The Great Escape is a three-day festival spread across thirty of Brighton’s finest small and medium sized venues attracting hundreds of acts from across the world. It’s now become the opening event of the UK festival season and attracts visitors from all over the country and further afield. David Brown from Louder Than War trawled the streets armed with a map and a timetable and an iPhone for last minute schedule changes and Twitter recommendations. Following on a band-packed Day 1 and a more relaxed Day 2, this is who he saw on the third and final day.
We start Day 3 at the ungodly hour of 11.30am with Del Barber at the Blind Tiger. All’s good though as it’s the Prairie BBQ supported by Manitoba Music, Sasko Music and Alberta Music and there’s free food. So whilst scoffing pulled pork roll, ribs and mac and cheese, we’re treated to the delights of Del Barber. A true storytelling songwriter, he tells tales of late night conversations over whisky with waitresses at late-night diners and a conversation about God with a 65 year old paint store attendant on a Sunday morning, both from last year’s Headwaters album, which finally gets a UK release on June 24. He’s utterly charming and has a formidable voice to back up his stories.
We head off to the Komedia for the first of two shows Dan Croll is playing today. As with so many discoveries this weekend, he’s someone I’ve never heard of before but came highly recommended and rightly so. Despite at one point asking for the laptop to be turned up, he forms part of a five-piece band playing well-structured, well-written and lyrically clever, if not particularly radical, indie-guitar music, which the crowd of younger, hip pretty young things lap up. New single Compliment Your Soul is the highlight of the set and looks cerain to continue his upward trajectory.
I’ve missed Nadine Shah every time she’s played a London gig for the past twelve months. Wiser music journalists than I have championed her for a long time and I’m excited to see her. And with good reason. Seated at her keyboards with guitar, bass and drum backing, she hushes The Haunt with her first note and hooks us all in with that voice. She’s self-depreciating, laughing at herself still wearing her Mum jacket at the end of the first song. She plays current single Dreary Town, the next single To Be A Young Man, and a set of songs from her forthcoming debut album, but it’s the closing duo of self-penned Runaway, which is both dark and threatening and utterly compelling and a solo cover of Cry Me A River, a song that so many alternative artists have butchered, but which she makes her own, that top off one of the highlights of the weekend. Throughout the set you can see how much feeling there is in each and every word she sings. I won’t be missing her again.
It’s then back to the Blind Tiger for Boats, the second time the no band twice rule has been broken, but they’re more than worth it. Despite sunlight beaming through the windows on every side and a little less alcohol in the system, they’re still the most thrilling exuberant completely off-the-wall band I’ve seen this weekend and for a long, long time. The opening track has them shouting about friends turning to shit and there’s a song about bioluminescent bears from their A Fairway Full Of Miners album. Singer Matt with his curls flying across his face is a man possessed, the rest of the band move around the stage swapping instruments. The crowd’s reaction varies from knowing smiles and tapping feet to bemused looks of what the hell is this. We discovered them by chance because we couldn’t get in a venue on Thursday night and that’s the beauty of this festival.
Veering away from the official festival venues for a bit, we head to The Mesmerist for part of the Alternative Escape. The pub is way too small for a band with the expansive sonic landscapes that Embers create. Part Of The Echoes, their single due in July, almost takes the roof off the place with its ferocious, yet compellingly harmonious, assault on the ears. There’s early Verve comparisons floating around but having seen them at that stage in their career, Embers are truly streets ahead in terms of the intensity of what they’re creating. Behind their effacing modesty, you suspect they know just how good they are and how far they can go and that they haven’t even got started yet. It’s a close run thing between them and Boats for the best band of the weekend.
We then head down to Coalition on the seafront for the Swiss all-girl three-piece Velvet Two Stripes, who play guitar, keyboards, drums and electronic drums. They play tracks from their excellent Supernatural EP, which is out in the UK in June. It’s impossible to take your eyes off their guitarist, who looks like she’s impersonating Slash, but doing it with a panache and style that so many fail to do, and she is very very good. So good that she almost takes all the attention away from the other two, who share vocal duties and layer those guitars with other sounds to create a set of brilliant off-kilter rock songs.
Next up are The Strypes at The Dome Studio, a venue that’s clearly about a quarter of the size needed to accommodate everyone who wants to watch them. I still don’t have a firm opinion about them after seeing them. They’re polished, accomplished musicians, even at their tender age and they demonstrate all the classic rock n roll moves, they have the Liam / Noel thing going on between the vocalist and guitarist and they’ve got a knack for writing a catchy tune. However, at points in the set, you feel it’s the same tune and whilst they just about get away with it over half an hour, you wonder if they can stretch it out over an hour long set. You think that if Simon Cowell was going to create an indie-rock band, then they’d look and sound a bit like this. The singer wears shades indoors and is underemployed when the guitarist takes on lead vocals so feels the need to glue an irritating mouth organ to his lips, which doesn’t help with identifying one song from another. For a hype band playing this style of music, it’s surprising that noone’s dancing, but that could be down to the fact they don’t want to be taken out by one of the hundreds of cameras pointing to the stage. But despite all these reservations, they were actually damn good, I think.
The great thing about this festival is the ability to catch up with lots of artists that I’ve wanted to see, but have always had clashes. Another one is Mary Epworth. Her debut album Dream Life is now nearly a year old and this is the first time I’ve seen her. Live, she translates tales of living in the British countryside and fuses it with harmonies that could come from 1960s America and makes it sound like a perfect chilled out wind-down soundtrack to the festival. She’s as charming as she looks, engaging with the crowd requesting songs and her voice grips you and holds you, there’s no clever effects attempted or needed.
Back to random timetabling and twitter, it transpires that Big Wave Riders set at The Prince Albert has been put back to 10.15 and this is a good thing. Indoors, they make far more sense than Thursday’s show on the outdoor stage in the blazing sunshine. Better dressed than they were except for the drummer’s dodgy cap, they look and sound like a band on the top of their game, fusing all their influences to make something that sounds familiar without sounding copied or contrived. Their album Life Less Ordinary is the most accessible record Soliti have released and it blossoms live.
Next up is Teleman, a quick hop across the road to The Green Door Store. I’ve loved their debut single Cristina for ages and saw them perform a couple of songs at the Live From Village Underground recordings a couple of months back, so was quite excited to see them. However, I’m not sure whether it was festival fatigue setting in, the unflattering sound in the venue or the fact I was stood in the middle of a joint hen and stag party, but they disappointed. Most of the set sounded like Cristina, but not quite as good, the songs sounding like they need to be fleshed out from the admittedly very good framework into something more expansive. Hopefully that will come with time and I caught them on a bad night, because that single is one of the best debuts I’ve heard for years.
That was going to it, but I got a recommendation to go and see a band that looked like an indecipherable list of letters at The Blind Tiger. That turned out to be Eye Emma Jedi, which I wish had stayed a list of letters as it’s a dreadful name. Fortunately, the name hides the fact that they’re rather good. You know the drill, Scandanavians with beards and loud guitars make exhilirating, exciting rock music whilst maintaining their identity and not sounding like all the other bearded Scandanavian rock bands. Debut single Places is an absolute monster song, but the other songs from the forthcoming first album sound equally as powerful.
And that’s it. 27 bands playing 31 sets over 3 days, so many bands missed because of schedule clashes, lots of new discoveries, most of them accidental or through word of mouth. You get to sleep in your own bed, you get free food, free CDs, there’s no trouble, the queues generally aren’t insane and you can get your transport here, a hotel for three nights and your ticket for less than the price of a Glastonbury ticket and you get to spend three days in one of the finest, most open cities in the world. I’ll be back next year.