Another night, another gig, another artist I know nothing about bar the short description on the what’s on listing. After a brief chat outside with tonight’s support, I head in to find Fibbers already inhabited by a bigger-than-average crowd and a stage that it would almost be generous to describe as sparse – adorned by just three microphone stands and with the usually present barrier removed.
The aforementioned support was Boss Caine and he opened, as seems usual these days, with Ghosts And Drunks before livening things up a bit with Dead Man’s Suit. By the time the slower and much more dour Lady MacBeth had ended, I had begun to notice talkers in the audience. Nothing unusual in that, except that instead of the usual inane chatter the people around me were discussing how good Mr Lucas was as a singer/songwriter and especially how good the last song had been. It seems that York’s own Boss was picking up some new fans. I hadn’t heard Evidence for a while and was struggling to remember which album it was from. It turns out that there was a good reason for that – it hasn’t actually been released yet but will feature on one of the two upcoming releases. It is, perhaps, testament to how good the song is that it still felt familiar. Dan’s tribute to Gram Parsons, the brilliant Grievous Angel saw the woman manning the merchandise desk move forward to take photos and it was good timing on her part. For me, it’s always a pleasure listening to Boss Caine but tonight the pleasure was cut short when, during Leaving Victoria, a somewhat distorted sound started coming from his guitar. Frantic adjustments quelled the noise but at the expense of the overall sound levels and the set was brought to a premature end. The audience, though apparently a little bewildered, were generous in their applause as he left the stage and he explained to me later that the fault was caused by a dead battery, thankfully something easily fixed before his next support slot the following night.
Bear with me for a few lines while I indulge myself as there is a point to this. If you are anything like me, when you watch a magician perform an illusion on TV, you probably can’t help but think that there could be some sort of camera-trickery involved. Watching the same illusion live, say in the studio audience, you might be more impressed but still have a nagging doubt that there is something hidden from sight. But what if you are one of the people picked from the audience to examine the equipment, to stand on stage while the illusion is performed? You’ve looked all around and you can’t see anything obvious, no wires/mirrors/hidden trapdoors. By the time the illusion is complete, you’re probably thinking, “yeah, OK, you’re quite good…”
With one of the trio of mic stands removed and a pedal rig added to the set-up, Jon Gomm takes to the stage to loud cheers and a crowd which is gradually shuffling forward. He good-naturedly encourages us to move even closer before opening with Telepathy, a song which he describes as being from a dark and scary place. A virtuoso, Gomm plays acoustic guitar in a variety of styles, stroking it, beating the sound box, and playing the strings along the neck while fiddling with two of the turning pegs. His hands and fingers move all over the guitar and there’s barely anything you would describe as “normal”, but it is incredibly atmospheric. Between songs, he beguiles us with serious stories told in a humorous way. His next track, Wukan Motorcycle Kid, is an instrumental he wrote and played while touring China. It was inspired by the Wukan protests of 2011 and is a eulogy for the town. He ends the introduction by saying that telling the story every night in China resulted in “all sorts of shit happening to me.” The track itself starts lightly, capturing a Far Eastern feel before turning darker. As it ends, the audience wait for the last note to fade away before bursting into applause and I don’t think I’ve come across a crowd as quiet during a performance. A cover of Chaka Kahn’s Ain’t Nobody seems a curious choice for the next track, but Gomm describes it as his “emergency disco song” from the time when he was just starting out, playing clubs in Blackpool and eventually been asked to play something the audience’s could dance to (or, even, something they knew…) It’s immediately recognisable, even as a twiddly instrumental and garners a huge cheer from the crowd. Before the current tour, Gomm took to Facebook to ask what songs people wanted him to play and Gloria was, apparently, the most popular request by far. It’s about his first girlfriend – “I was teenager. She was a chav. No offence to chavs.” – and there’s a hint of Deacon Blue in the vocals.
Joined on stage by Natasha Koczy, Gomm next plays Waterfall, a song inspired by the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, who lives underneath a waterfall. “The second verse is all in Urdu and you all have to sing along,” he quips. Koxcy’s saxophone opening means another song with a very Eastern sound, while Gomm uses his guitar to somehow reproduce the sounds of the waterfall and there are some very nice vocal harmonies between the two of them. Deep Cut is dedicated to George Osborne, with Gomm explaining that it is areas such as the one he lives in where the effects of recession can be seen most clearly. Koczy has stayed around to provide lead vocals, with a slightly nasal tone, for an almost pleasant political song which, with a change of pace, ends in a lively, upbeat fashion. Before the next song we are given the caveat that everything that happens during it is meant to happen. Hey Child includes the most traditional playing so far, and also the most unusual – strings are scraped, the very ends where they reach the bridge are played and, somehow, there’s an electric Blues sound coming from his acoustic guitar. Like the last gig I went to, Gomm plays the percussion parts of his songs on his guitar. For the next few minutes he basically gives us a lesson on how it is done, showing that by striking the sound box in different ways and at different places he can produce the various sounds of a drum kit and bass. Adding each sound individually, he shows how he builds the whole thing up, eventually adding slide guitar, then vocals and then needing “a small lie down”. It’s impressive and enthralling stuff. My only nagging doubt is that he is still standing behind that pedal rig and could still be using it. (Look, I’m not a musician – it’s like magic to me.) Before moving on, he gives shout-outs to Boss Caine and Callum, tonight’s sound man and, given the excellent job he’s done tonight, it’s nice to see him get some recognition. The next track, the last of the set, sees hints of classical guitar mixed in with all the tricks. It’s light with occasional bursts of almost angry power and gets the biggest applause yet. Somehow Gomm, as he acknowledges the audience and leaves the stage, looks embarrassed by it all.
He’s not off stage long, returning with Weather Machine, a song dedicated to David Cameron, “our beloved overlord”. Explaining that you can’t have a song dedicated to Osborne without one for Cameron, he tells a long story that starts with how the Arab Spring began and ends with the hope that, one day, Cameron is inspired to sell Gomm a gun… Before ending the evening, Gomm asks for the house lights to be brought up. He then unplugs his guitar and steps off the stage and into the middle of the audience. Nowhere near that pedal rig, and with no amplification, he performs a cover of Radiohead’s High And Dry, once again producing all the percussion sounds and finally putting away any doubts I had over the use of electronics. Jon Gomm is, without doubt, a musical magician and he’s not just “quite good”, he’s completely brilliant.