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Diary of a Great Escape – Day Three

In the cold light of day, the inevitable festival analysis ensues. With Great Escape it’s a little different. Its structure distances it from the likes of T in the Park and Reading / Leeds and in theory, it works a treat. Yesterday I got up, had a shower and a cooked breakfast and made my way to the bar to see a couple of bands. It’s exactly the lack of a routine like this that puts so many off the ‘traditional festival experience’.

But in my opinion, the festival falls down in a number of other areas that cancel out the bonus of having a clean bonce and a full belly. Some of the venues have got appalling sound quality. Last night I went to see Woodpigeon, a Canadian folk rock band I had been really looking forward to. The Prince Albert venue was packed out, but the sound was shit. The band were visibly annoyed and the set was flat. Having seen them play Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall a few months back I knew they had the potential to be a cracking live act given the tools.

Before that, I had hit the Parlure, inside the Spiegel Tent (Brighton Fringe Festival is on at the moment, too). Again, the sound was appalling. I had gone along to see Deer Tracks but a huge delay meant the venue was two acts behind what it should have been. In a festival like this, scheduling is imperative. Everybody has their own timetable of what they want to see and given the need to move from venue to venue, even the slightest stoppage can have a knock-on effect.

In the end, we were able to catch Swedish band A Sad Day For Puppets. Their set was beset with difficulties. The female lead singer’s voice was completely drowned out by the guitars. It took some heckling from the audience before they changed it. The vacuous arena swallowed up the band – they were doomed from the get-go.

Yesterday’s highlight came early in the day. I was disappointed to find David Kitt had withdrawn from Great Escape because of a throat complaint, but Iain Archer’s acoustic stand-in set was more than adequate. The Reindeer Section alum was just the tonic for a slightly foggy headed Saturday afternoon crowd.

His appearance was part of the Music From Ireland showcase – an independent organisation that are similar to the Scottish Arts Council in nature has arranged for a handful of Irish acts to play eight festivals in the UK and abroad, including TGE and SxSW. Angel Pier were an earnest lot, visibly pleased to be playing and keen to take the opportunity. The lead singer had a mighty impressive vocal range, shooting from a Paul Banks style baritone to an urgent yelp in one verse. They reminded me of We Were Promised Jetpacks and the set was well received by a sizeable Irish contingent.

Fight Like Apes followed them onstage and provided an altogether more leftfield set. It’s a name I had seen bandied about in music press before the show and was pleased to see there was some substance to the hype. As mentioned in the last blog TGE prides itself on showcasing new music and should be commended for doing that relatively successfully. But there is definite room for improvement.

A tip to those thinking of attending next year: get to a venue with a decent line-up and sound setup and stay there.

Diary of a Great Escape – Day Two

I should have known better than to have made even the slightest reference to the sunshine that beamed down on Brighton as I blogged yesterday. For no sooner had I closed up my laptop, the heavens opened. Cue torrential downpours and driving winds. The sea was as choppy as a Karate Kid box-set and I had a hole in my shoe.

So this is a British festival after all.

Whilst waiting to see We Were Promised Jetpacks on the Drowned in Sound stage (the first of a relatively unholy trinity of Scottish bands I had in my sights), we were treated to the spectacle of a policeman chasing a flock of seagulls along the beach, only for a gust of wind to take his hat twenty metres in the opposite direction. Wonder what the gulls had done?

We managed to catch the tail end of Jetpacks’ set which was, as expected, darn fast. The place was jam-packed, not sure whether that was solely down the Jetpacks’ draw or because Marnie Stern and Metric were on after them. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe my focus has been to narrow, but the whole Indian rock n roll thing is not something I’m overly familiar with. Obviously the likes of Ravi Shankar have had an impact on mainstream music, but bar Cornershop and Nitin Sawhney, not many bands have enjoyed much success. It was pleasing, then, to see Indigo Children put on such a good show in the Providence.

They were followed on stage by Wintersleep, who may just be one of my new favourite bands. Halifax, Nova Scotia is where they call home, and whilst I am conscious of constantly bleating on about Canadian music, what the fuck are they putting in the water over there? They’ve been getting hefty airplay on 6 Music and are one to watch.

Since I moved from Edinburgh 4 months back, there’s been a Gulag-sized hole in my life. Since signing a lucrative contract to guarantee them a support slot at every single gig in Auld Reekie,
Broken Records became ingrained in my, and everybody else’s I guess, consciousness. So it was great to see them on the Mojo stage. Even if they did have to borrow a bass drum from Noah and the Whale.

Great Escape bills itself as “Europe’s leading festival for new music”, which is part of the reason why I’ve mostly chosen to avoid the big boys thus far. Faced with a choice of Ben Kweller, Metronomy, Noah and the Whale and Crystal Antlers, I decided to go see Polly Scattergood and FOUND. The former were an average synth pop outfit, fronted by a foxy young blonde and the latter were, as usual, a bunch of scruffy geniuses from Edinburgh.

This morning, I won’t tempt fate by mentioning the weather, but will remember not to wear those shoes. David Kitt is playing the Prince Albert at one, happy days…

Originally written for The Skinny – full review and pics to follow.

Diary of a Great Escape – Day One

UK festival promoters have spent recent years trying to come up with a British counterpart to Austin’s SxSW, but have strangely failed to hit the nail on the head. Camden Crawl, Sauchiehall Crawl, Hinterland, Stag and Dagger et al have all made ripples on the festival calendar, but haven’t quite made the impact you might expect, given Britain’s already thriving pub culture.

The Great Escape’s organisers have gone for an almost wholesale SxSW setup. 300 bands, 34 venues, 3 days, one wristband. So goes the marketing spiel. To complement that, they’ve put on a conference, with speakers ranging through such figures as Colin Greenwood, Peter Jenner and Alexis Petridis scheduled to discuss the future of the music industry.

Frankly, it’s a subject matter I’ve grown tired of. If the future of music is really in doubt, then best make haste and enjoy it while we can, right? Which is what this weekend is going to be about. A line-up that draws a steady, if not spectacular line between fledglings and luminaries should see to that.

Brighton isn’t a big place – about half the size of Edinburgh by my crude estimation, and so getting from venue to venue isn’t a problem. What is an issue, is deciding which bands to see. Things kicked off last night, but the main festivities are left until Friday and Saturday. That said, the first dilemma of the weekend didn’t take too long to emerge.

Evan Dando, he of Lemonheads fame, or The Handsome Family? After taking the time spent queuing for accreditation as an opportunity to thrash out the arguments for and against each, the latter won. For the legendary status Evan Dando and The Lemonheads have acquired in indie circles, I’m still not convinced he’s all that good. Pretty simple then, really.

The Handsome Family were playing on the Mojo Stage in Hove’s Old Market, so you’ll forgive me for being disappointed at the dearth of beards and denim. Not a Saxondale in sight. Phil Alexander was, however, looming large. The Mojo Editor will be compering the stage all weekend and was a little bit pissed.

Snowbird had the duty of warming up the crowd, which they did pretty well. If there’s such thing as a quasi-indie-superduo, then Snowbird is it. They’re made up of The Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde (also the chap behind the marvellous Bella Union Records) and Wisconsin songstress Stephanie Dosen. A Fleet Foxes cover sits nicely in a serene, piano led set.

The Handsome Family completely vindicate my decision to ditch Evan Dando. They bridge the until now undiscovered gap between Brian Blessed and the Silver Jews. And that’s more of a compliment than you might think.

Having trekked all the way out to Hove for the ‘Family, it’s pretty late by the time I make it back into Brighton. The Acorn played Brighton Pavilion Theatre and were a nice way to round off day number one.

The sun is out today and the sizeable Scottish contingent will be on show.

Stay tuned for some feedback…

Pictures to follow…

Written for The Skinny, published periodically through the festival