Live at The Old Woollen, Farsley 28th January 2024
“Hang on, that’s my alarm – time for my brain medicine”, says Jon Gomm, “I’ve got ADHD – you’d never guess from my guitar playing!” It gets a belly laugh; Jon’s playing involves running his hands over every part of his instrument in very unconventional ways – tapping, thumping, simultaneously playing open strings with both hands up the neck while fretting, retuning strings mid-note, and so on. But I’m getting ahead of myself….
Up first is Jo Quail. Elegant in stance and intricate in playing her cello, managing her loops so that she’s playing against manipulated versions of herself, combining bowing, plucking, banging and scraping. Number One cello is a gorgeous skeleton, an electric instrument allowing all sorts of sounds. Her set is an hour of eight self-composed extended pieces, rich in texture and varied in styling from the woody resonant sound of her traditional cello to complex sonic constructions, combining drone, melody, rhythm and more as she invisibly works the pedals of the electronics. Deeply into it, she smiles as she plays a passage that pleases her and is keen to explain her thoughts and the pieces. As a composition teacher, her subject fascinates her and she’s a great communicator, telling us about her tuning or about the simplicity of a piece compared to what she worked it up to on an album. She’s comfortable, thanking the receptive audience for giving her the space to present the programme: “I know we are in Radio 3 territory here”, speaking of her acoustic pieces, “so just one more and we return to banging club classics, I promise”.
Aiming to inspire, she talks about recording all of her new album at home, trombones and all, telling us to never accept “it can’t be done”. Her set is instructive to watch and the depths of sound of her albums become clearer. ‘Gold’ from ‘Five Incantations’ is a standout amongst many standouts, full of resinous scrapes, bangs and the full use of every sound available to make a fascinating piece full of feeling. She joins Jon Gomm at the end of the evening but it’s her solo set that sticks in the memory.
Jon Gomm has a longer set and combines astonishing guitar work with train-of-thought comments and the emotional openness of an intimate conversation. He engages everyone in tales of heartbreak and mental ill-health as well as an insight into songs and what makes him tick. ‘Both Sides Now’ is prefaced with a yarn about his long-distance friendship with David Crosby. “I asked Croz if I could record one of his songs and he said, er, ‘no’. But he suggested a Joni (Mitchell) song. I was nearly finished it when he died – which was, to be fair, typical of him” Elsewhere he talks about his youth in Blackpool and his family life. The sense of connection with the man on the stage is quite remarkable and when he asks people to join in on ‘Deep Sea Fishes’, instructing us in harmony and in rhythmic patterns, everyone does.
The guitar playing, is, of course, astonishing – both in sound and in theatrics – hands everywhere all at once, conjuring his own accompaniment. Sonically, with the gentle vocals and liberal reverb, John Martyn is a clear comparator, also in the intricate picking. It’s a wonder that Gomm continues to use his prowess in the service of his composition, only going flash for our entertainment. Pieces like the new pair, ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Ghost In You’ are thoughtfully mesmeric, particularly in the rapt, seated venue tonight and the set flashes past, closing in a couple of duets that serve mostly to demonstrate that two such busy and individual artists are best served by not making the compromises that go with exercises like this. Better to enjoy them apart and wonder at the individual artistry. It’s a magical duo of complementary sets and a showcase that can only enhance the reputation of both.