Five unassuming, music obsessed friends from Southport, England get together in a garage and make a demo.
That demo arouses significant interest, along with an offer to record an album.
That album, Bring It On, was comprised of early takes and demo versions of the group’s songs. And it would do the unexpected in 1998, knocking off competition from acts like Massive Attack and Pulp to take out the most prestigious Mercury Prize.
When Gomez were on their first visit to Australia in 2000, triple j’s Richard Kingsmill asked them if the awards and accolades meant much to them.
“Not a great deal really,” singer and guitarist Ben Ottewell said. “I mean, for the band it’s great because more people get to hear who we are, we can come and play different places and get more exposure. But, at the end of the day, it’s just opinions.”
Opinions mattered though. Still new to being in a band, Gomez stood out for the fact that they seemed to shun any semblance of coolness, let alone display much in the way of proficiency as a band in their early days.
“We hadn't even played a decent gig at that point,” Ottewell told The Independent in 2009. “People would applaud us for being this laid-back, shambolic mess, but the fact was that we really couldn't play.”
Ottewell, along with childhood friends Ian Ball, Tom Gray, Paul Blackburn and Olly Peacock, formed Gomez with clear ideas about how their creative connection worked best. And on their debut, they adhere to those ideals.
“We’re not [the type of band to] go on tour and play ten tracks and then go into the studio and record them, it’s sort of the other way around,” Ian Ball told Kingsmill in 2000. “We leave gaps in the songs in the studio, then fill them in live. They’re [the songs on the album] certainly the first recorded version of it, it’s probably the first time we’ve ever played it.”
“We view the studio and live work as completely different,” Ottewell chipped in. “I hate going to a gig and seeing a stage-managed event.”
And the group’s shared philosophy on the value of the live experience continues to satisfy creative as well as practical purposes.
“It’s really bad for us to rehearse,” Ball said in 2012. “When somebody does something on stage that was unexpected, that’s what we’re actually after. We’re not after perfection at all.
“As soon as we start to perfect something, it gets extraordinarily tedious for us, so then we just self-sabotage it usually. Just never stop touring really is the main key to rehearsing.”
But there’s a crucial element that makes the jamming and extended re-imaginings of their songs in the live setting possible at all.
“The key to it for us was picking an aesthetic in the first place which allowed for the ragged glory,” multi-instrumentalist Tom Gray explained. “The charm of being able to improvise within it, so that people’s expectations aren’t that they’re going to get an exact reproduction of the record. If you set yourself up for that, you’ll being doing it for the rest of your career, and that would be a real bummer!”
Across Bring It On’s 12 tracks, you get the sense that there’s a broad range of influences at play. From the swampy electro blues of ‘Get Miles’, the sunshiny folk strum of ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’, the psychedelic rootsy swagger of ‘78 Stone Wobble’, the shouty bar room singalong of ‘Get Myself Arrested’, as well as the reflective and bittersweet ‘Bubble Gum Years’.
“We never all had the same musical taste, and that's what created the dynamic within the band,” Ottewell explained to the Sydney Morning Herald recently.
“We were always trying to make something else by standing on each other's shoulders. Looking back, an approach like that could have been a total disaster. Throwing that many influences into a melting pot should have been bloody awful, but we managed to make sense of it.”
There’s a playfulness and restraint, and a feeling of a balance of each of Gomez’s membership at work in the songs which gives the album its necessary cohesion.
Even still, reflecting on their debut’s 20th anniversary provides for both a moment of awkwardness and as well as acknowledgement.
“I listen to it and it's like looking at pictures of yourself as a kid," Ottewell told the SMH. “But then again, you also get some perspective on what you've done. And that record was quite an achievement.”
Gomez play the following upcoming shows:
Tuesday 27 March – HQ, Adelaide
Thursday 29 March – Byron Bay Bluesfest
Friday 30 March – Byron Bay Bluesfest
Saturday 31 March – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 1 April – 170 Russell, Melbourne
Monday 2 April – 170 Russell, Melbourne
Wednesday 4 April – Metro City, Perth