Shot! Jungle live in Brighton

It was a hot day in Brighton. The city centre was heaving as many headed down to the beach. Two revellers who did were Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson. Chances are no one recognised them. Yet, later that evening, the pair would be centrestage at the Brighton Centre with their band Jungle. That they can enjoy such anonymity, yet front a highly successful group, is unusual in an age of celebrity culture.

But Jungle are a little different from most bands. As Tom recently confessed: “We never really wanted to be frontpeople. We’re both Aquariuses, and quite introverted.”

The duo never feature in Jungle’s videos, preferring to leave the spotlight to a dance troupe. To them, Jungle is more a musical collective than a band, with an ever-changing lineup of musicians.

This was their first night back in the UK after a run of European dates and a warm up show ahead of their supporting Billie Eilish on her UK arena tour, before heading back to Europe and then onto Australia and the USA and Mexico. It’s no wonder they’re popular all around the world, the feel-good, danceable sound Jungle have become known for easily transcends borders.

Since forming in 2014, the West London duo, originally known only as J&T, have released three albums. I liked the first, was somewhat ambivalent to the follow-up, but really loved their third. I wasn’t alone, released last year, Loving In Stereo quickly became their highest charting to date.

One reviewer described it perfectly as a record that dovetails with the release of UK’s lockdown, giving the listener “one long hit of pure euphoria.”

The Guardian noted it “contains banger after banger, offset with just enough clever production to prick up the ears of the non-aligned, and just enough contrapuntal shade to keep blandness at bay.”

Even though I didn’t know what contrapuntal meant, I have to agree. With its smooth and glossy modern-soul, the new record was an evolution in the sophistication of Jungle’s sound. Indeed, Tom McFarland said it was the first record where “we’ve really, really nailed exactly how we wanted everything to sound” adding “we needed to have strings, we needed to have brass, we needed to open ourselves up to collaborating with people.”

I later learnt that contrapuntal relates to a counterpoint in music which has two or more independent melodic lines.

This was my first time seeing Jungle on stage and I was really looking forward to the gig having watched a video of their live performance a few weeks earlier at a huge stadium in Mexico City. Fittingly, with a name like theirs, they appear to be particularly popular in South America.

After having pumped the stage full of smoke, the show got underway with Tom and Josh standing centre stage behind two keyboards. Behind them are a five-strong backing band, above them a huge illuminated Jungle logo and enveloping the back of the stage is a narrow wraparound video screen. Somewhat unusually, this serves as the primary lighting source — there are some regular lights as well, but most of the time, the band members are in silhouette, lit by moving horizontal or vertical white lines from the screen.

As visually impactful as the video graphics were, I would have liked to see more variety in both the looks and the colours. All we got was solid red or blue or a pale orange wash. And with no follow-spots, Tom and Josh showed they still prefer to remain pretty anonymous. I did read that when they first began performing, they were so shy they did so from behind a curtain!

Three albums in, they still come across as somewhat reluctant frontmen. Much of the time watching them is like watching a DJ set. But when it came to the music itself, that’s where they really stood out. Indeed, right from the get go, the joyful exuberance of Jungle’s music shone through, making the Brighton Centre feel more like a pulsating festival tent than a soulless concert hall.

Tom and Josh’s twin male falsettos are Jungle’s signature sound, but huge props must go to the rhythm section of drummer George Day and bass guitarist Jordan Hadfield for their grooves and to powerhouse backing singer Andreya Triana, indeed everyone onstage contributed to the superb vocals. The musicians were all the more impressive bearing in mind that this was largely an all-new Jungle line-up.

There were many crowd-pleasing moments in their 23-song set during which they showcased ten tracks from Loving In Stereo. My personal faves included the album’s uplifting lead single Keep Moving as well as All Of The Time, Lifting You, Happy Man, Truth and the oh-so-funky What D’Ya Know About Me?

My only gripe? I would have liked there to have been a little more spontaneity in the playing, the songs were too short, although I suspect the use of backing tracks prevented any deviation from their running time.

I’d recommend they watch a few gigs by Parcels. These Berlin-based Aussies plough a similar furrow to Jungle, but they give their songs so much more room to breathe and develop on stage. As a result, they are also better at engaging with their audience. That being said, there was no doubt Jungle’s positive vibes had their fans grooving along from first note to last. But rather than taking things to another level, one sensed they were playing within themselves. Even so, I’m sure everyone who witnessed this performance enjoyed it as much as I did.

Setlist: Dry Your Tears | Keep Moving | All Of The Time | Talk About It | The Heat | Beat 54 (All Good Now) | Lifting You | Problemz | Julia | Romeo | Bonnie Hill | Happy Man | Smile | Good Times | Truth | Cherry | Lucky I Got What I Want | Fire | What D’Ya Know About Me? | Time || Casio/Stayin’ Alive | Busy Earnin’

Behind the shot: These images were taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens and the camera’s built-in digital zoom. I was able to shoot the first three songs from the pit and — most unusually — the rest of the show from the back of the auditorium. This was an especially difficult gig to get good shots from as the band were almost always backlit and therefore in silhouette and much of the time they were bathed in dreaded red light. Photographed in Brighton on 2 June 2022

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. On the writing side, he has also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs and has written a biography of Robert Palmer. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians.

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