On 4th December last, I was wrapping up my week’s work that bit earlier because I’d heard Jon Gomm was coming to town. I’d never listened to his music before, but I’d heard a story of a previous performance he’d given in Hangzhou. It involved an uncompromising battle of the decibels between a game of pool and Gomm’s intensely up-close and personal stage presence that didn’t end well. At this point, one might be inclined to jump into a cultural or ethical debate of East meets West blah blah blah… but what immediately gripped me was Gomm’s drive to deliver his music as he had intended it.
Unfortunately this evening, for one unsuspecting socialite, a night of tomfoolery and taking the general mick is out of the question – it’s just not that kind of buzz! Don’t get me wrong, I like a good bar brawl as much as the next man but at a Gomm gig, you (the audience) need to adhere to a strict code of silence, as requested, unless of course you want a confrontation. With Jon Gomm, a threat is as much of a punch with a talent as ferocious as his; and for your attentive comportment you’ll get so much more in return!
Guest performer William Gray (UK), is a resident of Hangzhou and artist with local label, Medic Records. It’s been a busy year for Gray, a vigorously prolific songwriter of no less than four self-produced albums and a BBC session. In early 2015 Gray joined Medic Records, released a five song EP called, ‘Tish’, in April; spent the summer touring around Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Jiangxi provinces, also putting the finishing touches to his new album, ‘Flounce’ which is due to be released on Medic Records in 2016. During sound-check there was a notable sense of anxiety. Gray’s guitar had taken a fall earlier in the day, and on exhumation thine axe hath been beheaded!
Nevertheless, a replacement was soon found and William Gray’s performance puts him at the helm as one of Hangzhou’s finest musical imports. Opting to play unrestricted, he took to the stage without a setlist and cherry-picked from his vast back catalogue. Gentle finger-pickers, indie ballads and folk songs chock-full of social commentary, diverse and dynamic, were all brought to life by Gray’s wit and between song banter as he made his Lineout Stage debut. Personal faves include ‘First Dog in Space’, ‘Crash Test Dummy’, from second album ‘Vertical Wealth’ and ‘Freaky Dreams’ from 2009 debut ‘None Of The Above’.
Jon Gomm emerged from the shadows of the audience wielding his custom acoustic guitar like a medieval hooded wizard. After a few moments of a visible struggle with frequencies, effects pedals and whatnot he was away. Like some highly-evolved sea creature flailing its tentacles yet striking his instrument with predatory precision Jon Gomm brings the acoustic guitar to life with a bountiful array of percussion, rhythm, melody and airy soulful vocals, as distinct in artistic flavour as his technical mastery. As well as his own music, Gomm gave an arresting instrumental rendition of the Kate Bush classic, ‘Running up that Hill’ that sent a shiver of quiet excitement through the air. Gomm’s signature songs, ‘Passion Flower’, ‘Telepathy’ and ‘The Weather Machine’ were also played with the sort of ingenuity that leaves you staring in awe, as if watching some freakish talent on You Tube. He’ll either prompt your passion for improvement, or leave you in the dust to chuck it all in with a deep, disheartened puff.
Best moments include Gomm’s introduction to his instrumental ‘Wukan Motorcycle Kid’ where he announces that the last time he introduced this tune, the microphone was turned off due to the sensitivity of the real-life tragedy, as he explained the inspiration behind the beautiful instrumental piece. The song begins with a solo that sounds as much a part of traditional Chinese folk music as 十面埋伏 (Shi Mian Mai Fu) and no less exhilarating. The final song of the night was an unplugged rendition of ‘Gloria’, a homage to an ex-girlfriend, which brought up the house lights and was as viscous and ghostly as the ‘hazy’ night.
Jon Gomm is a master craftsman of his trade who brings elements of technique and instrumentation to a heightened level of precision and detail. He utilises everything from finger-picking blues and gospel to funk, jazz, even traditional Chinese, but what sets him apart from others in this style is the discretion he shows in his approach to writing a song. Rather than brandishing any sort of cocky ego, he has a well-earthed perspective on songwriting and his place as a self-managed independent musician has garnered him fitting notoriety and success with audiences worldwide.