Words by Giles Logan / Pics by Rob Hadley
In twelve short months Ed Geater has established himself as a firm part of the Birmingham music scene. Overcoming an initial anxiety about performing, his live gigs have become something of an event. With his trademark human beat boxing looped live over beautiful acoustic guitar melodies, and an earnest lyricism that recalls Jeff Buckley and Ben Howard, it’s a beguiling live adventure. On stage Ed Geater exudes a quiet and charming confidence that is hard to resist. He’s like that in person too; warm, honest and open. How did it all start?
“I started beat boxing when I was about twelve,” tells Ed Geater. “A friend got me into Rahzel and I was just blown away it was a human making that noise. Because I’ve got naturally quite good rhythm I could imitate it even though I couldn’t do the sounds. At school it became a house party trick. I always enjoyed doing it and over the years I gradually improved. Eventually I improved the sounds I could do and I discovered that I really liked the percussive side of it. When I was at uni I had the idea of combining that with my guitar playing.”
Ed Geater possessed the talent but found it emotionally tough to perform and struggled with his early gigs. Anxiety would lead to cancelled shows and when he did push himself to get on stage he would feel helpless and begin shaking, struggling to overcome a dry throat and deliver his vocals. It was important to “keep going” though.
Most people that suffer with anxiety don’t get over it by performing on stage? “I would say that it’s the best way that I could’ve done it,” says Geater, “if I’d given in and gone on medication that’s probably a lifelong thing isn’t it? I was close to going on medication for depression but it just never felt right for me to do that. I found another more natural way to get through it. It’s been a personal journey. The whole point of me gigging constantly was to get over my anxiety issues. I had severe anxiety and a history of quite severe depression.”
Are you OK sharing such personal details? “I’m more than happy to share. It’s part of the story. I feel like some musicians find their talent and confidence from a very early age and they just go for it, for me that wasn’t the case. It was very very difficult for me to put myself out there; I had to really really try over a number of years to get over the many hurdles.”
Ed Geater’s friend and now manager, Tom Bradshaw-Smith, could see the improvement in his song writing, vocals and live performances at the tail end of 2015. A plan was drawn up to increase exposure and make his unique sound available to a wider audience. As plans go it was pretty successful, two EPs, a string of gigs – including a sell out at Mama Roux’s, and hearing his song ‘Symmetry’ played to a capacity crowd at Villa Park. Not a bad year’s work. And as the old adage goes, success breeds confidence.
This confidence is apparent in the leap from the first, almost stark, Barriers EP to the slicker and more adventurous Unseen EP alongside the radio friendly pop of his single ‘Symmetry’. “I think that’s just me as a producer improving,” explains Ed Geater. “I love electronic producers and that influences me more than singer songwriters, like Bonobo and Four Tet, all these guys who do creative slightly more out there alternative electronic music with an ambient mellifluous sound to it, that’s the sound I try to create with my guitar and my beat boxing. When I produce I produce with that whole thing in mind.”
And what of creative ‘process’, how does an Ed Geater song get born? “I don’t really have a set structure to writing. Sometimes I will have a riff idea, start to write a melody over it and then write some lyrics to it. I find lyrics come quite spontaneously, I just write down my thoughts. It’s been a therapy, a lot of my songs, my thought patterns, whatever’s going on in here (points to head) I get down and try and make sense of it.”
Using gestalt therapy and meditation helped Ed Geater overcome his anxiety; there is an acknowledgement that anyone can judge him these days and, most pertinently, that’s OK. “Anything anyone thinks about me has got everything to do with them and nothing to do with me,” tells Geater. “It’s their lens and their ego created by everything they have been through and there’s nothing I can do about that so I can’t judge them for it either.” It’s a self assuredness that is palpable in his live shows; there is a friendly swagger about an Ed Geater performance, a charming inclusivity that was memorable during his sell out show at Mama Roux’s in October 2016. “It was like a ride,” remembers Geater, “and when it finished it didn’t feel like I’d done it. The creativity was flowing through me. It’s a high that I love and whenever I play I get it.”
Ed Geater declares a love of variety and a desire to not be “tied down by a single genre”. In the 2017 pipeline is a collaboration with local ‘emcee with a message’ Lady Sanity, plus the small matter of a national tour with a headline show at the Hare and Hounds on 24th March. These are good times for Ed Geater and good times for the Birmingham music scene he talks about with an infectious passion and enthusiasm.
“I’m really excited to get the single with Lady Sanity out in the summer,” tells Ed Geater, running through his roll call of local luminaries. “Also Call Me Unique, I’ve just produced her EP which will be released later this year. Pleasure House are great guys and a great band, Alex Rainsford is a really great singer songwriter, the rapper Vital is really hard working. Bear, DEE Ajayi and Amy Louise Ellis who are playing with me at the Hare and Hounds. Hannah Brown is a great girl with a lovely voice. My other recommendations are Sam Jackson, Dame, Cinema, Youth Man, Elektrik and Namiwa Jazz.” Ed Geater texted following the interview with more Birmingham musical shout outs; his commitment to the local scene is clear.
But as celebratory and positive as his plans are, Ed Geater’s ‘story’ possesses a difficult truth for a lot of performers – the musical talent was there, but the ability to express it was hampered by self doubt, anxiety and depression. But it also shows that all ‘hurdles’ can be overcome.
“There is no time limit on chasing your dreams,” concludes Ed Geater. “I hope something about my story will resonate with people and create awareness of mental health issues.”
‘Symmetry’ / Ed Geater
Ed Geater begins his national UK tour on Thursday 9th March, with a headline show at the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath) on 24th March – with support from Bear + Dee Ajayi + Amy Louise Ellis, as presented by Birmingham Promoters. For direct gig info and online ticket sales, click here.
For more on Ed Geater, visit www.edgeater.co.uk
For more information on some of the issues discussed in this interview, check out the following links:
Mind / www.mind.org.uk
Rethink / www.rethink.org
Time For Change / www.time-to-change.org.uk