Wednesday, May 21, 2008

23 Bands in Three Days

One of my favourite things to do for fun is bounce around (or occasionally sit contemplatively) to live music. I'm not really into big stadium concerts at all (not since my rock-chick days of the early nineties anyway) - I prefer the intimacy of pub gigs, especially when it is a fairly un-heard-of band at the start of a promising career. Brighton is a brilliant place to do this, with lots of cool little venues putting on a wide variety of music, catering to all tastes. My regular gig haunts include Komedia, The Greys, Concorde2 and St George's Church in Kemp Town. We even have our own music festival - The Great Escape - which is predominantly about promoting new bands, and takes place in exactly those sorts of little venues all around the city.

Great Escape is more about broadening one's musical horizons than paying homage to existing favourites, and with that in mind, we embarked on our second year of this festival almost completely clueless as to what we'd like to see or even who many of the bands were. It worked out really well, and we saw a total of 23 bands over three days, which is not bad going, especially considering the other half was cursed with toothache (oh how I sympathise) on and off throughout. On the surface, Great Escape looks like a fairly bland indie festival, with bands 'du jour' such as The Wombats and Vampire Weekend topping the bill, but dig a little deeper and you can discover some surprisingly eclectic and esoteric artists. The sheer number of acts on offer means that if you end up at a duff gig, it's no bother to skip across to something better. We did this on a couple of occasions, but on the whole, the standard was pretty high.

One of my favourite moments of the festival was Rum Shebeen (top left), a skiffle/ska band who busked an acoustic set outside Horatio's bar between gigs, proving that you don't need fancy equipment and distortion pedals to make great music. A 'secret' gig from We Are Scientists (above, right) outside audio was massively over-subscribed, but we wangled ourselves a fantastic view from the Amsterdam bar next door. Other highlights included John & Jehn (who delivered an excellent set, despite infuriating sound problems) at the Parlure Spiegeltent, Peter Von Poehl (multi-instrumental Scandy-rock in the Tim Christensen vein - bottom right) at the Old Market, Turning Green (crazy chair-dancing!) at the Albert and Black Mountain (left) at the Old Market. I was gutted that Ant missed this last gig, when the toothache got the better of him and he ducked out before they came on for the headline slot. It would have been right up his street - psychedelic prog rock in the Hawkwind tradition, tightly executed and extremely moshable.

My overall experience of this year's Great Escape was a hugely positive one, but I should mention a couple of downsides. For one thing, they really need to sort out the often misleading, not to mention mis-alphabetised (you sort by surname, fools!), programme, which tried to be clever with (not very) witty copy, but didn't really tell you anything useful about the bands. And once again, there was the problem of those pesky industry types, rudely shouting to their mates (who were often standing right next to them) while the rest of us were trying to actually listen. Why do they even bother to come along? And why doesn't someone deal with them? You wouldn't get away with that level of disturbance at any other performance. Hopefully there won't be anyone like that spoiling Seth Lakeman's gig tonight at the Spiegeltent (part of the Fringe Festival). Fingers crossed, they'll have sorted out the problems with the PA too.

My complete Great Escape 2008 photoset on Flickr:

All photos © Rowan Stanfield - Jaded Lady Photography


  1. Wow, you managed to see more than twice as many bands as we did - that's impressive! I guess we were too lazy to move around much, or too afraid of winding up in yet another queue...

  2. By steering clear of the more mainstream bands, we managed to pretty much avoid queuing entirely. It was such a shame that brilliant gigs like John & Jehn were half empty, when people were standing in line for other, arguably less interesting, acts!


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