The Great Escape took place last month. Mainly a festival focusing on new music , with a few familiar faces thrown in for good measure, it offers the opportunity to go out and discover something new and seek out your favourite new bands. Our writers Chris Van Praag and Martin-John McDonnell took to the festival and had a go at playing talent scout themselves. Here’s what they reported back.
Chris Van Praag – HTF Writer
Brighton. Home to stony beaches, the most pubs per Sqm in the UK and for three days a year – The Great Escape festival. 400 bands over 35 stages.
Much like the City that has been its home for the last 8 years The Great Escape festival is full of youthful exuberance, exciting moments and lots of people. A huge amount of people in fact. 15,000 tickets were available for this years festival, it’s popularity bolstered by an incredible lineup of seasoned artists like Kelis, The Klaxons and the Kaiser Chiefs, to recently lauded new acts like Twin Atlantic and Future Islands and many many exciting fresh faced bands yet to make their mark.
As a local Brightonian, I’ve spent many a year trying to work out the best way to experience TGE. With all 35 stages spread across the city, like most festivals it’s almost impossible to get round everything you want to see, and even if you make it to your chosen gig, There’s the queues. Oh, the queues!
To TGE’s credit, the organisers have over the years built up a great reputation for showcasing exciting new talent and giving seasoned artists the opportunity to play new material to fresh audiences. However, it can be difficult to predict how crowds will react to the lineups and as a result, it can be a surprise how many people are standing in front of you to see that undiscovered gem you thought only you knew about.
So here’s my story of the UK’s equivalent to SXSW. Starting on Thursday of the May bank holiday it can be easy to look on the lineup expecting a slow start. However TGE had other plans. A sneak announcement via text to those subscribing to alerts informed us that a surprise set was expected down at Brighton’s legendary Concorde 2, the furthest venue situated 40 minutes walk down the seafront. Festival goers prepared to go the extra mile were in for a treat with a surprise 45 minute set from the Kaiser Chiefs. The queue started early on the Friday morning with the lucky winners getting to be part of the small crowd to see the chart topping indie heroes. The festival favourites’ showcased a few songs from their latest album ‘Education, Education, Education, War’ including new single ‘Coming Home’, as well as classics ‘Ruby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’. It was a barnstorming set, and goes a long way to show that taking some time out for the BBC hasn’t affected frontman Ricky Wilson’s enthusiasm for what got them where they are today.
Next up, it’s the East Wing, a built for purpose venue which forms part of Brighton’s largest music venue, the Brighton Centre (it’s size making it unusable for an event such as the Great Escape. As a temporary venue it serves as a great stage for giving high profile acts a reliable and comfortable surrounding, but is sorely lacking in organisation when it comes to audience comfort, a poorly stocked bar and confusing queuing system.
I’m here to see Albert Hammond Jr, guitarist for The Strokes who went solo a number of years back and produces garage rock rhythms not too dissimilar to the riffs he composed in the band where he made his name. And he’s an accomplished front man too. Blitzing through a brief 45 minute set, he’s clearly enjoying himself and has some great charisma with the 500 or so punters who’ve come to watch him.
For most, the night is over, but those following the text alerts for surprises and willing to queue were in for a special treat at one of the smallest venues at TGE. Rumours were abound that The Klaxons would be putting on a special set, showcasing some of their new work as well as some old classics. Those prepared to make the journey, and stand to wait for up to 2 hours in cold, weren’t disappointed.
The Klaxons have been working hard on new material but their live prescence in unquestionable. Dressed in gold jackets and all-in-one lycra they get straight into it, with a frantic rendition of ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ from their debut album. There’s a palpable sense of reward in the air with most people looking fairly pleased wih themselves that not only did they take a risk on this secret gig, they also braved some horrendous weather for a brief glimpse at one of the UK’s most lauded bands of recent years. After winning the Mercury Music Prize in 2007, their form took a slight dip with their second album and they’re set to release their third, ‘Love Frequency’ on June 16th. Their set is a mix of all 3 albums with new single ‘There Is No Other Time’ going down well with the 400 strong crowd. But it’s the tracks from the first album that really hit the mark with the crowd, singing along to ‘Golden Skans’ and final track ‘Magick’. It’s a blistering set, not uncommon for TGE but one which paves the way for a refreshed return to form for one of Britains best.
Friday 9th May
It’s a rare joy when bands you pick out in the planner appear back to back at the same venue, so it’s with great surprise and excitement that on this Friday evening, there’s three appearing at the Brighton Dome.
First up Darlia, recently voted as one of the UK’s most exciting guitar bands, the Blackpool three piece sound (and even look) like Nirvana’s second coming, vocalist Nathan Day’s long bleach blonde hair and crunching guitar regressing us back to a 1994 grunge revival. Darlia are every bit the resurgent 90s rock band, tearing into stand out tracks ‘Napalm’ and ‘Queen of Hearts’ they own the moments between songs with a raw uncompromising silence that captivates the audience even further.
Next up, a band that have drawn a huge amount of attention over the last 12 months, all without even releasing a record. Royal Blood first appeared in the public conscience when Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders wore a Royal Blood T-Shirt during their Glastonbury set last year.
Since then, they’ve appeared on Jools Hollland and been regularly played on BBC Radio 6Music and Zane Lowe’s radio shows. It’s been a surprise rise to stardom for the Brighton duo, on their first return to the coast since it all blew up for them. For what is essentially a 2 piece garage rock band, Royal Blood are loud. I mean REALLY loud. Comprising of Vocalist/Bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, their sound is unlike anything else around at the moment, Kerr’s heavily distorted Bass creating some unimaginable riffs. With only a few track releases to their name, ‘Come On Over’, ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Out Of The Black’ are perhaps the best received, but it’s fantastic to hear the rest of their incredible material is equally as good. Royal Blood look set to have a huge future ahead. If this is a mark of how far they’ve come in a short 12 months, then who knows what the future has in store. Be sure to check them out immediately.
Finally, Pulled Apart By Horses, who have the headline slot, being a more established band than Royal Blood. However they play in front of a depleted crowd, many moving on to other things perhaps due to poor timings or a clash on other stages. It’s a shame, as the frantic set from the Leeds alternative rock outfit is full of energy enthusiasm and some fantastic technical guitar riffs. ‘High Dive, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ and ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’ go down well with a small section even opening up a brief circle pit, despite the dwindling numbers. Make no mistake though, this is a special set. Due to tour soon, their alternative blend of rock will see them on the circuit for some time to come.
Martin-John McDonnell – Indie Editor
Thursday is always the weird day in the Great Escape weekend. After queuing to get your wristband, checking into accommodation and having a well deserved first beer along with what you try and convince yourself is a reasonable meal to get you through the night.
As a result it can often be difficult to find time to see bands until the evening, as was much the case with me. I started my journey at the festival hub, drinking in the sweet soulful voice of Kimberly Anne, alongside other intoxicating liquids of course. While possessing a sickly sweet but soulful voice and enough charm and charisma to warm up a not yet drunk crowd into a sing-a-long, the songs weren’t anything spectacular. The newer songs in her repertoire showed potential so keep an eye out!
Following on were Mispers, who fast became one of my favourite new bands. With an excitable, grinning energy the band launched headfirst into a joyous set of indie that was so varied at times it was hard to shoehorn, from folk to straight up indie rock with diversions around shoegaze and psychedelia influences, these guys have it all. It takes something to get people dancing at 7.30 in the evening, especially in the rather limp setting of the festival hub stage (more a diner and bar with some musicians in the corner than the other way round). The harmonies shone, the guitars dazzled and everyone came out with a smile on their face, job done right?
Next up I took a tip from the guy in my hostel room whom i’d only met 3 hours before. Tove Lo thankfully while not my usual cup of proverbial tea, turned out a set of witty and intelligent pop-indie that couldn’t fail to get even the dullest of crowds bopping along. Probably helped that she’s a bit of a looker too…Just saying.
After a mad dash for nutritional replenishment and some wrong directions, we finally got to the Brighton Centre just in time to see Jimmy Goodwin of The Doves come to the stage. While keeping in style with his day-band, Goodwin’s moonlighting shift also incorporated more dance-like elements reminiscent of pre-Doves project Sub Sub. Atmospherics were key great performance, which was unfortunately let down by poor sound mixing meaning that Jimmy was literally playing blind for the first few songs, with no means of hearing his instrumentation or vocals properly. Eventually he snapped, berating a technician and ranting about the festival’s use of work experience students to deal with on-stage sound. Whether you agreed with the rant or not, it got the sound working again and started a fire that displayed itself in Jimmy’s urgent and at times aggressive edge in his vocals, something not normally seen the Doves singer. This could have been a runaway success of a set if it wasn’t for the early sound issues. Least we got a run-through of ‘The Last Broadcast’ for good measure!
Next up to close the stage was Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes fame. After what seemed like a mammoth wait to set up his band’s disproportionately excessive stage gear (matching speaker cabinets anyone?) for the band’s gigging environment. While Jimmy Goodwin seemed to have something to prove on stage, this came across more as a vanity project. On the upside the set was fun, often with the impression that AHJ was here to have a laugh. On the otherhand though the tracks sounded like scraps left over from failed Strokes session, which probably wasn’t helped by Albert Hammond JR’s pre-disposition to sing in a Julian Casablancas-esque style. Good fun but no substance.
After waking early and queuing for Kaiser Chiefs tickets, I realised upon receiving them that i was recording a session with a band at the time of the concert (they didn’t announce the venue or time until we picked up the ticket). To add insult the session was then cancelled, leaving me stuck. I turned lemons into a negative bank balance by getting a haircut (not entirely relevant I know), before swagging into the Komedia Studio Bar to catch the brilliant Taymir. Hailing from Holland the band play raw Kasabian meets mod style rock and roll. The lead singer carrying off a natural air of confidence and bravado that made the tunes so infectious. Definitely one to check out, they’re even nice guys as I discovered over several pints after finding out they were staying in the same hostel as me.
KIT are another one that needs to be seen to be believed, fun and energetic drum led African beats with electronic augmentation led by two of the best ringleaders possible. The Komedia Studio Bar was once again in full party swing thanks to the Dutch invasion. Definitely another reason to check out showcases wherever possible.
I then rushed off to the recently threatened Blind Tiger (please sign this petition to save it) to catch Charlie Cunningham and Leon T Pearl respectively playing gorgeous ambient based music cantered around their great voices. While hard to describe in many ways , both artists used their mastery of samples and sound effects to create amazing bases over which to play instruments and vocalise over to great effect.
After more sessions and food (check out the amazing Japanese takeaway opposite the Brighton Dome) I headed to Dome Studio to soak in the gorgeous folk twang of Serfina Steer. Little did I know it would bring me infamy as I wound up volunteering to bash around a tambourine bone headedly for her. This brief one song cameo on stage led to me being greeted by several people across the next 24 or so hours, guess I must have left an impression somehow… The real focus however was of course Serfina with her gorgeous voice backed by a splendid sounding harp that made for a great laid back set to enjoy with a pint in one hand.
Next up was the mammoth effort of queuing for secret guests Peace at The Haunt. After what must have been in excess of an hour and a half of queuing and insulting the lucky ones who were on guestlist I managed to get into the venue and catch the final half of Public Access TV‘s set. Straight up Indie Rock and Roll with a slacker vibe, played well and with spirit. While the songs were pretty non-descript the energy the band shed was contagious and lit up a room which in reality were only their to see the special guests.
After sweet talking my way in front of the stage by doing bar runs for the camped photographers Peace came on to a ecstatic outpouring of energy from the crowd, dripping and sweaty by the time opener, new single ‘Money’ concluded. Singer Harry Koisser didn’t have much to say compared to usual, letting the music do the talking to great effect. Running though already established classics like ‘Higher Than The Sun’, ‘Follow Baby’ and a beery sing-a-long of ‘California Daze’, the band peppered the set with tracks from their forthcoming second album. ‘Lost On Me’ and ‘World Pleasure’ were previewed to great response from the adoring crowd. The later closing the set with a bass driven psychedelic groove that will infect all the major festivals this summer. Post set for the second time that night I found myself strangely popular as crazed fans exploited my lanky figure to cajole me into grabbing set-lists from the stage before persuading me to go for the juggernaut and grab a good 30 guitar picks from the mic stands and hand them around like one of Jesus’ disciples. The band being the heavenly sons of god in that poor simile of course.
After waking up late following drinks in the hostel bar with the lovely Taymir the previous night/morning, I ran over to the charming Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar to sample the equally charming delights of Southampton rising stars The Diamond Age. Playing the sort of light, twee and happy indie that seems to have been forgotten since the days of C86, the band delighted with their playful melodies, chiming guitars and happy vibes. While some tracks perhaps fell flat on the early afternoon crowd, the fact they bravely stood out by playing C86 inspired indie made them one of my weekend highlights.
After a long interlude caused by the recording of sessions, and the teatime pause (something that always infuriated me), I finally caught some more music at Komedia Studio Bar courtesy of the lovely New Zealand dream pop duo French For Rabbits. With beautiful haunting vocals and sweeping tremolo led guitar the band charmed over the audience with their between song tales and their dazzling music to match.
Next up was the mad rush to get more Japanese food down my cake hole, followed by another rush to get to The Dome Studio. The Dome Studio’s stage hosted by Mojo was perhaps the best curated stage of the whole festival. With a plethora of Folk artists along with some more quirkier styles of music, there wasn’t a single artist that I saw on that stage across the weekend who fell flat.
Lisa Knapp opened the stage with her quirky but steeply traditional folk. Pairing traditional instruments with loop pedals she charmed the jollied up audience with quirky self penned songs about May based superstitions among other tales of popular folklore. After having a few more people recognise me at the bar for my tambourine antics, You Are Wolf took to the stage and carried on the DIY folk vibe by adding dashes of electronica to the mix alongside her wild, often phonetic, vocal performance.
Arc Iris took to the stage in glitter ball jumpsuits of the likes i’d only thought previously wearable in the Mighty Boosh. They pulled it off though with their outfits perfectly complimenting their outrageously bombastic MGMT meets Queen piano led orgy-like jams. With cabaret vibes and an almost sexual display as the pair wrapped themselves around each other in their efforts to reach the required keys on their trio of keyboard units, the band distilled fun and joy and got the audiences in high spirits.
Closing the stage and my festival experience was a band led by guitar idol and Suede legend Bernard Butler. Trans, also featuring cult hero Jackie McKeown of Yummy Furs and ,more recently, 1990s fame brought their blend of poppy krautrock inspired jams to an expectant crowd. Now, a little note to warn other people not to make my mistake. Never call out to Bernard between songs. I made the mistake of trying to alert Bernard Butler to the piss-poor mixing in which his vocals were barely audible only to be met with the response “Shut up, I know”. You’re welcome Mr Butler! The band struggled with some of the worst sound mixing I’ve heard in a headline set, with Bass, Guitars and Vocals all taking it in turns to be inaudible. The on-stage monitoring couldn’t have been much better with Bernard having to switch sides with Jackie in order to hear himself sing on several occasions.
Fortunately despite their obvious frustrations with the sound, the band were in good spirits and played one of the best sets of the festival with great pop moments in ‘Rocksteady’ and ‘Thinking Of A Friend’ along with epic wig-outs ‘Building No.8’, a Television-esque workout which McKeown described as “like four songs, but it’s actually one”. The guitar improvisation was a key highlight with McKeown holding his own against Butler, who is acknowledged as perhaps the best British guitarist of the 90’s generation. Fun and free in tone and style, the audience lapped up the laid back mastery of the band that soared and burnt slow at the exact right moments in each song, but even afterwards there was still a prevailing sense that it could have been so much better if the guy behind the mixing desk didn’t have ears like Vincent Van Goth.