Shot! Josef Salvat in Brighton

I have to admit, until a few weeks before this gig I’d never even heard of Josef Salvat. The fact he’d already played Brighton three times and recently had a No 1 single in France, just goes to show how difficult it can be for a new artist to get attention. His PR had sent me a couple of emails about his playing a show in Brighton, but knowing nothing about him, it wasn’t until I saw his album artwork that I took notice.

Often a photo can have much more impact than mere words and the striking shot of Josef’s face wrapped by female hands did it for me. Sufficiently intrigued to find out more, I listened to some of his music and knew there and then that he was an artist who had something special about him. With his album on repeat in the days before the gig, it was one I was really looking forward to, especially as I’d also arranged to chat with Josef that afternoon.

Listening to music is one thing, watching it being performed is another. A live show has to be more than just someone playing their music. But let’s backtrack an hour or so, because the first surprise of the night came with the support act. The Half Earth was another artist I’d never heard of. I assumed it would be a band, but it turned out to be a geeky red-haired guy from Sheffield whose actual name is Conor Stephenson and who happens to be Rae Morris’s cousin.

Armed with just a Fender, The Half Earth quickly won over the audience with the combination of his amazing voice and stunning songs. Vocally, there are similarities to Enya. His soaring voice is hauntingly beautiful and his songs would lend themselves to any Nordic noir soundtrack. Having subsequently listened to the recorded versions which have more instruments and drums, it was impressive that he played them solo with just an electric guitar. Whether stripped back or enhanced, the songs are a cut above. Have a listen to Holding On and It Happens To The Best Of Us, you’ll be impressed.

It also turns out that as well as tonight’s stage, The Half Earth and Josef Salvat share the same producer, Rich Cooper, who again I have to confess was a name I hadn’t heard of before.

By the time Josef came on, The Haunt was nicely filled up and it was clear the 27-year-old Australian had picked up quite a few fans from his previous visits. Brighton he told us, was probably the place he’d played most in the UK. His fans are apparently known as Salvatians and, judging by the accents around me, there were more than a few French Salvatians at The Haunt.

Supported by an excellent three piece band including his MD, BIMM alumni Jonny Coote, who hails from Brighton, the textured layers they produced were bigger and punchier than on record. Jonny Brister’s drums sounded especially good, as did his namesake’s guitar.

When artists have just the one album to their name, playing a headline slot can be challenging, not only because they don’t have enough songs, but usually because there aren’t enough good ones. That wasn’t an issue for Josef Salvat. He played every track from the deluxe version of his debut and all sixteen merited their inclusion. That says a lot about the quality of the emotion-laden songs on the album and before most of them, Josef shared a story about what they were about.

Despite the album having only just come out, many of the audience were clearly familiar with the tunes, all but two of which were self-penned. Thanks to a TV commercial, one of those, his minimal take on Diamonds, written by fellow Aussie Sia, is the song he’s probably best known for. It may be a Rihanna cover, but like any artist worth their salt, Josef made it his own.

But it’s his own songs that really shine. Expertly crafted and full of subtle ear-worms, they elevated this performance into something special. From set opener Night Swim through to the Hurts-like closer This Life, there wasn’t a pedestrian track all night.

Bearing in mind this was his first headline tour, it’s impressive how confident he was. With no production gimmicks to hide behind, he put on a truly captivating performance. Seriously talented and charmingly charismatic, there’s no doubt Josef Salvat has a very bright future ahead of him. The next time he comes to Brighton, make sure you’re in the audience!

Set list: Night Swim | Paradise | Constant Runners | Secret | In The Audience | Hustler | Every Night | Diamonds (Rihanna cover)| Till I Found You | Shoot and Run | A Better Word | Punch Line | Closer | Open Season | You Don’t Know What Love Is (Chet Baker cover)| This Life

Follow Josef at @josefsalvat

Josef’s debut album Night Swim is out now

“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: Some artists are better to shoot than others. Being photogenic helps, as does the lighting. But for me, what really counts is the emotion they portray through their facial expressions. Josef is one of those emotional performers who doesn’t hold back, but more than that he has one of those faces that can look very different from one shot to another. As The Haunt is a small room with a standing audience, there is no photo pit. It meant that whilst I was as the front of the stage, I was also stuck in the same place throughout the gig. All these images were shot on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with either the 12–40 2.8 Pro or the 75 1.8 lens using available light only. Shot in Brighton on 12 March 2016.

This review originally appeared in BN1 magazine

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