Matt Bentley catches up with Jon Gomm.
So, I've never performed an interview before and I want the first one to be a good do. I get together my grandad's '70s tape deck, an old microphone, my finest flat cap (which I eventually decide not to wear) and an ancient tape which, it transpires, has ADF on it.
And now I find myself driving over to Jon Gomm's house. Normally this is in relation to some gig or other, or I'd be picking him up for a trip to an open mic night. Tonight however it's with the rather odd intention of asking him a bunch of pre-set questions that I'd written on my lunch break at work a couple of days earlier.
When I spoke to him on the phone we'd decided to play things by ear, so I don't know where we're going to end up yet. I knock on the door, and when Jon answers he tells me he's in the process of fixing a passion-fruit plant to his washing line... as you do.
I wander through to the back yard to be confronted by the enormous climbing plant. Jon tells me that it has grown so much that it seems to have taken over the whole garden. In the process it colonised the washing line, which finally gave up the ghost and snapped in the high winds of the previous night.
In an effort to save the plant, Jon is tying it back up with an entire roll of string, winding it round and round the plant and then knotting it to two metal posts, one at either end of the garden. I marvel the difference between us - I'd have cut the whole thing back the moment it got to the washing line, but Jon seems to have a more laid back attitude to the whole affair, and dare I suggest a greater respect for living things. Or maybe he just likes fruit more than washing lines.
Whatever, when the plant rescue is complete, Jon says he needs a pint, and we suggest a couple of places before landing upon our old favourite; The Grove. We hop in my car, which is an utter tip as always, and drive down to the pub.
Jon gets the pints in - a pint of Moorhouse's Pride of Pendle for me, being a Burnley lad - while I set up my equipment in a small room off to the side of the bar, possibly called The Snug. When Jon arrives with the drinks I get my questions out, and ask him if he'd like to have a look at them first, but he tells me he'd rather it was a surprise.
We have a quick conversation about pork scratchings, as Jon cracks open a pack to eat during the interview, and he asks me if I've ever shaved my crackling; an Alan Partridge reference. As I laugh, I press record on the tape player, but the first attempt at starting the interview is abortive; the record button pops back up about ten seconds in. After that however things run more smoothly.
Interviewer (MB): Jon, what've you been up to recently?
Jon Gomm (JG): My recent life has mainly consisted of driving round to different festivals and playing in different places. I did acoustic gathering in Scarborough the day before yesterday which is a thing they do every year in the park, around the lake, where the stage is a pagoda in the middle of the lake. You get transported out to it on the back of a motorised swan!
I really enjoyed playing it. It's odd because it's dark on the lake while the audience is on the bank, so you can't see anything apart from the black water, and you feel very isolated and alienated from the audience. But I really enjoyed it.
MB: Would it have been better if it had been a pedalo swan and you had been rowed out by some grumbling minion?...
JG: Yeah... haha... (in the voice of Igor) Almotht there marthter...
MB: Sort of like the Scarborough Styx...
JG: I couldn't have got my gear on the back of a pedalo... But it was great fun. The after-show party was a bit mad. People keep telling me stuff that happened that I can't remember.
MB: Did you have a few beers then?
JG: I did, because they were putting me up for the night, so I took advantage of the opportunity.
MB: Ok... I know as well as the gigs and festivals you've been playing, you've also been preparing for a run of showcase gigs you have coming up. Can you tell me a bit more about those?
JG: They start on 30th October, and we're doing a gig every month right here at The Grove - and we didn't even come here on purpose tonight. Basically, it's going to be showcasing some of the great people I've played with over years. I've invited them to play as my special guest, and I'm going to do an opening set at each gig.
Hopefully it'll give me a kick up the arse to play some new songs - I do have some new things; I was playing a brand new song last night. If I'm playing each month at the same venue I'm going to have to try some new stuff, as you're going to get the same people coming down to each gig, to some extent. It's quite exciting for me.
My guests are then going to play a set, and we're going to do a few songs together at the end. We've got Brendan Croker, who's the only Leeds resident who's playing; he's playing the first night. Then we have Amrit Sond who was born in Africa, moved to Kuwait, then to Canada, and then to London - he's got a Grammy, and is an incredible guitarist...
MB: I understand you moved from Blackpool to Leeds...
JG: Haha, yeah, not quite so exotic. Rather than soaking up the influences of music from around the world, I've soaked up cabaret and erm... Yorkshire folk I guess... But yeah, we've got some really special guests coming, and I've got really high hopes for the nights. I've actually done this sort of thing before in 2005 at the Mixing Tin, called The Collaborators.
Brendan Croker started that night in 2004 and got me to be one of his guests. He did six of the nights, and his last gig was with Steve Phillips, both former Notting Hillbillies... it was an amazing gig. Then he passed the baton to me, and I did six, and then Natasha, my Mrs, did the next six with her band, again with a special guest each month... she sings and plays saxophone.
So I've decided to resurrect it. Back then when I did those six it was all artists from around Leeds, but now I've been all over Europe it means that I can get this pool of people to draw from to ask to play. Some of them are coming especially for this gig - they're not on tour or anything like that - which is amazing... they don't know how small the room is yet though, haha.
MB: Apart from these showcase gigs, do you have anything else planned?
JG: Not in Leeds... I'm trying to restrict it to these gigs. But then again, this is more gigs than I've done in Leeds for years; I normally only do one or two a year. It's one of the reasons why I really want to do these gigs; to feel more connected to the city I live in.
MB: So, you're originally a Lancashire lad like me. How come you moved to Leeds?
JG: Well, I didn't actually move directly from Blackpool to Leeds. I was in London first for three years, studying at the Guitar Institute. But I hated London in many, many ways... I loved that fact that I could go to any gig I wanted to - being into jazz and blues, a lot of the top players will only play in London on their European tour - but I'd decided I didn't want to live there any more.
So what I did was re-apply to all the placed that'd offered me positions when I'd left school - the course was supposed to be modular, so in theory I should have been able to complete my final year at any of them - and I applied to Leeds as well, simply because I had an empty space at the bottom of the UCAS form. I'd never even been to the city before.
All the places who had given me these unconditional offers then rejected me, and the only place who'd let me in straight onto the final year was Leeds. It was really weird, but maybe it was because I'd turned them down originally or because the modular thing was actually bull-shit; I have no idea how it works.
So I just ended up in Leeds really, but I love it here. There's a load of really cool cultural stuff you can get involved in that maybe is a little bit... well, underground isn't the right word, but maybe just "not that popular", so you can go to these events and they still feel special. And it's a good place to just go and be bad in town. You've got the best of both worlds.
MB: Your style of playing is different to how most people play a guitar. It's almost like you're the full band, playing all the different parts at once. Who would you say has influenced your style most?
JG: There's so many, but what I generally do when I'm asked this question is try to whittle it down to three guys. I'm an electric guitarist just as much as an acoustic one, but keeping those players aside and focussing solely on acoustic acts: Michael Hedges, who is an American new age guitarist, or at least that's how he gets labelled. He kind of re-invented steel string guitar completely, incorporating tapping and harmonics; a truly extraordinary musician and composer.
Next you've got Bob Brozman. He's always made me want to play acoustic guitar since I was a little kid. I fist saw him play when I was ten years old, though I guess I'd already been playing quite a long time by then. But he's the most percussive and aggressive acoustic guitar player that I've ever seem, though he's still got this amazing light touch. He plays blues, old-time sweet jazz, Hawaiian music and world music, like Indian blues.
And then there's Nick Harper. He's the first guy I saw live who showed me that the guitar has so much more dynamic range - from incredibly quiet and sensitive, to becoming this wall of noise. Plus his song-writing pushes all my buttons; I just love him. He makes me wish I was gay... and that he was gay obviously, haha... otherwise it would just be unrequited.
He doesn't really make me wish that, but I do just love him. It's funny, because it's mine and Natasha's anniversary soon, and Nick Harper's playing in Otley, I think on November 5th. This is so tragic though - we're going to stay over there, probably in the same hotel as him. We do know him a bit, so it's not that weird I guess, but we're just going to go and stalk him for the night, haha... We've done it before. He's one of those people who totally encourages too much enthusiasm from his fans... otherwise he'd have nowhere to sleep!
MB: On to the important stuff now. What's your favourite colour?
JG: I don't really have a favourite colour. I wear black all the time, so I guess you could say black is my favourite colour... hmm, but then it's not a colour, is it? As the annoying child at school would say.
MB: I was going to say - black's not a colour, it's a shade.
JG: Haha, a shade... no-one's ever asked me that before.
MB: Haha, I think I just thought I'd try to throw in some curve balls for you... Moving on, who is your favourite Leeds act at the moment?
JG: Oh man, that's so hard. I don't really like to say of the moment, 'cos I'm not really that in touch with things. I suppose of the moment would need to be someone who's not been around that long?
MB: Well maybe just ever then...
JG: Yeah, I don't really think in those terms, and I'm not sure who I've seen recently who hasn't been around that long... the last guy I saw who I'd never seen before was Mik Artistic. I mean, I've seen Mik on his own loads of times at The Grove open mic, just talking insane shit - which is what he does - but I've never seen his band, the Ego Trip, before. I saw them at Moor Music Festival, and they're absolutely amazing.
I saw Amoeba to Zebra there as well, who have been going for about two years. They're kind of made up of different bits of established bands, and they were exceptional; really original.
My favourite band in Leeds though is Hope and Social. I feel a bit pathetic for saying that because I've been saying it for about eight years, although they've changed their name...
MB: Yeah, it was Four Day Hombre before...
JG: They're great, and they keep getting better. They're such an amazing live act; Simon their singer is one of the best people at making an audience feel like he is completely beholden to them while being the total authority in the room at the same time. Those two kind of incongruous things he can do simultaneously. And it's so hard to do that; to be accessible to the audience so that they don't feel threatened by you, while being able to just shut them up by saying something like "shut the fuck up" without them being in the least offended by that.
He's a really, really great singer and controller of an audience. It's amazing to see. Their songs are really good, and they're the only band I've played kazoo live on stage with!
MB: I'll let you just have a quick swig of your pint before carrying on... alright: What is your favourite food?
JG: You see, food to me is a very special subject matter, but I can't really cook very well.
It's like; I have a lot of fans who are big music fans. They go to a lot of gigs and tend to be the kind of people who are really into live music. I don't have a lot of hype around me so I don't tend to get scenesters and students; it tends to be hardcore gig goers coming to my shows.
That's how I am with food. I'm absolutely obsessed with great food. And I will eat literally anything, though sometimes I'll spend a lot of money on one meal. I don't have a favourite food, but I'm quite into extreme food. For birthdays and such, people buy me weird things like crickets or a bag of trotters... but really good trotters... food that most people would be freaked out by, I like to eat just to be able to say I've done it.
I've got some dried scorpions at home, but I can't bring myself to eat them because they just look so cool, haha.
MB: What about s bit of offal?
JG: Oh yeah, I love a bit of offal.
MB: You do a lot to support up-and-coming or younger musicians - myself included when I first moved to Leeds, and I know you did some lessons with Jack from Jack and Gill's Daughter. What would be some of the most important things to remember if you're just starting out?
JG: It's really tough. It's funny, but I'm really wary of giving people advice on the internet now. I'd get people contacting me, saying they really like my stuff. I'd check the website they directed me to, and maybe they'd have named me as one of their influences.
Well, I'd then listen to their stuff and send them a really gentle critique - it would always be really gentle, as I'd never dream of slagging anyone off after they'd sent me their music. I mean, you'd assume they'd be after some sort of critique.
I'd send people quite detailed stuff where I've clearly listened carefully and taken a lot work; the sort of thing I'd love to get. I'd always say how good I thought they were first, but even so they would often be really offended that I had given them any criticism at all.
It's quite shocking that people ask for an opinion from someone that they claim to respect but then get very upset... well, that their ego is so fragile in those circumstances. So I've started to be really careful now, and I don't do that anymore... I just tell people that I think they're really good, and I'll only send people a critique if they reply a few times, and I get to know them a bit more, so I can be sure they're not going to turn up at my house with a chainsaw, haha.
But in terms of musicians that I know, it's funny, but the gig I mentioned in Scarborough there was a guy who'd opened for me a while back when he was fourteen. He's eighteen now, and he was great... I bought all his CDs and got him to sign them all... I just try to support in that way.
So there's no one piece of advice I'd give, apart from to listen to as many different types of music as you can. It sounds obvious, but still people don't do it. For example, when was the last time you listened to some Chinese traditional music?
You might say "What's the point of that?", but it's like being a chef and having one particular type of cuisine or ingredient which, not only do you not know anything about cooking it (which is fine; no-one can be an expert at everything), but which you have literally never even tasted.
Now that is bad. If this stuff is readily available, which it is, then just try it so you have a vague idea about what it is. And who knows what inspiration you might get from it.
MB: You might be able to incorporate it or use it in some way...
JG: That's right. It's something that I do, being a bit prog at heart. I don't mind not knowing much about a genre or culture, and just saying "yeah, I'll have a bit of that; chuck it in." Some people might frown upon that and say it's a bit lightweight, but I don't have a problem with it.
But it's not really the point. The point is you need to appreciate how different music can be, and how important it is in history and in geography. It's so different in its meaning around the world. Just learn a little bit... look at the word griot in the dictionary and find out what it is... It's the West African word for a story teller and musician. It's specific job or role.
Every family, and sometimes every family member in a village, in Ghana for example, has their own drum beat. If you want to speak to someone, say you want to speak to Dave, you go to the griot and he'll play "Dave" for you on the drum. And Dave hears it and he comes.
It's absolutely extraordinary how rhythm is integrated into the lives of people in rural Africa. The music is not just for fun and entertainment, though it's for that too, it's fundamental to their way of life. It fulfils the role of things like communication technology do in our society.
It's sacred... don't fuck with it. Don't make music to make money or get girls... well maybe to get girls, haha. But music is a sacred thing; don't abuse it.
MB: As another slight aside, in your humble opinion...
JG: Not that humble, hahaha...
MB: Haha... well, in your egotistical opinion then, were three stoats - picture in your mind three stoats - were they to fight a badger, who would win?
JG: I'm not really too sure about stoats. Are they like a ferret?
MB: They're kind of like a weasel.
JG: I'm not sure I've ever seen a weasel.
MB: Well, they're a bit like a ferret I guess.
JG: I can picture three ferrets.
MB: Let's change the question then. Were three ferrets to fight a badger, who would win?
JG: I'm not too sure that ferrets have the capacity for teamwork really. Are they more solitary creatures? 'cos it could be like in a Kung Fu movie where they line up one-by-one to fight, and get beaten up by the good guy, with the skills.
MB: Nah, they're all fighting the badger at once. Just take a moment if you need to.
JG: I'm finding it hard... do any of them have any weapons?
MB: I think the ferrets probably have knuckle dusters. The badger, no; he's got nothing.
JG: I once got offered knuckle dusters. It was when I was watching Blackpool away at Preston. It was the last time I ever went to watch Blackpool, 'cos I never wanted to go after that. It was really bad.
This guy I knew from knocking around a few home games - I'd never been to an away game, and Preston Blackpool is the rivalry - well he'd seemed like an alright guy. He came up to me and said "I'm really sorry Jon, this is all I've got left... all the good stuff's gone." And he handed me these knuckle dusters.
I told him "I don't want these..." and walked off.
I still went to the match as I had some mates I was meeting, but I didn't tell them about it; I'd have been really embarrassed. Needless to say, everything kicked off inside and outside the ground. It was terrible.
I've got a story for everything!
MB: Well, you've sidestepped the question about the stoats, but I think you've conclusively answered that anyway with the tale about the knuckle dusters. I think we've conclusively shown that the stoats / ferrets would win...
So back on topic, you're fiercely independent about your music. How do you make a living doing the thing that you love?
JG: It's not really like that mate. I don't do that much. I do gigs - lots of gigs; some of them pay well, but others... well, you know because of the kind of gig it is that it won't pay that well. I try to avoid situations where promoters and venues lose money on me being there as I don't like that to happen.
Last night I played a gig in Bolton in a theatre, and the promoters were paying a fortune to hire the place. People were paying for tickets, but it's hard to get people in Bolton out on a Monday night to see an original singer-songwriter who's not famous. It wasn't packed, so I didn't come away with a huge amount of money. But you have to do all kinds of gigs, treat people honestly and well... if you want to be doing this for a long time, it's all too easy to burn bridges, and I see people doing it all the time.
I also do workshops and master-classes in music colleges and different places like that, and play overseas quite a lot. With those, I have agents in different countries who book my gigs, but I make sure my agents are really independent. Agencies in this country... there's different kinds... but some are very corporate... well, that's the wrong word... but they're very much part of the music industry machine.
It's not about creating good gigs for them necessarily - which is what the whole thing should be about, where a band, and agent, a promoter and a venue come together to create a good gig. Quite often it gets left to the band to make it into a good gig because the agent, venue and promoter couldn't give flying fuck, so long as there's bodies there.
So yeah that's it really. Just gigs, workshops and selling CDs. I don't have a distributor for my CDs or a record label. I have online aggregation, which is distribution on the net. But other than that, I just do it myself - today for example I had to send some stock off to Amazon... it's an automated system where the tell me they need say, ten more CDs, and I send them off to them.
Just do it yourself. I really do not have a brain for business, so if I can make a living - I'm never going to be rich, as I don't have the acumen to turn myself into a commodity - but if I can do it then anyone can. Don't feel that anyone is doing more than you because they've been on TV or a DJ has played their stuff... it just doesn't matter.
MB: So, to sign off, hat or gloves?
JG: For me personally, I do wear gloves but I would never wear a hat.
MB: That's definitive then!... Mr Jon Gomm... thank you very much.
But that wasn't the end. Once the interview was over, we headed back to mine to grab my snooker cue and then went and played pool for the rest of the evening, while getting horribly drunk. A good time all round really, and a night which had a bit of everything.
Bodixa are a female fronted five piece from Leeds who produce a blend of emotive and beautiful music. Strong harmonies and a big helping of good song writing talent lie at the heart of their distinctive sound