Finger-playing guitar virtuoso Jon Gomm was the man who showed it’s possible for musicians to win the crowdfunding and digital media game. Now, he is on his way to Malta for a live performance. Interview by Ramona Depares.
Finger-playing guitar virtuoso Jon Gomm, initially made famous by a one-word tweet from actor and writer Stephen Fry, is flying over to Malta this week for an intimate live set at the Robert Samut Hall, in Floriana.
The musician is known for having shot to fame after Fry accompanied a link to Gomm’s video for the track Passionflower with a simple “wow”.
Since then, the video garnered over 15 million views, and the rest of Gomm’s works have followed suit.
Six years on, Gomm’s talent is recognised worldwide and he is considered to be one of very few artists who have reached global success while maintaining an independent label and retaining crowdfunding and digital marketing as his main source of funds for producing music.
Now, he is set to share his works with a select group of Maltese music-lovers and even musicians, with Malta’s own Alex Alden opening for him.
Ask your mother or other relatives to knit items for your fans. If you do not do this, you have failed as a musician
The concert has been made possible thanks to Tao Productions, considered the finger-playing guitar specialists and bringing to Malta some of the biggest names in guitar-playing, such as Tom Ross and Tommy Emmanuel.
Gomm himself had a pretty unorthodox childhood; his father, a music critic, would regularly host big names in the music industry for free, upon condition that before leaving they would give a guitar lesson to the young Gomm. He remembers hobnobbing with legends like BB King and Walter Trout as a child in Blackpool.
“I think it was weird for a lot of bands to have a little kid hanging around backstage, but they were mostly really nice. Walter Trout was my favourite, my hero. He once told me that when he pulls this angry grimace face on stage, it’s not because he’s feeling the music, it’s because he’s trying to fart so loud that it is audible over his amp. That is how you befriend a kid,” he says, a hint of a smile in his voice.
Being exposed to gigs and big names at a very early age left its mark, even on Gomm’s approach to music and to the industry itself.
“I guess it made me able to see performing as normal, being a musician as normal, and not unattainable. I would never go on X Factor or whatever the heck show is on TV at the moment,” he says, adding that for him being a musician is not about some one-time shot at glory.
“That’s a stupid narrative. You can be a professional musician and never be on TV. My childhood made me understand that music is about connecting with people in a place or in a song or a solo, and that’s it. It doesn’t matter how many people,” he explains.
This is reflected in the way Gomm has insisted on maintaining his status as an independent artist, even through all these years.
“I think I did it because I actually didn’t want to have any success. I was frightened of success. So, I hid from it. The industry is cruel from the artists’ perspective, in that it is made up largely of rejection. Sadly, I failed in my bid to avoid any success whatsoever,” he says sardonically.
And, despite the unexpected tweet that put his career on a different path all those years ago, Gomm is very careful to keep his feet on the ground.
“It’s not that I pulled this off. I tried and tried to use the digital medium to get my music out there and then I had a viral video. I didn’t do it. I guess I could say I built up a grass roots audience, by performing live endlessly which I basically adore, and that gave me a critical mass,” he says.
However, he puts it more down to the simple act of people discovering an unknown bit of music, and sharing it with their friends.
“I say ‘just’ as if that’s nothing, when it was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, except for the birth of my daughter.”
Crowd-funding is the corollary ‘necessary evil’ that follows the digital platform. His advice to musicians who are struggling to get it right is to be taken with a pinch of salt – or then again, maybe not.
“In terms of advice, ask your mother or other relatives to knit items for your fans. If you do not do this, then I’m sorry but you have failed as a musician.”
It is advice that fits in very well with Gomm’s ethos of viewing music as a way to connect people. Finally, I ask about his style of playing, known to be both technically-complex and physically tough.
“My songs are just really hard to play. I write really complex guitar parts, and they don’t let up very often. It’s quite full on in the complexity, with multiple things to pay attention to at once. And I’m singing too. So, it can be daunting,” he explains.
Musically and lyrically, his pieces are a reflection of whatever is going on in his life that he is finding hard to process.
“My inspiration comes from trying to express stuff that is hard to process emotionally, and putting it into music. And, when I can get on stage and play my new songs, I will be very happy indeed, because I will basically be able to share that emotional confusion with the world and hopefully they will understand and maybe help me understand,” the guitarist says.
And even as he prepares for his Malta concert, Gomm is working on a new record, a process with which he says he is “happy struggling”.
“If there’s no struggle, then what are you even doing?” he concludes.
Tickets to the event are available through http://shop.trackagescheme.com/
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