Wonderful things in unexpected places

One of my favourite passages in the Bible is John 1v45-47, where Philip finds Nathaniel and invites him to meet Jesus, “the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel’s response is “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” He cannot comprehend that someone of cosmic significance would originate from somewhere that is, really, nowhere. Philip’s reply is “Come and see”.

You can almost see the twinkle in Philip’s eyes, the delight in the seeming impossibility of finding so great a thing in so humble a place. It is wonderful when that happens; it reminds us that excellence, originality and talent are not the preserve of the rich, well-connected or expensively-educated, but can be found in the most surprising places.

I’ve had two such experiences in the last three weeks. No, I haven’t found the Messiah (twice) – that happened a while ago (once) – but I did find some wonderful things in unexpected places. As a born and bred Northerner, I’m also very pleased to say that this happened on my home territory. With the London-centric perspective of government and media, you would be forgiven for thinking that nothing of note happens outside the M25. Let me assure you that that is most definately not the case.

At the beginning of May, I had to book a table for two in Sheffield. I was meeting a friend who travels a lot and gets wined and dined in superb eateries on a regular basis, so I was a bit nervous. On the recommendation of a colleague, I booked The Milestone in Kelham Green. My nervousness increased as the taxi wove deeper into Sheffield’s former industrial heartland to an inobtrusive place amongst old warehouses. I needn’t have worried. As soon as we walked in, the warm welcome, bare wood tables and sea-green walls set the tone for a cosy and relaxed evening. My friend settled into a chair, stroked the table-top and said – half-surprised, half-impressed – “This is nice.” The food (all three courses – heritage tomato salad, belly pork, and petit fours for me) was excellent if not outstanding, and the drinks (G&T, Chablis, coffee, whisky) to wash them down were spot-on. Even though we hogged a table for 4 hours on a Friday night, we never felt rushed. My friend was very impressed, personally thanked the chef, and wanted to return again the same weekend with colleagues. I think that counts as a minor triumph.

Last night, I travelled to Bar 1:22 in Huddersfield, another inobtrusive place, this time at the end of a characterless concrete shopping arcade, next to the ring road. The ambience was somewhat undermined by the occasional ambulance or police car flying past the open windows, sirens blaring. It was packed to the rafters with a sell-out audience of around 100 people, gathered to see the headline act’s only UK gig of the summer.

We arrived about 30 minutes after the doors opened to cold beer and more-than-competent support from Sam Prowse and Isaac Grinsdale (frontman of The Great Argument, and also on sound for the evening!)… but we were really there to see Jon Gomm, shown above, the guitarist and singer who has come from relative obscurity to modest fame due to the popularity of his versions of Aint Nobody and Message in a Bottle on youtube. Check out his own compositions too – Topeka, Passionflower, GloriaHey Child and Loveproof.

He was passionate, confident, articulate, and above all technically awe-inspiring… whilst being refreshingly accessible, good-natured and unpretentious. And even better – he is well and truly Northern, born in Blackpool (to a music critic father who brought him into contact with a long list of blues guitar legends) and now lives in a not-particularly-salubrious corner of Leeds.

I have been looking for a musician to get excited about for some time, and I have found that in Jon. I bought everything he’s ever recorded and yes, I’ll be back for seconds.

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