrass were one of the biggest bands of the 90s and early noughties. And along with fellow, yet very different, Oxford bands Radiohead and Ride, they put the city on the musical map.

So when, with the band on hiatus, frontman Gaz Coombes stepped away to embark on his own solo career, excitement at what he would come up with was tempered with sadness at the break-up of one of rock’s greatest groups.

We should not have worried.

Not only have Supergrass shown they are supremely capable of reforming, but have proved to be more polished and passionate than ever - conquering Glastonbury Festival last year. 

And Gaz has succeeded in producing a powerful body of work which equals, if not surpasses, anything from his old band. And it shows Gaz at the top of his game, as composer, musician, lyricist, and as a performer not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve - with ebbs and flows of light and dark, introspection and exuberance, intimacy and bombast.

Oxford Mail: Gaz Coombes and band play the New Theatre Oxford. Picture by Hugh WarwickAll pictures by Hugh Warwick (hughwarwick.com)

The launch earlier this year of the fabulous Turn The Car Around, completed a four album series of extraordinary strength – following the highly acclaimed Here Come The Bombs, the Mercury and Ivor Novello-nominated Matador, and instant classic World’s Strongest Man.

It debuted at No.6 in the UK Official Album Charts and turned on yet more followers to his captivating brand of soulful, heartfelt and towering driving rock.

Nowhere is the Wheatley lad loved more than in his hometown of Oxford. So news of a homecoming show caused ripples of excitement when it was announced earlier this year. And it was no surprise at all to see him and his band of handpicked largely local artists fill the cavernous space of the New Theatre on December 10.

Oxford Mail: Gaz Coombes and band play the New Theatre Oxford. Picture by Hugh Warwick

It was a long wait, but it was worth it.

With tunes from each of his solo albums, he soothed, and scorched in equal measure – tender, heartfelt lyrics backed by virtuoso guitar and kinetic beats which powered the set forward.

Gaz and his handpicked virtuoso band – Mike Monaghan, Garo Nahoulakian, Nick Fowler, Tomas Greenhalf and backing singers and percussionists The Roxies (Piney Gir, Amy Ashworth and Emma Brammer) - had just flown in from a stadium tour of Australia as main support to Robbie Williams, and the gig had the grandeur and energy of an arena show.

But it was also incredibly intimate.

Gaz’s lyrics captivate with poetic honesty, exposing the often gentle soul behind the rock star facade. Though, to be fair, there was little bravado on the night, with the artist sharing intimate details of family life and the emotional roller-coaster of touring the world with all its dislocation and homesickness.

Oxford Mail: Gaz Coombes and band play the New Theatre Oxford. Picture by Hugh Warwick

Highlights were, of course, to numerous to mention, but included opener Overnight Trains, follow up Salamander, Don’t Say it’s Over, Detroit and Walk the Walk. And we lapped it all up – just itching to get up out of our chairs in the all-seater venue. We would have to wait a bit for that, though.

Oxford Mail: Gaz Coombes and band play the New Theatre Oxford. Picture by Hugh Warwick

His whimsical The Girl Who fell to Earth was dedicated to his daughter, Raya May, who was in the audience with the rest of the family, presumably bursting with pride.

The crowd adored Long Live the Strange – which could be an anthem to his wildly varied but always lively fans.

And then came the treat we were all secretly hoping for but did not dare expect – a pin drop, crystalline rendition of Supergrass classic Moving... surely their best tune. And early Christmas present to savour, it was glorious and the crowd were not afraid to show their delight.

Oxford Mail: Gaz Coombes and band play the New Theatre Oxford. Picture by Hugh Warwick

We came back to earth with solo banger Matador. The audience went wild and rightly so. A look around the auditorium revealed a sea of smiles. And Gaz and the band were clearly loving it as much as us.

The band of friends chimed off each other, one moment bewitching with delicate musicianship, and the next minute shaking the venerable venue to its foundations with a wall of guitar, drums and keys and vocals.

Supercharged guitarist Nick was a dynamo, musically bouncing off Gaz for duels of face-to face rocking, going back-to-back with fellow axe man Garo, and squaring up to Mike on drums whose extraordinary stick work propelled the whole sonic juggernaut onward.

The Roxies - Piney, Amy and Emma - anchored the whole thing from the back, the trio serving up elegantly synchronised moves, percussion and shimmering backing vocals. Tom, meanwhile, brought depth on keys and, as if to highlight his talents, some delightfully deft saxophone. 

This was a night for heroes – not only Gaz but his phenomenal band of roguishly talented geniuses. They may have been playing the biggest venue in town, but it felt like a personal performance. 

In Gaz Coombes, Oxford has a musical star to be proud of. Let's hope we don't have to wait so long for the next show.