Gomm is a singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso, known for his heartfelt songwriting and technical wizardry. Quail, on the the other hand, is a cellist who composes largely instrumental pieces that borrow from contemporary classical music and extreme metal.
However, a brief pre-show interview with the two performers highlights the links between the “parallel” paths these two masters of their craft have taken. “It has been going great…it’s a pairing that works so well” emphasises Quail. Gomm also elaborates that “we had an idea that we might work well together as two solo performers, but it’s not necessarily about the music, it’s about the approach. We both want to push the boundaries of our instrument.”
And as the crowds begin to flow in and gather at the tables of this atmospheric venue for this seated event, it becomes ever-clearer that this kind of show is a unifying force for artists and audience alike. The community assembled here are not “dressed in uniform” that conforms to any particular style or genre, and the age-group is wide. But nevertheless there is a shared sense of community as collective anticipation rises against the backdrop of boldly lit on-stage curtains and meditative pre-show music.
Jo Quail introduces “White Salt Stag” and gets straight into her stride on the electric cello. Bitonal avant-garde classical tropes merge with quasi-tribal rhythms throughout a magical opening piece that continuously builds and holds the audience in rapture.
“Rex” (apparently now played in a “less timid” way that on the recorded version) begins with steadier and more droning undercurrents — the music’s enchanting energy ebbing and flowing until a it reaches a zenith of growling distortion on top of looped percussive bashes and bird-like effects. It is truly absorbing and at times feels like pure sonic emotional expression.
A stripped-back acoustic cello version of “Supplication” follows, on which Quail leans into her “Radio 3” contemporary classical side.
She returns to the electric for “Cantus” which surges ever upward from noisy crashing reverb-drenched weirdness to spacey psychedelic electronica (all created with the cello and pedal system of course).
“[About] Spirit — passion and desire”, “Gold” begins with eerie drones before ultimately building to a triumphantly hopeful zenith of tense joy that is a wonder to witness and experience.
Quail finishes her hour-long set of largely extended pieces with “Forge”, that — via some incredible 3D stereo effects — reaches a fittingly climactic peak of 15/8 time heaviness.
The rapturous applause that greets Quail’s set is testament to both an outstanding show and her surely unique position as an artist who could easily be a top favourite amongst both Radio 3 listeners and Metal Hammer readers.
Listening to and watching Jo Quail work her sorcery with the cello is as captivatingly impressive as it is emotionally touching.
Jon Gomm takes to the stage and launches straight into “Waterfall”. The tone he coaxes from his battered signature guitar (also used as a drum), is sublime, bathed as it is in a lush reverb that befits the tender and sensitively beautiful passages of his songs.
Gomm continues through his set of technical yet gentle songs which, whilst he is known primarily as a guitar player, are sung with gracefully understated vocal tones that pull on the heartstrings.
Following a brilliantly interpreted Joni Mitchell cover, Gomm launches into “Hey Child” from his debut album. This one perhaps appeals more to the metal contingent in the audience, with its stomping bass, emphasis on “heavy” riffs and use of mammoth distortion.
Gomm’s on stage patter appears to be absolutely open and honest: he even talks about and takes his ADHD medicine on stage before explaining that “The Ghost Inside You” is about his wife being pregnant and then losing the baby.
Via multitudinous tuning changes, wizard-like blues licks, acoustic tech-metal sweep picking, and a whole lot of emotion, Gomm’s set winds down with the minor key jazz-blues of “Telepathy” (met with uproarious applause) and then “We Are Deep Sea Fishes”. Following an amusing and moving introduction, the latter track has Gomm showing the audience harmony vocal parts so that the whole room becomes his backing choir.
Jon Gomm and Jo Quail
As a special encore, Jo Quail is invited back to the stage to duet on Jon’s most well-known track, “Passionflower”, plus an improvised piece. Quail mentioned before the show that duetting with Jon on his track was “a process of removal of my ideas rather than adding, because there’s really just the finest touch [needed] here and there.”
But those “fine touches” breathe new depth into “Passionflower”; it feels more impassioned (no pun intended) and alive than ever.
The improvised piece closes off the whole evening (a bold move) and Gomm and Quail are by this point (at the end of the tour) locked in ultra-tightly. Gomm’s guitar stomps and riffs while Quails’ cello screams and cries. There are noticeable “mistakes” met with wry smiles before being worked around, and it feels as though we are being invited to peak into a moment of seat-of-the-pants musical intimacy.
After the piece naturally reaches its end-point the two performers stand and wave goodbye to what has been and outstanding and unifying evening, perhaps best summed up by Gomm’s quote in relation to this tour: “I just feel really grateful to have had the experience.”