Gomez

TrackAlbum
Get MilesBring It On
Whippin' Piccadilly (Turbo version)Bring It On (10th Anniversary Ed.)
Here Comes The BreezeBring It On
Get Myself ArrestedBring It On
Bring It OnLiquid Skin
Rhythm & Blues AlibiLiquid Skin
Shot ShotIn Our Gun
In Our GunIn Our Gun
SilhouettesFive Men In A Hut
If I Ask You NicelyA New Tide

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Gomez photo

Gomez (l to r): Olly Peacock, Ian Ball, Ben Ottewell, Tom Gray, Paul Blackburn

 

Contributor: Gareth Youngs

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” was a phrase that I used a lot in my youth, especially when it came to education. I managed to stay in higher education as long as I could due to a failed first attempt at GCSEs, A Levels and a Combined Science degree before finally falling on my feet so to speak in 1998. It was during that year that my dad dropped an album off for me following his usual lunchtime wander around HMV. I’d never heard of the band on the front cover but the artwork was a bit different plus it had a shiny silver Mercury Music nominee sticker on the top right hand corner. As soon as the album started I was instantly hooked. The album was Bring It On and the band was Gomez.

On the North West coast of England lies a town called Southport that is a stone’s throw away from the River Mersey, even though I’m sure locals will say that it’s closer to Preston and Blackpool. Ian Ball (vocals and guitar) and Olly Peacock (drummer) were mates who had played together in bands from the age of 14. They met Paul Blackburn (bass) and Tom Gray (multi-instrumentalist) at college before finally finding Ben Ottewell (vocals and guitar) when they were at Sheffield University. Incidentally, Olly and Tom had lived two doors away from each other in Birkdale Hillside before meeting at college. The band played their first formal gig together in 1996 at the Hyde Park Social Club in Leeds. They were still working on a name; Kill The Vortex was one that they were keen on when providence played a serendipitous hand. They had placed a sign outside the Hyde Park Social Club to let a friend’s sister know where to find them; it read “Gomez! In Here” as her surname was Gomez. Anyone else who came to watch them that night assumed that they were called Gomez and so it stuck. Following that gig a bidding war erupted for their signatures from all the major labels. The band refused to showcase themselves in London in front of the bigwigs and so made them travel up to Red Tape Studios in Sheffield. After a few weeks of rehearsals for 25-odd labels they signed to Hut Records (Virgin Records) and their debut album was underway.

Gomez self produced their debut album Bring It On at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios. The album went platinum before they were crowned as Mercury Music winners later in the year. They beat off some serious competition that year with Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, Pulp’s This Is Hardcore and The Verve’s Urban Hymns all in contention. When interviewed some days after the result a rather sheepish Ben Ottewell admitted that “I thought Massive Attack would win, they really deserved to. We got there really early and enjoyed all the free alcohol. Then when we won, we stumbled onstage, mumbled something into the microphone, and sort of stumbled off. It was all really shocking.”

It was album opener Get Miles that stopped me in my tracks; the distorted keyboard sound sends its warning and the wah-wah pedal helps the sound undulate just like you’re riding a massive wave of musical loveliness. That’s all happening before Ottewell’s quite amazing crackling, bluesy voice booms over it all. This is the man who looked like an archetypal 22-year-old Uni student (that he and the other band mates were) but sounded like a bourbon swilling, 80 Camels-a-day blues man. The keyboard opening is firmly from the genius of Tom Gray, that could well be the title of a best selling novel. He uses a Yamaha SHS-10 which is also known as a keytar (a keyboard that can be held like a guitar) that has Wham!’s hit of Last Christmas as its inbuilt demo arrangement. I was lucky enough to ask Tom how he played it, he said that it was the “saxophone sound -33 octave it down -12 then play notes, bend down, bend up – that’s it!” Simple, eh? So if anyone has one in the cupboard, give it a whirl. Ottewell’s soulful growl blasts out “I love this island / but this island’s killing me / Sitting here in silence / man i don’t get no peace” he is truly a man with a rare primal vocal force. He sounds like he’s travelled for miles with no shoes on over craggy rocks in harsh winds and freezing temperatures.

I have gone for the Whippin’ Piccadilly (Turbo version) over the album track just because it sounds more like the live version. It has a few extra whistles and bells thrown in by Tom Gray, plus as the name states, it is a little bit faster. This time it’s Ian Ball’s turn to take the vocal lead with his lighter indie whine, letting Ottewell harmonise during the chorus. With the band having three vocalists they have been asked how they decide who is going to sing. The usual response is that they have a fight and whoever wins, sings. Which is why Tom sings very rarely. Whippin’ Piccadilly is a very typically British storytelling indie song full of youthful strutting rhythms with building percussions and experimental electronics cascading on the breaks. Amazingly, this only reached number 35 in the UK charts but it is entrenched in the 90s indie kid psyche.

One of the things that I love about Gomez is their use of a turnaround during a song. They can start off in one direction before a quick change of pace or vocalist to lead the listener from indie rock to alternative blues to folk, all with electronic extras thrown in. A beautiful example of this occurs with Here Comes The Breeze. It starts off with indie rock harmonies between Ottewell and Ball that do an about-turn into a bluesy guitar and an around the campfire jaw harp. They are a soothing mix of stoned Americana and soulful blues with enough British Indie to keep them rooted on the beach of Southport. If Get Miles was the musical idea of travelling towards something with a purpose then Here Comes The Breeze was the opposite. It was the person sat on a lonely bench, maybe near a cliff top, waiting for something to come their way. It’s one of my favourite songs by Gomez.

Get Myself Arrested is an excellent example of an old blues story miraculously transported to the here and now with the backing of their “lads on a night out” harmonies on the chorus, all wrapped up within a bouncing reggae-ish backbeat. The lyrics joke around with drug imagery in the lines, “He only grows for guys he knows and me” and messing about in a BMW that kind of reflects back to fun musical memories of Caught By The Fuzz by Supergrass.

This was a band playing from experience, not from years of hard graft but from an extensive record collection and a sound childhood musical upbringing.

I could quite simply have chosen all ten of my songs from Bring It On because it is that good, but that wouldn’t be fair on the band, and equally on someone that has not yet heard their back catalogue.

The album as a whole evokes memories of sitting around with new musical colleagues in a small Uni box room, can of John Smith’s in hand, air heavy with cannabis-scented joss sticks and lit by cheap lava lamps. That was my idea of heaven back then. I’m glad my ideas have changed over the years, although sometimes it would be good to revisit them now and again. Bring It On was definitely a defiant end of an era album. The 90s still remains the decade when I got the most out of music in so many ways. This is not a band that were ever going to attack the charts with any venom. They were perfectly at home getting by with a cult following that understood their music.

If their first album was full of touched up demos then their second album, Liquid Skin, was to be a more confident collection of songs with the addition of extra production and, to be fair to them, I think they pulled it off even though some very harsh critics seem to think it no different to their debut.

It is, for me, a decent continuation of what they achieved on Bring It On. Recorded hot on the heels of its predecessor, I didn’t think there would be a massive change in direction, although I suspect most of its critics did. Liquid Skin was full of experimental production including the use of toilet rolls, fire extinguishers and underwater microphones. The American bluesy love-in is still there but the arrangements are more substantial, beefed up with strings and horns, and the songs are sturdier. It is full of illusions of music you already might like, and creates its own of some you will. Influences from such as the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival shine brightly and you’ll swear you’ve heard the end-of-album epic Devil Will Ride before, but nothing is quite as solid. Then there is Revolutionary Kind with its contagious riff and equally infectious vocals.

Bring It On is such a good song; sounding like a continuation of Get Miles from the debut. Where Ottewell was saying that he is sick of the planet because it’s killing him, he’s now up for it and loving the place – “we like quiet nights on the island” – and if not he’s only a satellite away from escape. The guitar is like a slowed down version of Hamilton Bohannon’s Disco Stomp and Bo Diddly’s Mona with loads of reverb thrown in.

This album also contains their highest chart success. Rhythm & Blues Alibi reached number 18 in the UK charts. It is crazy to think that they never made it into the top 10. The song itself is a bit lighter, sparser, just a couple of guitars and percussion, and the voice again allowed to take centre stage. All three vocalists intertwine beautifully in their unique way as the song meanders one minute before biting the next. Tom Gray also unleashed his Mellotron (an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard) throughout, famous for its use on the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, and on Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album.

In between the release of Liquid Skin and third album, In Our Gun, they released a collection of B-sides and rarities called Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline and this is now incorporated into the 10th anniversary reissue of Bring It On. Gomez also released an exciting EP called Machismo in 2000 that indicated the direction was going to change slightly. Two tracks, Machismo and Waster, are well worth a listen although they are not on my list; it was amazingly hard to whittle down.

In Our Gun featured similar strutting riffs along with slide guitars that were there on the first two releases. However, the more experimental electronic beats and pieces were flooding in. This change may have upset a few of their followers but they still had some really good songs to back it all up. The album opener, Shot Shot, is like Whippin’ Piccadilly played on a record player and speeding it up with your finger. It’s a fast paced grumbling noise fest that has departed almost as soon as it arrives leaving you dazed and confused. You go from a stabby guitar riff to full on jazz funk in seconds.

With all of these production extras thrown at the album it’s rather apt that my favourite song from In Our Gun features the band in its most stripped back form. In Our Gun, the title track, is a beautiful melancholic song that really describes the bleak reality of bullets waiting in the chamber ready to be fired. From the bullet’s point of view, “So we sit in our gun and we wait for our turn” before the inevitable “destroy on command all who came and then quit”. They are perhaps the most chilling lyrics I’ve heard in such a lovely song. It all ends in a flurry of chaotic electronic beats, bass rumbles and squidges, as if the bullets had found their life-ending target. Throughout the album it feels as though the chilled out jams have had a well timed adrenaline shot to take it off to another level. Songs like Detroit Swing 66, Ruff Stuff and Ping One Down are all evidence of this.

It isn’t every day that you get a song named after the hero from the cult comedy Airplane; Rex Kramer was the washed up pilot who helped Ted Striker land the doomed plane from the safety of the control centre. It wasn’t the first time that Gomez had written about a character in Airplane; Steve McCroski was the B-side of 78 Stone Wobble. McCroski (or McCroskey) was the “I’ve picked the wrong week to quit … [add drug here]” air traffic controller played brilliantly by Lloyd Bridges.

Gomez Airplane

Although it isn’t an album that I return to as much as their debut, In Our Gun is still an enjoyable listen when I do.

The following releases, Split The Difference and How We Operate, are full of Gomez’s fun and charm but, as with many bands, I had moved on to listening to other things. The penultimate song on my list is from their Five Men In A Hut rarities and B-sides collection, maybe named after where they started out as a band, playing in a corrugated iron shed in Southport. Or it could simply be an ode to their label, Hut Records; either will do for me. Silhouettes is their best ‘stoner’ song by miles from a back catalogue of drug related songs. You can just imagine laying back on a lounger with the Californian sun on your face, dressed in a colourful Hawaiian t-shirt and khaki shorts kicking back and listening to it. The guitar is plucked, slid and then reverberated to leave a wave of beautiful noise washing over you. Ian Ball’s voice takes centre stage with this one and typically gorgeous harmonising, a speciality of Gomez.

The last song I have chosen can be found on their 2009 release, A New Tide, which was a return to their experimental earlier sound, not present on their last two offerings. This album was primarily written and recorded separately with the band members being split across two different continents. It was completed when they got together in Chicago and Charlottesville. They also had guest musicians who joined them for the album, a bit of a first for them, including vocalist Amy Millan from Broken Social Scene.

If I Ask You Nicely was the standout song for me, but throw in a catchy organ, bass and acoustic riff and a song is almost a favourite already; unless you’re indie upstarts Bedazzled, remember them? This a song where Tom Gray takes over the vocal lead and it’s an amazingly fun song. Bone Tired and Other Plans take me back to memories of days at college, sitting about in the common room and talking about bands instead of going to lessons, probably why I had to re-sit so many things back then. These songs are not necessarily going to change your life but they make it a hell of a lot sweeter. As their albums have progressed I think the balance of fans from the UK and America has changed. When they began, I would have thought that the music was definitely more suited to the UK. Now, with their sixth and seventh studio albums it looks as if their main market has shifted to America; Airstream Driver is a pretty good example of this.

Whatever’s On Your Mind (2011), their latest release, doesn’t stray too far from the indie rock mould with a little bit of folk, blues and electronic bleeps along with whatever they want to throw in. Options and I Will Take You There are safe pop releases, but it is a song like Our Goodbye where Ottewell harmonises with a string arrangement that stands out for me. His gruff singing style against the sweet violins is sublime. There are many musical styles featured on this album and it shows a maturity while ultimately still sounding like Gomez.

There is something about Gomez that you can’t quite put your finger on. While they seem to be no one’s favourite band, somehow, when you listen to them, especially Bring It On and Liquid Skin, they sound like the best band you have ever heard.

 

Gomez tour

Details of their spring 2018 tour of the UK, Ireland & Australia to celebrate 20 years of Bring It On.

 

Gomez official website

Gomez facebook

Gomez on Discogs

Ben Ottewell official website
Solo albums: Shapes & Shadows (2011), Rattlebag (2014), A Man Apart (2017)

Ian Ball bandcamp
Solo albums: Who Goes There (2007), Unfold Yourself (2013)

Tom Gray official website

Gomez biography (iTunes)

It seems to be an unwritten law in rock that when the going gets good, the drummer gets sacked. Luckily for Gareth, he was the bass player. Unluckily though, the drummer was a drum machine. You can’t sack a drum machine! This is how his only stint at musical fame ended in college in the mid 90s. Since that day he has turned his attention to seeing as many live bands as he can and sharing his experiences with other people, if they will listen. He is on Twitter @theedgeofthesea and his blog can be found here. He also has his own podcast, Yesterday’s Jam.

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