The Go portion, or is it the Mez part?, of British stalwarts of blues/folk/psych/roots rock, Gomez – Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball – will be in Australia very soon (dates at the end of this story) to continue a relationship that goes back a couple of decades.
(It’s fair to say that apart from, maybe, Michael Franti, no one has been more frequent musical tourists to Australia this century.)
While this is the first time they’ve toured here as a duo, they are as not-on-trend as ever, resolutely anti-star in every way.
To remind us that this is a career-long approach, Wind Back Wednesday gets into the tabloid gutter – and then straight back out again – in 2004.
PARIS HILTON HAS NOT slept with any member of Gomez. There, the dirty secret is out. And don’t we all feel better for it?
Certainly Ben Ottewell, one of three singer/songwriters in the band, does. We’ve been discussing the trend towards self-created fame/infamy on the web via homepages and it’s clear the cherubic Englishman is flummoxed by anybody actively seeking out that kind of attention.
“I don’t understand why people would want that,” Ottewell mutters. “We’ve always kind of avoided the other side of it quite well. We’re quite happy being on the stage; the rest of it is kind of shoved to one side. It probably hasn’t helped our careers in a way.”
Well they did have that burst of attention when, straight outta Southport (an English seaside town of sleepy proportions and indistinct ambitions) in 1998, they won Britain’s major music award, The Mercury Music Prize, for their debut album Bring It On.
It mixed psychedelic rock, blues and a decidedly rootsy and loose feel that seemed completely out of place with the pop trends of the fag end of the 20th century and it felt nothing at all like Britain. Everyone wanted a piece of it, and them.
Shaggy of mien, still mastering their instruments and barely out of school, the Gomez five often looked like rabbits in the headlights in the year or so after that award. It was about the only time you could tell they were not much more than kids though, as on record they sounded like seasoned American roots musicians and Ottewell’s deep, growling voice was more bayou than Brighton.
Three albums later they’ve emerged from a creative and personal funk (complications in the recording of the last album; a mixed reception to that album; relationship break-ups; the shifting of press attention to this year’s pop model) with an album that makes one startling discovery: you can still have fun doing this stuff.
The result, called Split The Difference, finds them almost bouncing: throwing around melodies and a clear rock feel with much less of the electronic dabbling that characterised the last album and more of what marked out that debut as exciting.
The problem is can they get the attention? Of course, it probably would help if they were all in skinny trousers and dating an actress. Given his reluctance, maybe Ottewell should nominate a band member to do the dirty work.
“Well Ian [Ball, another of the singer/songwriters] is in LA, he lives there now,” Ottewell leaps on the suggestion. “He could do the star thing.”
Speaking of Los Angeles, or indeed anywhere sunny and warm, with Ball (who spent a year or so living in Bondi not so long ago) over there, did it not occur to the band that rather than record in a drafty shed in Portslade in East Sussex they could be recording somewhere, well, nice?
“The problem is it always sound great going to the south of France to record and all that shit but I don’t know that it helps much,” Ottewell says. “When we recorded [the previous album] In Our Gun we went to the countryside but you never really focus anyway. I don’t think musicians are the greatest in the countryside. I think it helps you to record in a shit place.”
Recording in a “shit place” and playing in them are different things and Gomez, whose other members are Tom Gray, Olly Peacock and Paul Blackburn, have been spending a lot more time doing the American touring thing. And it’s proving very successful.
Amusingly for all concerned though they’ve discovered something odd: in the USA they’re often assumed to be part of the “jam band” scene, that experimental, improvised scene that takes its cues from the now defunct Grateful Dead. It’s a massive market, full of tie-dyed enthusiasts who follow improbably named bands such as Phish and The String Cheese Incident around the country and spend their spare time swapping live tapes of concerts and comparing magic mushroom recipes.
Although Gomez are more song-based than these bands, the American fans have taken to the English quintet with some fervour. It’s a feeling that’s not exactly reciprocated.
“We played with the String Cheese Incident at their New Year Show, which was great fun as we flew all our girlfriends there,” says Otteway. “But the gig was very strange.”
Thousands of people tripping off their skulls?
“Yeah, it was like all the pictures you see of all those acid tests in the ‘60s, people twirling around,” he says jovially. “We had a laugh at the whole thing: we’re a bunch of shitkickers from Britain in a room full of this.”
No worries then that one of the band might do an Eric Burdon and go native once they began mixing with the hippies?
“Nah,” he laughs. “We’re a bit too sarky. And when they play, they go on and on, three songs in an hour or whatever. I think you can take acid and not be a jam band fan.”
Not you taking acid, of course; some people you know.
“Ah, um, yeah.”
Ian Ball and Ben Ottewell will play ..
Freo Social, Perth, May 26
The River, Margaret River, May 27
The Gov, Adelaide, May 29
Brunswick Ballroom, Melbourne, June 1
The Espy, Melbourne, June 2
Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, June 3
Queenscliff Town Hall, June 4
Canberra Theatre, June 5
Hota Lakeside, Gold Coast, June 7
The Zoo, Brisbane, June 8
Brass Monkey, Sydney, June 9
Factory Theatre, Sydney, June 10
Tank Arts Centre, Cairns, June 11
Heritage Hotel, Bulli, June 12