Shot! Jack Garratt at the Brighton Dome

The award-winning one-man bandwagon proves he’s more than a Jack of all trades

Whether it was at The Great Escape or Wildlife, for whatever reason, I’d never got to see Jack Garratt when he played Brighton. Having been named this year’s Critic’s Choice at the BRITs as well as winning the BBC’s Sound of 2016, the multi-instrumentalist from Buckinghamshire was back in town for the last night of his first UK headline tour. Earlier in the day he was giving a masterclass at BIMM Brighton, the perfect habitat for a 25-year-old who originally wanted to be a music teacher.

Even before he took the stage, there was evidence that this was someone whose status has undergone a big shift. Six freestanding curved trusses flanked a raised dais on which there was an impressive piece of kit: part conventional drums, part electronic drums and part keyboard and a vast array of lights. From behind this “desk of weirdness” as he calls it, Garratt is a modern one-man band, a genuine Jack-of-all-trades, doing everything from banging the drums and playing guitar, to singing and triggering all the loops and sounds from a Roland SPD-SX sample pad. Joining him onstage to add a touch of actuality were a pair of female backing vocalists.

The audience was much younger than I’d expected and they had to wait a while before they got to see Mr Garratt. Indeed it wasn’t until 9:15, after two more interesting-than-usual support acts, that he came bounding onstage. With his signature baseball cap and bushy red beard, he looked the full hipster; yet when he shouted out his hello’s he sounded as if he hailed from the Big Apple rather than Little Chalfont.

While his speaking voice may have been contrived, the sound emanating from the stage was the real McCoy. Indeed, the sound quality was up there with the best I’ve heard at the Dome, a venue where the sonics are almost always topnotch. I’d go so far as to say the sound itself was the standout feature of the night, taking an otherwise good performance to new levels. Of course, you can’t overlook Jack’s vocals nor his songs, but without such a powerful sound, I’m not so sure his show would be quite as impressive.

Initially, his setup reminded me of watching a DJ perform, but perhaps a better comparison would be with Disclosure who use a similar rig to recreate their sounds onstage. Ultimately, the key enabler is the Roland samplepad, something I know a little about having watched Netsky drummer Michael Schack give an electronic drum masterclass for Roland in Brighton last year.

Whilst Schack principally uses his SPD-SX to change the sound of his drumming, he also demonstrated how he could play along to tracks by triggering the pad. The drums were live, but without amplification all you heard was tapping (just like you would an electric guitar) However, with just a couple of clicks, not only did the live drumming sound awesome, but it could be part of a complete song.

This video features Jack explaining how he uses the SPD-SX onstage.

So if that’s how he does it, what was it like to experience live?

At first, I have to say it’s impressive to watch one person creating a huge sound, but once that novelty wears off, any new artist’s growing pains are exposed. With just the one album, of which he played every track, Jack really doesn’t have that many songs. In fact, he’s got so few he spent quite a bit of time playing other people’s, although he had this running joke that he’ll only play the intro, so we literally got twenty seconds of this and twenty seconds of that. Personally, I’d rather he’d have given us a couple of covers from start to finish.

Fortunately, of the songs he does have, he’s got some real gems. For me, Weathered is one of his best. And even if at times his phrasing is a little too reminiscent to Ed Sheeran, it shows he can sing. But hey, if you’re going to be compared to anyone, Sheeran’s not a bad artist to be pigeon-holed with. Another personal highlight was The Love You’re Given where Garratt gets to show off the extent of his vocal range.

Of course he saves his very best to last. Worry is a very modern track, with minimal instrumentation clearly influenced by his obsession with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange record. Played live, it has a lot more energy and power than it does on the album. The same can be said for all the songs tonight. It’s like someone had pushed a button in a visually unassuming performance car and, in an instant, everything’s suddenly gone from quiet comfort mode to growling sport mode.

Being that this was his first headline tour, you can’t say anything other than it was impressive. Considering the number of DJ’s who now play huge arenas and that Sheeran himself can sellout Wembley Stadium (several times over), one can only predict that the next phase of Jack Garratt’s career will take place in much bigger venues than the Dome. All he needs now is a few more songs.

Setlist: Coalesce (Synesthesia, Pt. 2) | (Synesthesia, Pt. 3) | Breathe Life | Weathered | Far Cry | The Fresh Prince of Bel Air | 7 Days/Señorita | The Love You’re Given | Fire | Surprise Yourself | My House Is Your Home | Worry

Follow Jack at @JackGarratt

“To me, shooting live music is all about capturing the personality of the performer and the emotion of their performance. And then creating an iconic image.”

Behind the image: All these images were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and either the 12–40 2.8 Pro or the 75 1.8 lens using available light only, and the camera’s built-in digital zoom. I was able to shoot the first three songs from the pit. For me, the biggest challenge was trying to get shots that were different from all the others I’d already seen. With the artist basically in one position the whole time and largely obscured behind a huge instrument rig, most shots I’d seen looked pretty much the same. In the time I had, I sacrificed full stage shots for more intimate portraits. Looking at the results, I think I made the right call. Shot in Brighton on 28 November 2016.

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