Nick Cody: Hi, this is Nick, I’m here with John Gomm. Welcome to music for the head and heart.
Jon Gomm: Thanks. It’s nice to see you again after many years.
Nick Cody: It’s very good to see you again for many years. So I thought we’d start off talking about music in general. We may meander off, it’s not… That’s absolutely fine, but when… You’re originally from Blackpool, I believe?
Jon Gomm: That’s right. That’s my homeland.
Nick Cody: So what brought you from Blackpool over to West Yorkshire?
Jon Gomm: Being a musician in Blackpool is a very specific thing. There’s plenty of work, but it’s not the kind of work that you’d necessarily, everybody wants to do. It’s a cabaret town, basically.
Nick Cody: Right.
Jon Gomm: I wanted to be a virtuoso guitarist, so I went down to a music college in London and I spent three years down there.
Nick Cody: Okay.
Jon Gomm: And then after that I realized that I couldn’t live in London. It was too crazy. I applied to do the final year of my degree at various other colleges that would take me on the last year, because I thought if I just moved to a new city and I don’t know anybody, it’s weird, but if I can do it before I finished studying, then I’ll get to know some people. The only college that would let me do that was Leeds, so I ended up at Leeds college of music and just, ended up really embedding myself in the music scene of Leeds and I met my wife at college, so I’m still here in the area.
Nick Cody: Many moons ago.
Jon Gomm: Yes, that’s 20 years ago. Yes.
Nick Cody: Wow. So you are local in Leeds, and looking at your bio and it makes a comment that prior to that, was it in Blackpool, where you came across people like Jack Bruce?
Jon Gomm: Yes. Okay, so that when I was a kid. My dad is a big music fan, enormous record collection, beautiful record player that I wasn’t allowed to touch until I was of age, and then going to gigs was a really big deal. There was a guy in Blackpool called Mick Schofield, who’s a promoter, and he started putting on gigs. His day job was he painted Blackpool illuminations and then by night he became a gig promoter, and he was really into blues and I guess what you’d call, roots and Americana.
So he was bringing people over from the States for gigs and they’d usually be in the upstairs room of a pub or in certain venues that he managed to persuade to let him use, and I would always go to these gigs with my dad, and my dad had a house with only him rattling around in it, so the musicians would often stay at my dad’s house rather than Mick having to put them in a hotel, if they would agree to that, and we’d look after them, so I got to hang out with the musicians sometimes. So we’d have Walter Trout in the house for a night or two, and the morning after the gig they’d finally drag themselves downstairs for coffee, and I’d explain to them what marmalade is and ask them to teach me, ask them to show me some licks. I’d be there with my guitar on when, and they’d come downstairs they’d just be absolutely baffled, looking at this little kid with his Stratocaster wrapped around his neck.
So I got people to show me licks. Some of them I still know, most of them I don’t, but I learned so much and probably the most important thing I learnt wasn’t even music, it was more about being a musician and what that meant, because I learnt that none of my friends at school were in the least bit impressed, in fact, the opposite impressed that I’d met Walter Trout or Norman Baker or even Jack Bruce, they’ve got no idea who that is and they don’t care and they think I’m weird for mentioning it or thinking it might be cool, so I realized that being a musician isn’t something that you have to be famous or mainstream in order to do, so that really changed the way that I moved into music. I wasn’t bothered about, I’ve never been bothered about being famous, in fact I hate the idea of it. I knew that being a musician was something you could do that was just about music. That was it.
Nick Cody: Whether you wanted to be famous or not, you do have at least 2 million views on some of your YouTube.
Jon Gomm: Yes, way more than that. Yes I do. That’s odd, you know, but… I don’t know, I always think it’s the music that is popular, not me as a person. I don’t know, it’s separate. I don’t know what I mean by that.
Nick Cody: I was interested, and it was particularly of interest for me with the music for head and heart platform, the sentence that goes, “John is a truly and fiercely independent artist with his own label and no mainstream industry support.”
Jon Gomm: That’s true, yes.
Nick Cody: Which is really swimming against the conventional tide of a lot of people.
Jon Gomm: Yes. It’s funny. It’s interesting, I’ve always done that. I’ve recently been questioning myself as to why I’ve done that and whether I can continue, so it’s odd, because I have less time now. My wife was my manager for a long time, 15 years. Really long time. She became… From not knowing what she was doing at first she became very skilled and then we had a child, which meant that became really impossible, so she had no time and I have less time. Yes, so I’ve been thinking about working with different people in the future, so maybe that’ll happen rather than being so totally independent, but even then there’s other people who are independent that you can work with. You don’t have to get swallowed up by the corporate machine and actually it’s less now, so there’s tiny labels that release massive artists and that’s quite common now. The landscape has changed.
Nick Cody: I’ve got to say what’s the biggest change in the landscape? Because from the people I’ve interviewed for this, everybody seems to agree on the one thing, regardless of what genre they’re from, which is that it’s really moving at some rate and changing around. The days of sign with a manager, get a publisher, get a distribution…
Jon Gomm: I never knew those days. I’ve got older friends. I’m too young, believe it or not, to be part of that time, really. So I’ve got older friends who talk to me about the days when they could just tell their record label they needed an orchestra for a few tracks and just get an orchestra, and I’m like, “What the fuck? I want a fucking orchestra? Somebody get me an orchestra.” I would love that, but also they’ve had a different experience of life in music and often there’s been a lot of pain and far smaller connections in terms of the people I work with.
Right now I’m working on a new album, which is all written and then recording is starting and I’m hoping to produce it with somebody that I met through through touring overseas. I can’t go into much more detail than that, just because I don’t want to jinx it, really. It’s somebody that I’ve met, and I’ve have been on the road with and we know each other really well, and he’s seen me… Oh God, he’s seen awful things. I’m just thinking about what’s the worst he’s seen? Probably seen me in tears. He’s probably seen me… There was that time backstage in Brisbane, where that crazy guy had hold of my wife by the arms and I grabbed him and he was huge. I pinned him against the wall, under his chin with my forearm, and he just grinned at me, and I thought, “I’m fucked.” Anyway, my wife had bruises on her arms, finger shaped bruises on her arms the next day. He was just not well, I don’t think.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: I managed to get rid of him, somehow, and I was really shaking and I remember Andy, who’s hopefully going to work with me on the next record was there consoling me, with also an Aboriginal elder that I met and befriended in Australia. He was an extraordinary man called Daryl and being able to make those kinds of connections, which were really, to me really deep, and then work with those people going forward for the rest of your life is something that you wouldn’t get if you just signed on the dotted line for corporation X.
Nick Cody: One of the things about the head and heart, is to get people’s stories and a lot of the stuff you go, “You couldn’t make this up.” It’s like some crazy dream, but it’s fascinating to see the progress people have gone through and their story of how they found their own particular creative voice.
Jon Gomm: What happens is it gets reflected back at you, I think. Certainly it did for me. I’ve always thought of myself as being somebody who doesn’t really understand what people want from music, so I’ll just make whatever music I want, and then I found that people have reacted to my music a certain way and that’s what’s forced me into a different direction. I have, for example, one song which is my most popular song, is called Passionflower, and it’s a really flashy guitar song and I think of it as being prog. It’s a prog tune, so it’s really long, I think it’s eight, seven minutes long, so it’s not a pop song. It starts with just an unaccompanied guitar solo, which is about a minute and a half long.
The whole thing is in this weird time signature that people can’t quite often figure out what it is, and it uses weird tonalities that aren’t common in popular music. It’s really technical on the guitar, really crazy technical and it’s my most popular song. The thing is, lots of people are interested in the guitar side of it, but what really shocked me was the way that the music and the lyrics resonate with people emotionally. I still get photos sent to me, or somebody will notice it on Instagram or whatever, and somebody’s had the lyrics tattooed on them and that… Or I’d get emails.
I remember really early on when that went viral and we got an email from a guy and it just said, “I’m a heroin addict. I’ve been clean for a week. I was going to shoot up today but then I saw your video, and I didn’t have to shoot up today,” and it’s like, “Holy shit.” I personally wouldn’t know any other way to do that to somebody else, and then that’s become over the years, over the past seven, eight years, that’s become a fucking obsession. I just want to reach inside people. I just want to reach inside them, like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where that guy reaches inside peoples… Seems to reach inside their chest and grab their heart and twist it all.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: I want to do that, but not to hurt them, but just to… Well, no. That’s not true.
No, I’m lying, to fucking hurt them. I want to cause them to feel the emotional pain that I feel, but that’s not because I want to hurt them, it’s because when you do that, when you really feel somebody else’s emotional pain, it doesn’t make me feel bad.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: It doesn’t make you feel bad. It makes you feel like you’re not alone anymore. Anyway, I went very serious very quickly there Nick. Sorry.
Nick Cody: Well no, I love it.
Jon Gomm: I’ll give you an amusing anecdote.
Nick Cody: This will be the X-rated version. Small children, let’s make it clear, John is not physically taking out people’s hearts, like the movie Roadhouse, with Patrick Swayze.
Jon Gomm: What’s does he do? He grabs people by the throat. That’s terrible.
Nick Cody: There is no advocation of violence here, we are talking metaphorically about connecting with human beings. I really loved watching you on guitar star and I wondered how that came about, and what your experience was with that?
Jon Gomm: Oh, I totally… I shouldn’t be allowed in the world, Nick. So this guitar star thing came about and I saw on Facebook that this person I knew called Kim Way, was going on the first series and I’d sent him a message saying, “What’s this guitar star thing about?” I can’t remember actually which order this happened, but I certainly didn’t not do this, so maybe they offered it to me first, but I don’t think so.
I think I sent her a message and she said, “Yes, it’s really good.” And I said, “Are there loads of acoustic guitarists?” Because it’s becoming so popular. She said, “Yes. There’s a few,” and I said, “Are the producers and hosts going, “What the fuck is this?” Because they’ve never seen it before, and she said, “Yes, they think we’re all geniuses. They’ve no idea,” I said, “Just keep dropping my name and see what happens.” She said to me, “All of them are saying they’re influenced by you. They’re all saying they’re influenced by you,” and I said, “Oh, all right,” but I can’t… They definitely contacted me, but I definitely helped.
I’m sure I did. I’m sure I did something like that. I just wheedled my way into it. I think that happened, I don’t know. I could’ve got that muddled up in the order in my mind, maybe they contacted me first. But anyway, I got an email offer asking me to go and be a guest mentor on this program. Whether I finagled it myself or not, I can’t remember. But then I was really wary about doing that, because I didn’t know much about the show and I was worried it was going to be some awful schlocky talent contest thing.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: So I chatted with them and all of the people who made the show, not all, plenty of the top producers, directors, whatever, are guys who’d done Master Chef in the past. I love Master Chef, and the thing about Master Chef, is it’s not like X factor for cooks, you know what I mean?
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: It’s about cooking. It’s a cooking show and it’s a cooking competition and they get really good at cooking and then it’s all about that. It’s not some schlocky reality thing, I don’t think so. And that is what it’s like, it’s basically Master Chef for guitars, this show. They asked me to go and be a mentor. I did both series. I think they only made two series. I don’t know if they’re doing anymore, but it was really fun. It was bit nerve wracking doing TV, and I found out that I absolutely love the process of TV.
It’s fun. It’s easy, because everything’s pre-recorded and everybody tells you exactly what to do. It’s monotonous, but I love monotony. It’s very relaxing. I got to meet, Oh… The first series I got to meet Paco Pena, the flamenco god. I’ve got live album of his that I borrowed from the library in Blackpool. I’ve got so many old tapes, of me taping things that I borrowed from the library. That was so long ago. Anyway, I couldn’t believe that I was going to get to meet him.
We had to do this one scene where we arrived and the students are like, “Oh wow, it’s these guys,” and they had to pretend that they knew who we were. Me and Paco are in the studio, it was some somebody from Jamiroquai’s studio somewhere, I don’t know about those kind of things, and we had to walk from… To open the door, the back door of the studio and walk across this little open thing outside to where the students were standing, and while we were doing that we had to make small talk and chit chat and smile, while me and Paco we’re doing it, as if we’re just having a little chat.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: I said, “Right, I’ll open the door,” and then Paco walked out and I followed him out, and for whatever reason, we have to do that about five times. So five times, the first time I thought… I just said something, I just made a little joke. I can’t remember. I think we saw a goat in a nearby field and I just said to Paco, “Oh look, It’s a goat. Do you have goats in Spain?” And he just laughed at that. It was just a stupid remark. But then we had to do it five times, and I was determined to make him laugh each time, and by the fifth time, this goat had this whole back-story, and name, and it had it’s whole past, and I was just trying to conjure up this stupid story about this goat, because I was determined that I was going to make him laugh each time we across for every single take.
It was a good show. I really enjoyed it. I’m still in touch with some of the kids who were… Well they weren’t all kids, some of the contestants, or students, I don’t know what they called them. They didn’t like the word, “contestants,” I don’t think. Some of the people who had taken part in the show, I’m still in touch with some of them, and some of them are still carving out their career. It’s certainly not shot anybody to fame and fortune overnight or anything like that, and some of them are absolutely fantastic.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: Guitar players, as well. So yes, it was fun.
Nick Cody: Talking about fame and fortune, there’s often the ideal that people have of the music world and then there’s the reality of playing and working in the music world. What are some of the biggest myths to start with?
Jon Gomm: I dint know. I’ve never known what the myths are, because I’ve always seeing it from going to gigs as a kid, as this thing that happens in rooms upstairs in pubs, not stadiums. I’ve only ever been to a couple of arena gigs in my life, and that was because I managed to get free tickets, so I don’t really know what the myths are.
Nick Cody: What’s the best advice..?
Jon Gomm: [crosstalk 00:20:29] I don’t know. You tell me a myth, and I’ll tell you if it’s true.
Nick Cody: Well I think probably one of the myths that you go to music college, you come out, you coast into this life of lavish income and…
Jon Gomm: Right. Oh, god. I don’t think anybody thinks that. I hope not, but it’s… Making a living as a musician, it’s funny, the economy’s changing so much. What you always have to remember about being a musician, is that your most important people that are going to support you financially going for your life if you’re a musician, is other musicians. Whether they are musicians who are giving you work, or whether they are musicians who are learning from you, because you’re teaching, or whether they’re even musicians who are your fans, because so many people make music and that’s a really important thing to cultivate, so if you have a competitive streak, you’ve got to really watched that. I don’t, because I’ve never fucking won anything.
I have no competitive thing, but if you find yourself wanting to compete with other musicians and prove how good you are and that you’re better in some way and you know that you have that in your ego, you need to wind that down, if you can. That’s the thing that will make it very hard for people to work with you, and I’ve discovered that, both through seeing it happen and just people that I don’t want to work with because they’re… You can sense there’s a negativity, or sometimes you can’t. You don’t even have to sense it, it’s just spoken.
Nick Cody: And if people want to find out about you and what you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to find out? Websites?
Jon Gomm: Close your eyes, chant my name three times and I’ll just appear, wherever you are. I’ll tell you my tour dates. Just put my name into your phone. Just explore. My website’s good, go that.
Nick Cody: Okay. Well thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us. It’s an absolute pleasure.
Jon Gomm: You’re really welcome. I want to talk about what you do.
Nick Cody: We will talk off camera about…
Jon Gomm: Tell your audience. They love it. Okay, sorry, have I ruined your ending?
Nick Cody: No.
Jon Gomm: Okay, I was going to try. The temperature has dropped today… So I have cold showers. Only started doing it recently, but it’s really fun. It feels really good, to the point of hysterical laughter.
Nick Cody: Wow.
Jon Gomm: It’s got to be good for you, and you can you tell the temperature’s dropped, because shit, the water was cold this morning.
Nick Cody: There’s no hysterical laughter.
Jon Gomm: Oh, god. I could barely breathe. I just read that it’s supposed to be really good for you to do that, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Nick Cody: Supposed to be good stimulation, apparently. Yes?
Jon Gomm: I just really enjoy it.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: All right. Try a song. (singing).
The name of the previous song was, Passionflower, all one word. In case you’re going to put captions on it.
Nick Cody: Yes.
Jon Gomm: This song is called, Butterfly Hurricane. This is a really old song I wrote in about 2001. I’ll give it a whirl. I might fuck it up. Might have to go again.
Nick Cody: Whatever.
Jon Gomm: I’ll do my best. (singing).