Jon Gomm started our meeting by typing the answers to our questions on his mobile phone. He’d lost his voice on Saturday night, one and a quarter hours into his packed performance at Robert Sammut Hall in Floriana sponsored by The Phoenicia. Nonetheless, he typed, he got a standing ovation.
Gomm’s song ‘Passionflower’ has been viewed more than 15.6 million times so far on YouTube and counting. He arrives in the hotel’s Palm Court Lounge with TAO Productions’ Frankie Camilleri, who has Gomm’s famous ‘Wilma’, the guitar with which he has travelled the world, firmly strapped to his back. Camilleri is responsible for bringing a stream of world-class talent to the Maltese Islands including Tommy Emmanuel, Andy Mckee, Matt Sofianos and Don Ross, amongst others, with Gomm being the latest talented musician to travel out and entertain Malta’s aficionados.
Gomm says he became a singer-songwriter as there were things he wanted to say. We labour on topics ranging from being a solo artist to cultural support and the function of music to secure the health of minds and spirits. Gomm is obviously a deep thinker, and with a young family and lots of travel, he’s still wrestling with work-life balance. He says that his process of songwriting is a painstaking and time-consuming one, meaning that his work days telescope widely, with tours being the raison d’etre. “I like touring the most,” he says quietly.
We don’t get much time to discuss the music, however, Jon’s lyrics bristle with insight and energy, the song ‘Passionflower’ ends with the lines ‘You are what you grow into, You’re not what you were” which is a metaphor for the changes Gomm is obviously adjusting to. Gomm quips that ‘Wilma’ is in a £1500 case, twice what he originally paid for his cherished guitar. Guitar-makers Lowden have produced the Jon Gomm Hybrid Top, a new kind of guitar that’s modelled on ‘Wilma’, but Jon stays faithful to his cherished guitar that has travelled the world with him.
He says that he’s good at being in a band and taking instruction, and that being in a band is like being in a family, although he qualifies by saying that he went solo almost by accident, when the singer he was due to perform with didn’t turn up one night. This was all the encouragement he needed to launch his solo career, from which he has rarely looked back.
He is grateful to The Phoenicia as a supporter of his local concert, acknowledging their vital support for the Arts and the hotel’s role in bringing culture to people. “It’s a beautiful hotel,” he says.
He explains that his father was a journalist writing music reviews to promote music in his local town Blackpool. To save money on hotels, many musicians would stay at his father’s house and Jon would come downstairs for breakfast wearing his guitar and the visiting artists would each teach him a few tricks. One of his favourites was bluesman Walter Trout, who had a big influence on his decision to pursue a professional musician’s career.
Our brief time together is over. Gomm’s voice has fizzled to a low rasp and he’s late for his flight. He just has time to mention that this Malta gig is his last for the year, having just been in Budapest, Norway, Transylvania and Germany in the preceding weeks. “I’ve never lost my voice before for a performance, so that’s definitely a first for Malta!” he exclaims, as Frankie and Wilma follow him out the door.
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