A-Z of The Great Escape Festival

16 05 2011

With over 300 new bands showcased in 30 venues across Brighton, The Great Escape festival is like Camden Crawl, only with more seagulls. And one and a half more piers. Here are 26 alphabetical mini reviews from the gig-fest by the sea…

Apes, Fight Like. If Florence & The Machine had decided to add synths instead of harps, and a punky attitude instead of a formula for chart topping success then they’d still only be half as good as Fight Like Apes.

Brothers and Bones. After waiting through the abomination that was ‘Trials’ (who were doing a bad impression of an early 2000 college band), Brothers and Bones brought bongos and bluesy rock to a packed Komedia on Friday lunchtime. Toes were tapped, heads were nodded and clapping ensued.

Concorde 2. A cracking venue that didn’t feature in my weekend purely for the fact that it’s just to far away from everything (apart from the nudist beach).

D/R/U/G/S. And not the recreational kind. Don’t be fooled by the quirky forward slashes kids, drugs really are bad.

Experience. Only a wise old festival head will know that you’re better off sticking close to your venue or gigs of choice, thus maximising the time spent watching music and minimising the time spent being turned away from capacity shows. As a second year veteran, last years disappointments were vital to this years resounding gig watching success.

Frankie and The Heartstrings. Not even sound issues could stop F&TH cementing themselves as my favourite band of the weekend. Lead singer Frankie performed the second half of the set from the lofty heights of the bar in front of the singing, dancing masses. And after that show, lofty heights is something the Sunderland five-piece better get used too.

Guest, Special. Despite rumours of a Snoop Dogg gig, there was nothing to rival last years surprise Cribs show.

Heartbreaks, The. When the Heartbreaks last played Brighton it was in front of a handful of punters on the night of the X Factor final. On this occasion TV viewing figures deprived them of a larger crowd, but this time there were no such distractions. “Elegant British pop to be proud of” is how the guide book described them, and boy did they live up to the hype.

In Flight Safety. Didn’t see them, but it’s a good name right? And a more than acceptable review for ‘I’.

Jezabels, The. They played four shows over the three days, each one of them a resounding and packed out success. The futures bright.

Katy B. A combination of good timing and savvy queuing meant that I got to see one of the weekend’s big names. Once I got inside, the bass line shook the Corn Exchange to the ground and Katy B showed everyone why she’s one of 2011’s biggest stars. Oh and ‘On A Mission’ – TUNE.

Lucy Rose. The elfin-esq singer songwriter has added a backing band to her phenomenal voice and heartfelt lyrics. The 12.30 slot in Komedia didn’t do her talent justice.

Mean Poppa Lean. Stripped back acoustics and a man down, Brighton based Mean Poppa Lean didn’t disappoint. Stage presence and catchy rhythms – local boys done good.

Newcastle Brown Ale. My tipple of choice. And what a bad choice it was come Friday morning.

Open Air. Three days spent in dark, low ceilinged venues could have started to become tiresome. But in true festival fashion, many of the surprise an impromptu gigs took place in the May sunshine – and the festival is all the better for it.

Phone Signal. A seemingly permanent feature of TGE was that none of the venues had any phone signal, particularly those on the seafront. Difficult to keep in touch with fellow gig goers, but it did save my twitter followers from a host of drunken tweets.

Queueing. Ahhh the ever present problem. There were some hefty queues, particularly at the bigger venues but the brilliance of TGE is that there’s always a venue with space just round the corner.

Relentless. Hosts of the open air gigs at festival HQ, the free caffeine packed drinks only added to the wealth of the musical talent on offer. Shameless promotion, yes. But good music to go with it.

Seaside, The. They both have plenty of gigs, lots of new bands and a whole load of drunk music fans, but one thing that Glastonbury doesn’t have is the Great Escape’s sea front setting.

Turner, Frank.

Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings,
About fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,
And help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.
After all the loving and the losing, the heroes and the pioneers,
The only thing that’s left to do is get another round in at the bar.

Poet of the people doesn’t do it justice.

Unknowns. Brother and Bones, Dog Is Dead, Young Empires, just three of the previously unknown bands (to me) I saw this weekend. Some instantly forgettable, others slotting nicely into my new music collection. This is why I love The Great Escape.

Various Publications. When I asked a music journalist who she wrote for, she replied “Various Publications”. Could that answer have got any more pretentious?

Wristbands. Your key to the city. That is unless there’s a queue.

tXt Service. You’ll have to let have this one. The text service is a vital part of this festival, allowing you to keep up to date with capacity issues and secret gigs (phone signal depending).

Yuck. The ones that got away, dam line up clashes.

Zzzzz. Or lack of. Thank the lord that TGE ends on a Saturday to give you Sunday to recover (and write a mildly amusing blog entry).


Live Review: The Heartbreaks @ The Hope, Brighton

12 12 2010

Competing with the X Factor final isn’t a small task, but it’s the task that lay ahead of The Heartbreaks on a bitter Brighton evening in December. The Morecambe four piece were a support band and a few Brighton fans light as they took to the stage – undoubtedly feeling the effects of touring induced illness – but with high levels of anticipation none the less.

With a look that could have seen them easily slot into the cast of ‘This Is England 86’, The Heartbreaks showed exactly why they’ve been compared to their idols The Smiths with a short, sharp set consisting of brilliantly romantic indie pop tinged with a boredom and sadness born from their Northern roots. Their debut single ‘Liar, My Dear’ gets a rousing reception, while newby ‘I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt To Think Of You’ reads, and sounds like it could have been penned by Morrissey himself. When eagerly describing The Heartbreaks to my X Factor favouring friends post gig, I likened them to a British version of ‘The Drums’. And by a British version, I mean that The Heartbreaks have more balls, more guts, and more depth than The Drums ever could have dreamt up on their journey to to sun-kissed chart success.

They didn’t have a scantily clad Rihanna to win the audiences hearts, and they certainly didn’t have millions of pounds to spend on stage production. But while Simon and his elves were wrapping up Christmas number 1, The Heartbreaks were starting out on an entirely different popularity contest. A popularity contest that could see them become one of the hottest indie prospects of 2011. And after that performance – it’s a yes from me.

Live Review: Johnny Borrell & Friends – Audio Brighton 11/09/10

14 09 2010

It’s very difficult to review anything to do with Johnny Borrell without mentioning his tight white jean wearing, Kirsten Dunst dating, chart storming past. To dub him the ‘Marmite’ of front men is almost an understatement, but I went into this gig with the hope that for once he’d let the music do the talking.

The last time I saw Johnny Borrell perform live it was on Razorlight’s arena tour on the back of their second album, so to then see him nervously shuffle on to the tiny, dingy stage in Audio a mere 3 yards away from me was a contrast to say the least.

So with a clean slate and three new members, Johnny Borrell takes to the Audio stage with his (currently un-named) new band – comprising of a long haired grungy lead guitarist, a hippy bassist and a drummer with dashing boy band good looks. With minimal banter, a visibly nervous Borrell dives straight in a short, but energetic set which includes all new songs and a slight shift in direction from his Razorlight past. The base line has more funk, the lead guitar has more bite and refreshingly Borrell looks like he’s got his hunger back. Jolting his alarmingly skinny frame around the stage to the slightly rockier new sound, he interacts with his band mates and even cracks a smile at one point.

Lyrically its a shift away from the ‘night out/morning after’ style of early Razorlight, with more of an ‘us against the world mentality’ – a real reflection of Borrell’s journey these past few months and a rousing rallying call to the battles that lie ahead.

As quickly as they arrived, Johnny and his new band mates were gone. What they left behind was a set of tight, energetic rock songs and a swarm of happy punters. While Johnny Borrell & Friends weren’t the headline act tonight, it’s in his nature to steal the headlines, and on this evidence it doesn’t look like he’ll be playing these type of venues for long.

View From The Football League

9 05 2010

This is the view from the (uncovered) away end at Brighton’s Withdean Stadium from where I paid £20 to watch (or rather squinted to see) Brighton & Hove Albion V Yeovil Town on a drizzly Saturday afternoon.
The worst away view in the country? Definitely. Is the football league and its fans brilliant? Without doubt.

Live Review: The Automatic – Audio, Brighton 27/03/10

28 03 2010

The last time this reviewer saw the Automatic live it was June 2006 and the Welsh four piece were ending a frantic 18 months of touring with a first album closing, homecoming gig in the heart of the valleys. Fast forward four years and The Automatic take to the stage Audio stage with a change of personnel (yelping keyboardist Pennie replaced by former Yourcodenameis:milo man Paul Mullen after the first album), and a recently released third record in tow.

Opening with latest single ‘Interstate’, the Automatic power through a set heavy with new album material, vocal harmonies and powerful guitars sounding more mature, and more alive than they ever have. Of course, the old material is greeted by the biggest cheers – ‘Raoul‘, ‘That’s What She Said’ and ‘Recover’ have been slyly reworked without losing their sing-a-long brilliance – but even the lads themselves don‘t seem to mind. Closing the triumphant set with powerhouse anthem ‘Steve McQueen’ wearing large rubber animal heads, even a bear, a horse, a pig and a penguin can’t hide the band from the adulation of the Brighton crowd.

The Automatic have come along way since the first album boom of 2006, buoyed by the recording and self-release of their third album, they’re a tighter, louder and dare I say it, a better band than they’ve ever been. To show you just how far they’ve come, I nearly made it the whole review without mentioning that song.

New album ‘Tear The Signs Down’ is available now.

NME Awards Tour – Brighton Dome 15/2/10

17 02 2010

The NME Awards Tour isn’t just any tour, it’s one of the prestigious tours in British music. A launch pad for some of the best artists of the last decade, these tours are often the last chance many of us get to rub shoulders with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and Bloc Party before they shoot to arena-sized super stardom. So it goes without saying that as the doors of the Brighton Dome swung open I was eagerly awaiting the class of 2010.

Almost a year to the day since Florence Welch and her machine sprung onto the stage bound for the top (Florence actually picked up a Brit award the very next evening), The Drums took the highly coveted opening slot. If topping every ‘2010 ones to watch’ list had pilled on the pressure then the boys from New York didn’t let it show. Flying through a 7 song set, a delightful combination of corking tunes (notably ‘Don’t Be A Jerk, Johnny‘) and indie-oddball charm they whipped the ever growing crowd in to a frenzy. Closing with crowd favourite ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ the Drums leave on wave of euphoria safe in the knowledge that they can add Brighton to their list ’town’s conquered’ as they make their way to the top.

Of the three support acts, The Big Pink (you know, “those girls fall like dominooooos”) were the ones backed by a fair chunk of mainstream radio playlist action. But all that did was boost them way too high in my estimations. Right from the off the wall of synth-based noise began, over powering everything in its wake, continuing without pausing for breath right to the opening bars of set finale ‘Dominos’. Their lyrics unrecognisable, the band (lead singer aside) looking like a bunch of grumpy, grungy teenagers and the crowd looking increasingly uninterested (again, until Dominos kicked in). Maybe it was the sound system, maybe it was an off night, maybe I just didn’t ’get it’ but I was left feeling that The Big Pink and their hit tune have much more in common with their pizza-selling name sake. On the surface you may think you want a slice, but as soon as it’s over you’ll be left feeling stuffed and unsatisfied.

Reviewing Bombay Bicycle Club without mentioning how young they look, is like mentioning Pete Doherty without the drug scandal, but as the third band of the evening hit the Dome I’m struck by how the base player would look more at home in the playground that on tour. But don’t let their boyish looks fool you, the London boys are seriously good. While ‘Evening/Morning’ may well steal the award for anthem of the night, the stand out thing about Bombay Bicycle Club is how they’re a band who visibly enjoy every second on stage (they even finish the night with an impromptu banjo jam at the front of the venue). And they’re not the only ones, the Brighton crowd join them in a smile-a-thon from start to finish that ensures the evening is set for a grand the finale.

Proving in 2009, along with The Horrors and Noah And The Whale, that the ‘difficult second album’ really isn’t that difficult, headliners The Maccabees take to their hometown stage like they’ve been working to this moment their whole lives. Backed by a three piece brass section, the boys a different proposition to the band we fell in love with in mid 2007 – they’re louder, they’re sharper and they’ve matured into a impressive live act. They haven’t lost any of their lovable charm (as a stunning rendition of ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ proves), but they just seem more comfortable in their own skin. After a triumphant set that includes new album greats like ‘No Kind Words’ alongside a beefier crowd favourite ’Precious Time’ , there isn’t a soul in the house who isn’t wowed by the group who formed just a few short yards up the road.

As the final notes of ’Love You Better’ float into the night sky, Orlando beams “Even you guys in the seats at the top are stood up, it means so much to us to know that you‘re all having a good time“. Well Orlando, if tonight‘s performance is anything to go by, you boys are a shining example of how the nice guys don’t always finish last.