Last year was my first Great Escape. As it billed itself as Europe’s SXSW, I went to the festival with high expectations. It turned out that it is in no way SXSW. Whereas Austin is SXSW, in Brighton, you wouldn’t know a major music festival was taking place. I found this, and the fact that the venues are so spread about making more difficult to stumble upon new bands, a bit disappointing. But reflecting after the festival, for less than £50, you actually got quiet a lot of music. So I decided to go back this year with lower more realistic expectations and treat the festival as a musical holiday.
Last year I travelled down to the TGE on the Thursday and by the time I’d checked into the hotel, much of the Thursday afternoon action had finished. So this year, I thought I’d head down a day early and see if anything was happening pre-festival.
Luckily there was a pretty decent gig with Queen Kwong playing playing at Sticky Mike’s. First up was Yonaka. I liked the singer’s voice. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch them again. Next up were Gloo who did nothing for me. Finally Queen Kwong who put in a pretty enthusiastic performance with sone pretty decent music. After Queen Kwong. I decided to call it a day to save my energies for the rest of the weekend
I used to be lucky enough for the Coffeehouse Sessions to play my Students’ Union at lunchtimes. They put on acoustic sessions with a good mix of bands and singer songwriters. Unfortunately, the students at my University don’t seem to like live music (more interested in going to ‘gigs’ by people who sing over backing tracks). So the turnout was abysmal. Basically only me and whatever work colleagues I could pursuade to come along. So this year they had dropped my Uni from the circuit. But they were providing programming for the Fishpool as part of the alternative escape. As they appeared to be the first venue out of the blocks, I dropped by to see what they were up to.
The first band they had on were a 60s style retro band (if a music style is still good, why stop playing it?). I think they were called the Waletones. I thought they were pleasant enough. I stayed for a few songs then decided to ‘browse’.
Next up was Flying Colours at Komedia. I’d heard they were good. By the time I got there the place was already rammed and they were well into their set. They sounded good. Again I stayed for a few songs before heading off again.
But the afternoon was really about seeing Aldous Harding again. I’d been intrigued by her earlier in the week (and concerned about her wellbeing). So I was pleased to see her looking well and seemingly less stressed than earlier in the week when she was clearly suffering from terrible jet lag. This afternoon’s session was again, simply wondrous. She has a very distinctive and haunting voice. There’s something about her voice that keeps me enthralled.
With the afternoon’s official programme winding down, I once again dropped by the Fishpool to catch some Coffeehouse Sessions. A London band called the Carnabys. They seemed like a pretty fun and energetic rock and roll band. They weren’t necessarily somebody I’d want to listen to. But they put on a good show.
One thing I like about the Great Escape is the mixture of venues. (Although I don’t like how spread out they are!). One of the venues I like because of it’s oddness is the (currently) called the Hub. It’s one of the small venues in the arches of the sea wall. It’s a tiny tunnel with a stage at the end. If you’re at the back you simply can’t see anything. But if you catch the right band, it has a great atmosphere. I started the evening by bouncing around the sea wall venues watching random bands.
K.I.D were first up who were pleasant enough.
But the next band, Jpnsgrls, surprised me. Despite it only being 6 in the evening, they were ‘full on’. The lead singer was jumping around and bouncing off the walls and there was even crowd surfing! Not bad for 6pm. Their performance was good enough to warrant a purchase of the album.
I’d already decided that most of the evening was going to be about the Green Door Store, where Black Honey and PINS were playing, two of my ‘must see’ bands. So I decided to head up early so that I’d be guaranteed entry. With the Prince Albert opposite I dropped by for their first band of the evening, Ward Thomas. I should have read up on them. Country. Need I say more. Next band…
For most of the rest of the evening, I stayed at the Green Door Store. Once you’re in the stage area, it’s a nice little venue. But it’s layout is poor with a tiny door leading from the bar area into the venue making it really difficult getting in and out.
Two bands played before Black Honey. Dark Moon were up first. I wasn’t taken by them. They had a big gong, yet didn’t really use it. All Tvvins were proficient, but despite all their kit, managed to produce some rather bland music.
At last year’s Great Escape, I’d stumbled upon a local Brighton band, Kill Moon, who stepped into fill a vacant slot in the Alternative Great Escape. They were playing a tiny little venue with a small audience but I thought they were excellent, in part due to the performance by their lead singer. Unfortunately, they split soon afterwards. However, some of the band went on to form a new band called Black Honey. So I was interested in catching one of their performances.
Being a local Brighton band, both the band and the audience were up for the gig. So there was a great atmosphere. It helps that the lead singer puts in a full-on gutsy swaggering performance. Singing and squealing her way through indie with a popularist sound. In some ways there’s some similarity between them and Wolf Alice. Both put on excellent live shows. Definitely worth watching.
The final band at this venue were PINS. I’ve seen them before. As before, this was a solid performance. The material from the new album sounding great. The boys from Drendge were also there supporting their friends.
With the programme starting to wind down. On my way back into the centre of town to grab some late night drinks, I dropped by Komedia to see who was still playing. I think it was a band called Mt. Wolf. I stayed for a few songs, but there wasn’t enough in their performance to keep me from grabbing a few pints.
Unlike a rather decent Day 1, Day 2 proved to be a less successful day. Boro were in the play-off semi finals and football takes priority over music. So I knew I’d be dropping out of the music for a few hours in the evening. Unfortunately, this was when some of the bands I wanted to watch were playing. I also made an ill-fated decision to traipse up to the Green Door Store to catch a band who’d who was no longer playing.
I managed to grab some music though. In the afternoon, Forever Pavot, Spring King and Loris didn’t really do much for me. But I was rather bewitched by the performance of the lead singer of Fable. The Xcerts also sounded pretty good. But I only caught the tail end of their last song. So should reserve judgement.
The evening was about football. But I wanted to try and catch at least some of Bully’s set who’d been recommended to me. They sound pretty good as did The Garden who played before them. After the football, everywhere seemed to be busy. So I bounced around the a few of the quieter venues before finished the evening with a ‘banker’, Shopping, who played a great bouncy set to finish off my evening.
I had quiet a lot of bands I’d like to see on Day 3. Some though were playing the more popular venues and I don’t think it’s worth queuing. Top of my ‘probably won’t see list’ was the Slaves who I’ve seen before but wanted to catch again. But they were playing the Corn Exchange which always seems to have long queues outside. So I planned a day that would leave me near the venue around the time they were playing.
Starting the day early, I managed to catch a set from Pinkshinyultrablast. It was kind of spoilt by technical issues. But from what I saw, they’re worth catching in a better surrounding. I also caught the Crows play an energetic early afternoon set to a fairly empty room. But you’ve got to hand it to bands who try and put on a show, no matter how big the audience is. I also managed to catch Tuff Love, a band I seem to keep missing. Although the venue wasn’t ideal. Again, there was enough in their performance to merit further investigations.
One band that I’d been looking forward to catching after being enthralled by their excellent album, was Virginia wing. Unfortunately, this band pissed me off. The venue was running late because they kept faffing around setting up. When will bands learn that if you’re carrying around a big box of cables, you’ve got too much stuff on stage.
However, I can take late running sound checks. What I can’t abide is the band when asked if they were ready to go on (20 minutes late), they said no, they needed a five minute ‘break’ to get a drink. FFS, you’re playing a multi-venue festival. There’s other bands to see. So in the end, all I heard from Virginia Wing was their sound check. My original plan was to catch 15 minutes of their on-time set and then head off to try and catch the Slaves. So with the Slaves starting in 10 minutes, I decided Virginia Wing had been given enough opportunity to play to me and headed off. If this is the band’s attitude, in future, I’m not going out of my way to pay to see any of their performances.
Unfortunately, the delays meant that the Corn Exchange was at capacity. So I headed down to the sea wall venues catching set from an okay Menace Beach, a thunderous an enjoyable set from Picturebooks at the Hub and Spector who played a lot of new material rather meant their set was a bit more subdued than I expected. To round off the festival, I kept it safe and headed to see Saint Agnes play probably the best set I’ve seen from them. They’re really starting to impress me. They just seem to be getting stronger and strong with every gig.
So that was it. Three days of music. Some good, some bad, some brilliant. But all in all, for £45, it’s a pretty decent little festival