All In The Hands

10 April 2012 | 7:13 am | Michael Smith

“I don’t feel like ‘a songwriter’ in the same way that I am ‘a guitarist’,”

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Aged two, Jon Gomm's dad gave him a ukulele because he couldn't find a guitar small enough for a little tyke so obviously determined to play. By six, the Blackpool-born Gomm was writing his own songs and his path was set. Over the next couple of decades his single-minded passion has seen Gomm hone a two-handed percussive technique at once gobsmackingly assured style where the pyrotechnics are always at the service of the song – and all on an acoustic guitar. Like all teenagers, there was an electric guitar period inspired by the likes of Eddie Van Halen and particularly Steve Vai, but the experimentation began long before.

“The percussion stuff started before the metal-shred period,” Gomm admits. “When I was four I started taking lessons from a classical teacher, but he was also really into flamenco guitar and in that style percussion is a normal part of guitar playing. Then I saw a Bob Brozman gig when I was maybe nine or ten and he does the old Delta blues thing of playing beats on the guitar as part of a groove. Later I got into Satriani and Vai – Satch's tapping pieces, just for solo electric guitar, are a big influence on my style. Then came Hedges...

“[American acoustic guitarist and composer] Michael Hedges was a whole new universe of sound. He basically reinvented the acoustic guitar from being primarily a folk instrument with a small sound into a huge orchestral sound, by using tunings he took from Joni Mitchell, incredible harmonic and tapping techniques I think he learnt directly from the gods, plus some cool electronics to make it sound huge. He's a massive influence on me and on many of my friends and peers, like Andy McKee. He was also a singer, songwriter and a great live entertainer. I have been to a lot of gigs in my time and I like to think of myself as an entertainer, people go home having seen a show, which maybe they didn't expect from a one guy, one guitar situation.”

Gomm's rendition of his song, Passionflower, on YouTube, famously saw Stephen Fry tweet just one word – “Wow” – putting the guitarist on the radar of his nearly four million followers. Astonishing as Gomm's playing is though, none of it would mean as much if he didn't have the songwriting skills to match his musical prowess.

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“I don't feel like 'a songwriter' in the same way that I am 'a guitarist',” he admits. “I'm an incredibly schooled, trained guitar player. I have studied so many styles and developed my own techniques. As a songwriter, I want to use music in a different way – to express myself in a more visceral way. I deliberately avoid studying that craft – to be honest – and while I love some real pop craftsmen, like Paul McCartney or Paul Simon, it has never been my desire to write a perfect pop song, like Hey Jude – a song the whole world wants to sing along to. I want to write cathartically about my own emotional state, or about political stuff, which annoys me. I want to communicate intricate things to an audience. I just want to express myself, not write an anthem or a catchy tune. Like folk singers of old!”

One last question – has Stephen Fry come out to see Gomm play live?

“No, the lazy fucker! He is filming The Hobbit movie right now, to be fair. Yes, I was very pleased by his tweet – he is a hero, I have many of his books actually including one about music and one about poetry. He's a funny, erudite and sensitive man, so if he is a fan I must be doing something okay.”