A Real Garage Band

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

British band Gomez will be appearing at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Sunday.  There’s sure to be a buzz around the show, as the band has been working hard to gain the recognition stateside that it already enjoys in the UK and Europe.  With  a new CD, “Split the Difference,” released this May gaining positive reviews from the US press, Gomez seems to be on the brink of  mainstream American success, making this an exciting time for the band.

Like a certain other British band, Gomez has its roots in Merseyside, specifically a town called Southport in the north-west of England.  Ian Ball (vocals and harmonica) and Olly Peacock (drums) were childhood friends (in fact, they were born in the same hospital within three days of each other and their mothers became friends, so the two claim to have been friends since before birth).  They met Tom Gray (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Paul Blackburn (bass) at college, and finally Ben Ottewell (vocals, guitar) at University.    The five friends formed a nameless college band, combining the best of the songs written by Ottewell, Gray and Ball, and eventually they were ready to play a gig at a local club.

The night of the show arrived and the band, still nameless, hung a sign on the door of the club to make sure that one of their friends could find the club.  The sign read “Gomez – the gig is here.”  Several people who came to see the show assumed that the name of the band was Gomez, their friend’s last name, and the name stuck.

The band, who were still to develop any real live following, set about recording some of their music in a parent’s garage.  The resulting recordings gained Gomez a major label deal.  “We created the first record in a garage really, not a studio,” recalled Ottewell.  “We had recorded the album already, but we did go to a studio to make it a bit more sparkly after we got the deal.  We don’t sound like most of them at the moment, but we are truly a garage band.”

The resulting album, 1998’s “Bring it On,” was a huge success and won Gomez the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, beating several of the UK’s most popular groups.  The band’s blues-influenced songs, combined with unusual instrumentation including cellos, horns and electronic beats, set Gomez apart from many contemporaries.  The follow-up album, “Liquid Skin,” (1999) was another huge hit, taking the band even further into electronica territory.

Following “Liquid Skin,” Gomez decided to take a break from touring, releasing a collection of B-sides and rarities and, in 2000, “In My Gun,” an album of more introspective and eclectic music that got a lukewarm reception from the fans and press.  The result was that the band went back to touring and playing live.  “We got kind of stung a bit with In Our Gun,” said Ottewell. “It was released at the wrong time and wasn’t received well. But the positive thing that came out of the whole experience was going on the road.”

The end result of around two years of hard touring is “Split the Difference,” an album with a more up-front, raw sound than Gomez’s previous releases.  The tracks have an air of excitement that comes of being worked on and developed in a live setting, and audiences seem to be enjoying the new material.  Sunday’s show at the Catalyst definitely looks like being one to mark on your calendar.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, September 23, 2004

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