Monday, May 24, 2010

The Fifth Great Escape Festival, Brighton 2010

We've been going to Brighton's own Great Escape festival ever since it started back in 2006. It's been a brilliant way to keep up with all the latest breakthrough bands and pack in a load of gigs early on in the year without having to rough it in a tent. Not that I mind roughing it in a tent one bit, but the prospect of sleeping in his own bed means that Ant will join me a lot more willingly. Some of the excellent bands that we first discovered at previous Great Escapes include Foals, GaBLĂ©, zZz, The Low Anthem (wow, that was an amazing gig), John & Jehn, Black Mountain and Benni Hemm Hemm to name but a few.

This year's Great Escape festival was, I am sad to report, something of a disappointment. Our overall enjoyment was somewhat hindered by Ant's unfortunately timed man-flu attack, but regardless of that, I felt it was a less than inspiring line-up. After an excellent start with so-French-it-hurts electro-cheese-meisters Chateau Marmont, we seemed to wander from gig to gig, struggling to tell the difference between a string of identikit babyfaced Sixth Form Indie bands with only a single melody between them. It wasn't until Saturday that things started to improve and the festival really redeemed itself for me.

An Emerald City

Braving the seedy environs of the Freebutt to see The Bewitched Hands on the Top of Our Heads on Saturday afternoon, I finally felt like I was onto something a bit different. Jangly psychedelic retro-pop with the occasional touch of Arcade Fire urgency, it was a breath of fresh air after all the bland Indie crap. Later that evening in the atmospheric setting of the Basement, we swayed along appreciatively to the pleasing Bolly-prog sounds of Kiwi newbies An Emerald City; I must give a special mention to the bassist whose multipurpose cape-come-guitar-strap was a visual highlight of the festival. These were followed on stage by the equally esoteric but slightly less versatile antipodeans Bridezilla, who took a while to get going but really rocked out towards the end when the free-jazz style fiddle and sax element really came into its own.

Trembling Bells

From the Basement we strolled over to the Pavilion Theatre (why is it always so hot in there?) to catch the excellent Trembling Bells (who I first discovered on Freakzone) and couldn't help but smile at the conspicuous absence of hipsters in attendance - a most unusual situation for the UK's most skinny-jeaned, wayfarered festival. Presumably it's not cool to like Folk music and Trembling Bells are undeniably Folk, carrying on the tradition of bands like Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band, but with an intriguing 21st Century flourish. It felt somehow fitting to finish the festival in the more familiar company of middle aged men and floaty hippy chicks, so we called it a night after that and left the clubbing and after-parties to the young-uns.

Although I shan't be living in Brighton come next May (more on that later), I expect I'll still come over for Great Escape 2011. 2010's offerings may not have been the best compared to previous years, but at £35 for the three days (with the early-bird ticket price), getting even four or five decent gigs out of it seems like a bargain. And it'll be an excuse to stay in a groovy Brighton B&B, which is not something I've ever done. If you were at the Great Escape this year and had a better experience, let me know - what brilliant bands did I miss? where was all the action? And most importantly, who had the pointiest shoes?

Most of the bands I really liked at the Great Escape Festival don't have commercial recordings available as yet, so you'll have to explore their MySpace pages to get a listen. I've made a little playlist here.
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