This article is created in partnership with Jim Beam to celebrate the launch of Welcome Sessions –– a new live music series that sees groundbreaking artists return to the venue that first welcomed them.
As part of Jim Beam’s Welcome Sessions series, Jack Garratt pulled together a nine-piece choir and six-piece horn section, plus a drummer and a keyboardist, for a performance of his single, “Time”, at the Village Underground in East London. The ensemble production was a departure from the norm for Garratt, who’s built a career around self-sufficiency.
After releasing his debut album, Phase, in early 2016, the London-based performer tallied more than 100 shows around the world, all of which he played solo. To see Garratt in this mode is to witness a marvellous feat of multi-instrumental coordination, as he switches between guitars, sequencers, synths and electronic drums while creating loops in real time and singing with complete conviction.
The Brit Award-winning songwriter’s onstage application mirrors his methods behind the scenes. Garratt is responsible for every layer of instrumentation on both Phase and his latest LP, 2020’s Love, Death & Dancing, and there’s always been a strong thread of soul-searching intimacy to his lyricism.
But despite his solitary creative methods and confidential lyricism, Garratt’s music bears little trace of insularity. He’s an eminently contemporary artist whose sound is characterised by indiscriminate genre-merging. To describe Love, Death & Dancing as maximalist feels like an understatement, as Garratt sews together elements of house and dubstep with indie pop, arena rock and neo-R&B.
Watch Jack Garratt – “Old Enough”
Love, Death & Dancing was released in June 2020, in the midst of the COVID lockdowns. And even for a fiercely independent artist like Garratt, this period of compulsory seclusion left him yearning for human connection.
“I kind of force myself into a weird solitary confinement when it comes to creating these songs,” he says. “Being in a venue with a bunch of people is then the first time these songs are allowed to breathe.”
As such, the release of Love, Death & Dancing felt incomplete for Garratt, which directly informed his decision to assemble the 17-strong collective for the debut Jim Beam Welcome Sessions performance. In “Time”, Garratt knew he had the ideal track for such a collaboration.
“Time” is a mini-epic, beginning as a guitar-toting power ballad and gradually morphing into a euphoric dance pop number. The track’s dynamic constitution perfectly lends itself to a quasi-orchestral re-arrangement. Plus, with lyrics such as “Now everything you think you know / Of your design / Is trembling at the edges,” it’s hard to think of a more thematically salient song given the context.
Watch Jack Garratt – “Worry”
“Since I finished touring Phase and having gone on a three year hiatus, the first song I released was ‘Time,’” says Garratt. “All of the emotions it conjures up… the song’s lyrical content [is] about the importance that I put on my future, the stress that I put on my future and how ill-advised that is and how unnecessary that is.”
While no crowds were allowed in the Village Underground during the filming, Garratt worked with Parisian music video exemplars La Blogothèque to create a tactile and engrossing film experience. The idea was to break down the barrier between performer and audience, emphasising the extended network of people that contributes to making a great live show.
“All of our roles are equally important: performer, coat check, security, bar staff, audience, crew,” Garratt says. “The whole point of the camera being on my shoulder the whole time is it’s supposed to be an immersive point of view experience about celebrating an audience’s role in a venue like that.”
Located in the heart of ultra-hip Shoreditch, the Village Underground holds deep significance for Garratt. The 700-capacity venue, housed within a retrofitted Victorian-era railway warehouse, was the site of his first major London headline show back in 2015.
Watch Jack Garratt – “Better”
Off the back of his Synesthesiac EP, Garratt had taken his one-man show for a two-week run up and down the UK, playing at pubs and small rooms above bars, often to no more than 60 people a night.
He was already an experienced live performer by this point – he’d been selected to headline the BBC Music Introducing Stage at the 2014 Reading and Leeds Festivals – but the tour was a mess, with Garratt running into technical difficulties each night. “It was my first tour and I felt like it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to,” he says.
Garratt, who was 24-years-old at the time, had dropped out of uni a few years earlier to pursue a career in music. But despite his prevailing success – which also saw him sign a deal with Island Records – the hapless tour brought on a severe case of self-doubt.
Suffice to say, there was a lot riding on the Village Underground show. “It was a sold out show, so that was exciting,” says Garratt. But nothing quite prepared him for the feedback he got from the crowd that night. “It confirmed to me that everything I was doing up until that point was working towards something that was bigger than me and bigger than everyone in the room,” he says.
“I got to celebrate that I was there to enjoy a moment with a group of people that I felt like accepted me, but on the other side, I also got to have the affirmation of knowing my music had got me there.”
Watch Jack Garratt – “Surprise Yourself”
This speaks to the unique, multi-directional exchange that takes place at live music shows. The vast majority of attention is aimed at the performer on stage, who’s not just responsible for having assembled the congregation, but is subject to all sorts of expectations from the audience.
But gigs aren’t just occasions of obsequious star-worship. Rather, they’re community gatherings, with moments of deep significance being shared not just between performer and audience, but also among members of the crowd. These transformative, electric qualities are what Jim Beam’s Welcome Sessions aim to celebrate.
“The way I’ve always talked to myself about it is, every show I do, every venue I go to, I’m a guest at somebody else’s house and I’ve been invited there to entertain, to sing my songs, to bring a good time to a bunch of people. And their job is to enjoy it,” says Garratt.
“You make sure that what you’re doing is creating memories, but doing it in such a way that it doesn’t detach the audience or the performer from the moment.”
Garratt has performed shows all over the world, predominantly in the UK and USA, but also in Australia, Japan and across the full breadth of Europe. Although the life of a touring musician tends to include more time idling in airport lounges and driving along endless motorways than sight-seeing, Garratt has observed how significant independent music venues are to the life of a city.
“I was doing open mic nights in London when I was like 16, 18, doing them at the Half Moon in Putney, which is a really prestigious venue, but it fits like 30-40 people. What you realise [when you tour] is that that venue exists in every city in the world,” he says.
“It just proves that the global language that music has access to is unanimously heard and accepted by so many different kinds of cultures.”