Ben's finally bringing it on
By Nigel Powlson
DESPITE the fact that founder member Ben Ottewell hails from the county, Mercury Prize winning band Gomez have never played Derby in their 14-year career.
But as they prepare for this year's Glastonbury Festival, they are finally putting that to rights with a gig at The Venue, on Saturday, June 26.
"We are doing Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park the day before and Glastonbury on the Sunday, and we were looking for a gig in between," says Ben. "The Venue asked us so we thought great, why not?
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"I have done a few solo gigs in Matlock Bath and Wirksworth but the band have never played here. The closest we got was Nottingham."
Ben is based in Brighton these days but was born in Chesterfield, lived in Bonsall until the age of nine before moving to Matlock Bath, attending Highfields School until he went to Sheffield University. It was there he met fellow Gomez member Ian Ball. "The other guys were already in a band together and I pretty much joined their band," says Ben.
"I met Ian in a bar. We started talking about music and we were into the same things. It took off from there."
The band played their first gig together in 1996 and were signed by a subsidiary of Virgin less than a year later.
"Anyone who writes music or plays a guitar always harbours an ambition of making a go of it but I just got lucky," says Ben.
Gomez's first album, Bring It On, won the Mercury Prize in 1998, putting the band firmly on the map.
"It was very odd because we had hardly played a gig or done anything," says Ben. "We were a bit embarrassed by it. We didn't think we deserved it because we hadn't worked that hard.
"We just stumbled into a record deal, it was all happy-go-lucky and all of sudden we won this prize and went, 'wow, look at that'. But it was helpful. It shifted a lot of records for us."
Thankfully, Gomez didn't succumb to the pressure that has weighed down other Mercury Prize winners.
"I think we put pressure on ourselves anyway just to write good music," says Ben.
Gomez have since released five more studio albums, the last of which was A New Tide in March last year. With all the band contributing ideas, their music has always been hard to pigeon hole.
Ben says: "We are not trying to be obtuse, it's just the way it happens. There are lots of songwriters in the band. We get bored doing the same old thing. Exploring new things is what creativity is all about and at times we get frustrated when we are accused of not sounding the same as the last record. We are a very creative band.
"That's why we still enjoy it because we surprise each other. Some music gets really boring, especially five years later when an album comes out but it's the same as before. That's what people want to sell as it's guaranteed to get the same people buying it but we have never been interested in being stuck in that kind of mould."
Over the last decade there have been big changes in music-buying habits and Ben admits that "it's a lot harder to make money" now.
He adds: "All the money has gone out of the record industry. When we started, people would get preposterous deals. Bands had money thrown at them. We are lucky we have an established following but it's really hard on new bands now."
Gomez have started work on their next album but with two band members based in America that's not so easy these days and the internet has become an important creative tool.
"Ian's in LA and Olly's in New York but we see quite enough of each other," laughs Ben.
"We have started the new record. We post ideas and files and the others download them. On the last album, a couple of the songs were written like that but it has been all the tracks on this one so far which is quite interesting.
"We'll probably hit the studio in October with the aim of getting the album out next year."
Before then, it's Glastonbury.
"We haven't been there for three years but certainly in the UK it's still the festival everyone wants to be part of," says Ben. "We play a lot of gigs in the States and even there they talk about it as the daddy of all festivals.
"It's great doing festivals in a World Cup year because everyone gets around and watches the games backstage and you get bands from Italy and France and it's always a good laugh."
WHERE: The Venue, Abbey Street, Derby.
WHEN: Saturday, June 26. Doors open 8pm.
TICKETS: £17.50 in advance from www.imemusic.co.uk.