Living in west London over the years I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright reprehensible skulking around the streets of Ladbroke Grove.
From an anonymous looking Joe Strummer meandering up Portobello Road to a chubby post-Blur Damon Albarn doing his shopping, it’s a great place to catch the off-duty musician.
Recently though, a yet more unusual sight was found on Westbourne Grove in the shape of Gaz Coombes of Supergrass and Hot Rats fame making an ad for the Toyota Yaris. It seems to be the latest thing for all elder statesmen of rock to do nowadays since we had John Lennon advertising the Citroen DS3 last year. However, for such ads to work it does require an instantly recognisable face from pop’s pantheon. Ergo, is it safe to assume that Gaz Coombes and therefore Supergrass are now an esteemed part of our musical heritage? The question had to be asked to Coombes himself so that’s what was done.
Sitting in a cab sheltering from the bitter cold outside, Coombes approaches the question with the humility of one who has not just survived but managed to make a successful career in an increasingly fickle industry. “It’s amazing we’ve lasted so long. The timing was perfect. It connected in the summer of ’95 and it lasted,” he says of his time with Supergrass, a band who channelled a British pop sensibility more effectively than nearly any other band of their generation.
However, since the band’s amicable split in April last year after a series of blistering farewell shows, Coombes has been frenetically active. “I dived straight into recording, sorting out a home studio world in the basement,” he tells me. “I’ve been trying to make a more expressive sound. We started on a Hot Rats album a few months back and then my album is due for release next summer or autumn. I’ve also been doing bits of production and arrangement for some bands I like.”
So rather than taking time out to take stock, it seems that Coombes has, if anything, upped his game. I ask whether having been part of a band for so long, there was a need for some solo artist catharsis. “Not really,” he says. “It’s just great to work with Nigel [Godrich], and me and Danny [Goffey] just rode the wave. It’s like a little affair outside of the marriage.”
This of course begs the question of the possibility of a Supergrass return in the future. “It’s good having a break and not firing in the studio. We might do it if we missed each other.” He flashes a grin. “It’s important to have a free mind!” And with that he’s off, back for another take, playing the role of a real life rock star.
Words by Karl O’Keefe