18 Mar 2016

Gabriel Bruce - the rise, fall and return of London's vampiric crooner showman

It was around 8:30pm 6th December 2012, he was opening for the then near-undiscovered Brum rising stars Peace on a particularly rainy night at Southampton's premium 150-capacity musky pub, The Joiners - one of my first gigs, and certainly the first one where I'd uncovered the band myself on internet blogs and excitedly dragged a friend. Clutching a 3/4 empty bottle of JD, in a tight fitting waistcoat, London alt-crooner Gabriel Bruce took to the tiny stage, an air about him that implied thus; this guy was something special. A vampiric messianic figurehead, he was backed by a band of gothic London types, including two backup singers - he even brought his own tapestry backdrop. Whilst his band were setting up, Bruce knelt down to me, a punter leaning on the stage - "thanks for coming out," he said, "you probably won't like my music but give it a go." What ensued, however, was nothing short of shamanic; a twitching set belted out by an incredible performer, it was almost as if the Londoner was possessed by a higher power, as he electrically belted out poetic songs, it was genuinely life changing to me, an over-excited fifteen year old whose mind had just been blown by an overworldly creature.

press shot, of bruce, having just returned
The following year he released Love In Arms, his debut album, to much acclaim from the off-kilter and alternative press. It was a mixture of danceable synth-pop characterised by Bruce's Nick Cave-style croon (Cars Not Leaving), soft piano bawlers (All That I Have) and roaring gothic disco bangers (Dark Lights Shine Loud), and is basically still an album that I recommend to people regularly. It's not got the energy, or maybe even the magic of his live performances, but the lyrics are pure poetry for the forlorn teen, delivered in a voice that's a nice mixture of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Guy McKnight (of Eighties Matchbox). That year Gabriel also played at Latitude, introducing the set with "we're going to play some new songs, although they'll all be new to you", which combined with a roaring sundown slot endeared then man to me even more. I thought this guy was seriously special, going places I thought, in my embryonic music snob mind.

Then he disappeared.

Where did he go? Did he die? Stake through the heart? Go into hiding? Find a new career as a living statue on Trafalgar Square? Gabriel Bruce vanished with very little in the way of promising progression in his career. Anyway, I did my fieldwork, my research, talked to people in bars and mortuaries and in the wake of his glorious return found out what happened to him (actually I just read a Vice article on him which came out a few days ago).

In 2014, a year after his debut, Bruce went through a 'debilitating' break up, before soon after that he was crushed by a huge dinosaur fossil, giving him horrific injuries. His hand was fucked and there were fears he'd never play again; dark, dark times for one of the most promising talents in the capital, eh?

But seemingly time has been the best healer for Bruce, as he this past couple of weeks or so announced his triumphant return - and evidently, it seems that his music and art have been a really powerful healer for Gabriel Bruce after a dark period. The first song he unveiled was Metal Soul (although it's apparently a 'red herring' for what we can expect from the rest of the record), and it's classic Gabe Bruce, but even darker and more gothic. Dark beats, eerie synths, and more of the trademark poetic lyrics, Metal Soul's a heartfelt song that taps into the same forlorn nerve that the likes of Cave and Cohen do so well.

2016 will be a year of redemption for Bruce, he'll be back and bigger than ever. The album we can expect to come out later this year goes by the name of Come All Sufferers, and although Bruce has said Metal Soul is a red herring, we can probably expect a dark record with a lot of that incredibly deep, brooding voice that made Bruce so exciting a few years back. He's back, and almost 4 years after first seeing an artist that was really quite special to see for the first time during my formative years, it's looking like at his Brixton show I'll be able to see a follow up.

you can stream the new song below, and find all his earlier stuff on spotify, which is something i really recommend you do! he's also playing one of my favourite venues, the windmill in brixton next month so be there or be square

(written by calum cashin)