There’s a bit of a controversy in the guitarist community about whether the playing style of Jon Gomm is really a good effective method for producing interesting new sounds or just a bit of a gimmick, cheap showmanship with more interest in the impressiveness of how his hands move like a magician’s than in the music that results. When Jon asks how many guitarists are in the room in the Button Factory the response suggests that many have come to be convinced.
It is a bit disconcerting watching his hands run up and down every inch of the guitar, tapping the fretboard with both hands, beating a drum out of its body, tweaking the machine-heads and altering the effects. Usually so much definite movement from a guitarist in the middle of a song is because something’s out of tune or not right at the start of the song but for Jon Gomm it’s just a typical part of his set, an organised chaos.
Mid-way through the set Jon gives a lesson on getting percussion from a guitar. He beats the strings on the guitar’s body and gets a kick-drum, flicks the body and gets a snare, taps the strings on the neck to get a hi-hat and beats his fingers up and down the length of the body to get different sounding tom-toms and to see his method broken down like this is actually very interesting and convincing.
So for the music itself, incorporating Jon’s acoustic-guitar-as-full-band technique into song form, while being more than an acoustic guitar usually sounds, is not at the level of a guitar-bass-drums set-up either. Instead it kind of floats somewhere between these two points with an airy mystical quality that feels like drifting uncertainly but serenely over a gulf between two cliff-edges.
Appearing on the stage all tattooed and barefoot, Jon looks like a mechanic who was walking down the street one day when the spirit of some wandering Indian yogi or a Buddhist monk took possession of him and this duality comes across on tracks like Gloria. It is about his first love, a transcendental enough subject matter, but the lyrics are about her skin-head father and the kitchen-sink in her front garden. It’s this song, about fourth in the set, that Jon has quite solidly proven the worth of his technique.
While Gloria may give a basic impression of the man as an artist it doesn’t nearly begin to give an idea about the remarkable amount of influences he makes use of. His song Waterfall is about a Hindu goddess named Saraswati and contains a verse in Urdu, Topeka is about his vision of Kansas as a place of green fields and blue skies as far as you can see and The Weather Machine, an anti-war song, is dedicated as a veritable good riddance to a recently deceased ex-Prime Minister.
By the time he gets to his most popular song Passionflower the novelty of what he’s doing has worn off. The interest in what he’s doing remains, but it is purely for the sounds he makes, rather than how he makes them. For his last song he descends from the stage and picks a nice place among the crowd to perform Radiohead’s High & Dry without any amplification. It’s the final nail in the coffin of the idea that for all the fancifulness of his style Jon Gomm is anything but a no-nonsense musician.
Jon Gomm Photo Gallery
Photos: Kevin Brew