The Great Escape (10-12 May '12, Brighton) // Words: Saam Das
Unfortunately, my experience of The Great Escape was marred by a close family member passing away (thanks for all the messages of support) meaning that I spent much less time in Brighton than otherwise intended. But the time spent proved to be largely enjoyable, an appropriately great escape from my worldly worries. Indeed, I saw terrific performances, most notably from the majestic Oliver Tank and the much hyped HAIM, although failed to make it to any convention talks.
Having spent the opening day of the festival visiting a hospital rather than visiting the seaside, I managed to make it down for all of 90 minutes on Friday before having to head back to London. That was enough time to quickly pop by and pick up my wristband/pass and head to Beyond Retro to catch a St. Lucia instore. Last year, I went to see Dry The River at the very same location. Except they had cancelled 45 minutes before to play a gig elsewhere and no-one told me. So this time, I double checked with staff who scoffed at my concern and assured me the schedule was correct....
Considering St. Lucia's unexplained lack of appearance at the Camden Crawl, I started to get worried when the band were 10 minutes late, and with no sign of them 20 minutes after their stage time, I was expecting Dry The River II: The Return Of AAAAARRRGGGHHH. But then they turned up, and played a nice acoustic set, eschewing their usual synth-pop approach but demonstrating the inherent anthemic songwriting behind the likes of 'Paper Heart' and 'Closer Than This'.
Day two of my festival was the day three of the actual festival, and a lovely day all in all. Getting into Brighton in the sunny late afternoon, a last minute pop-up gig by Oliver Tank made me abandon my meticulous plans. Performing beside the Brighton Wheel, in the dwindling sunshine, he performed a beautiful set of his majestic electronica. My festival experience had peaked almost before it even began.
A relative dearth of acts in the early evening compelled me to join pretty much the rest of the hardcore festival goers at Coalition, where we awaited one Aiden Grimshaw, of former 'X Factor' fame. Arguably there is a certain stigma attached to reality TV acts yet equally, there is a curiosity....factor. Not having seen his TV performances, I was merely intrigued. Grimshaw's angsty electro-pop did not disappoint, and despite a short set, I saw enough to declare he could well be a pop sensation in the making.
Having heard of long queues for hyped acts at this year's fest, I opted to head over early to Audio where one of the many buzzbands of the festival, HAIM, were playing much later in the evening. I had little interest in Novella or Fanzine, the two preceding acts, yet both proved much more palatable than expected.
I'm not normally overly enamoured by lo-fi but the all-girl psychedelic grunge of Novella was surprisingly impressive. Similarly lo-fi, I hadn't realised that Fanzine were incredibly indebted to 'Pinkerton'-era Weezer, which was quite the pleasant surprise - although they were at their best when finishing their set off with an instrumental crescendo, more akin to a post-rock outfit. More of that in the future please.
Now for my main event of HAIM, collection of "three sisters and one mister" from Los Angeles. General consensus is that, along with Grimes, they were the highlight of The Great Escape and I'm no different. Their pottymouthed charisma was exceedingly enjoyable - "Fuck tuning. This is rock and roll!", being just one of their stage banter gems. An incredible mix of folk, blues, rock and RnB.
With work beckoning the next morning, I only had time for one more act. I elected this to be Stealing Sheep, who I had actually planned to see earlier in the day but for Oliver Tank. Their final gig of the day however was as a late replacement for the AWOL Willis Earl Beal, whose cancellation was announced disturbingly late by the festival organisers. Having said that, Life had put up a visible poster on their door noting the cancellation, which was good to see. It was probably for the best that WEB pulled out as that allowed Stealing Sheep to further demonstrate their wonderful psych-folk tunes.
That was a nice end to a rather fraught festival (for my own personal reasons). I'm disappointed that I didn't manage to catch any the festival convention talks, and assuming I make it down next year, I will certainly attend at least one or two. Aside from that, the festival seemed busier than last year - perhaps a good sign in terms of ticket sales (which were, as ever, very reasonably priced) or perhaps suggesting that certain bands should have been booked into much larger venues. Regardless, The Great Escape has yet again proved to be one of the finest multi-venue, city festivals around.
Find more info at escapegreat.com.