wed 29/06/2022

The Great Escape 2022, Brighton review - sunshine, queues, and thrilling new bands | reviews, news & interviews

The Great Escape 2022, Brighton review - sunshine, queues, and thrilling new bands

The Great Escape 2022, Brighton review - sunshine, queues, and thrilling new bands

theartsdesk's intrepid duo spend a day trawling the multi-venue seaside festival for musical kicks

CVC, taking the lid off the Latest Music BarAll photos © Finetime

My friend George claims to have nightmares about The Great Escape. In them he’s standing in an endless queue, never reaching the front, never entering the venue, and never seeing the band he wants to see. That was his experience the only time he attended, and he consequently reckons The Great Escape is rubbish.

“I’ve been going for years and that’s never happened to me,” I said to him.

“Yeah, well, you’re press, aren’t you,” he responded, with only a smidgeon of bitterness.

“I s’pose so,” I replied, with only a smidgeon of smugness.

But now photographer Finetime and I are standing outside Horatio’s, the pub near the end of Brighton Pier. We have been in the Delegate/VIP queue for 40 minutes and are no nearer to getting in.

“One in, one out,” says the burly doorman in a monotone.

Inside, Audiobooks are playing, the eccentric synth-pop duo we’ve come to see, followed by Spanish punks The Parrots. We arrived nice’n’early too, half an hour before stage time. Bollocks! One point to George. I console myself sulkily with thoughts that I was having rave-bonkers days’n’nights in Horatio’s when all these beard’n’baseball cap London music biz twonks were gametes. Then we give up. It’s a sunny Saturday lunchtime, let’s grab a beer and reconfigure.

uhI want to go to a pub but Finetime pushes for “somewhere on the beach” so he can sit in the sun. This means a packed outdoor chip café right next to a zip wire. The place is run by underpaid, bored teenagers in Poundshop sailors’ hats, lending a forced, mundane jollity unique to British seaside towns. We wait 20 minutes for our ordered beers to be delivered to us. “This is going well,” I say. “Shut up,” says Finetime.

We head around the corner to Revenge. It feels counterintuitive to leave the gorgeous sunny day behind, climb the stairs to this low-lit dry ice den. Usually, it’s one of Brighton’s premier gay clubs, as the music between acts reminds us; Sylvester, Odyssey and their disco ilk. All around are booths, dedicated in neon signage to the likes of RuPaul, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, and the floor is so sugar-gluey from evaporated booze that any quieter moments are filled with the squeak-creaks of shoes sticking and unsticking.

Upon arrival a band with the least Google-friendly name in history are on, London electronic duo uh (pictured above left). I’ll just write that again, in case you missed it – uh. Initially they have sound problems but things quickly settle. Dominic Kennedy is behind a stack of analogue kit, wires everywhere, his sister Fionnuala next to him, with a smaller set up and a mic

tony“This is about a hit woman… or man or person,” she says of the next one. They build songs of increasingly frantic and noisy techno-pop over which she emotes with ferocity, somewhere between Celtic keening and primal scream howling. Wearing a black jacket over a green dress, dark red hair in clips, there is something of the young punk Vivienne Westwood about her. She presses a button and distorts her voice to a helium shriek, as clattering effects batter to a climax.

A guzzle of two pints and the next act is up. This is the one I’ve come to see, Brit-Nigerian singer-producer Tony Njoku (pictured right). He stands in front of a set-up dominated by a bright yellow Studiologic Sledge 2.0 synth, wearing a black tee-shirt and neckerchief. Pressing various pedals, kicking a Moog into action, and providing melodies on a Casio keyboard, he builds tracks over which he sings in a honeyed falsetto.

The appeal of Njoku’s music is the way he combines a light R&B sweetness in the topline, his singing, with the cathartic crunch of “difficult” electronica. It’s an unlikely but effective blend, like a sonic Heston Blumenthal recipe. Time runs out on him, though, and, instead of whatever he has planned, he closes with a shorter number called “The Reset” which is just vocal and piano, a fragile thing showcasing his soul credentials.

Enough hiding out from the sun, though. Down on Marine Parade on the seafront, there’s a purpose-built Great Escape festival enclave on the pebbles, consisting of two large marquee venues, a small outside stage made from a converted Airstream mobile home, and various bars and food venues. Finetime and I grab more beer. 20-year-old rising popster Sycco has one of the marquees rammed. One of her songs sounds quite good but a guy calls us over to a table in the shade. “This is the Rest Your Bones Stage,” he announces.

beachHe is called Peter, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and manages a company that puts new artists in front of large crowds at schools, colleges and military bases across the US. He’s an ex-marine and we blather about parachute jumping (nope, not me!). The way he talks reminds how much of The Great Escape is a conference. He’s on the global circuit, here to do business. The afternoon is warm, the beer is cold, life is good. But then I make a mistake.

I have met and/or interviewed a lot of famous and famous-ish musicians. But when I randomly see someone famous or, more to the point, someone whose work I admire, here’s my rule: only approach them if you have something interesting or useful to say. DO NOT just go up and say, “You’re so-and-so, I like such-and-such that you did.” This just puts the awkward onus on them to bear the whole weight of the conversation and be interested/interesting in return. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and almost certainly a bit of a bore for them.

teleSo, I’m sitting there and I spot Rosa Walton of Let’s Eat Grandma wandering by in a fluffy white coat. Now, she’s not really very famous but I’m a big fan, which means she might as well be. Before I can stop myself I rush up, grab hold of her hand and shake it and – this is embarrassing to write – say something like, “I-saw-you-play-the-other-night… sorry-you-had-technical-issues… I-really-like-your-stuff… I-also-saw-you-play-Glastonbury-2019,” then also shake the hand of the startled-looking fellow at her side. She’s very nice, smiley, says, “Oh, yeah”, and “Thank you,” and that’s about it.

Sweaty, ham-faced 54-year-old bloke goes up to pretty 20-year-old rising alt-pop star and gabbles. Jaysus, someone shoot me, please. I return to the table, realising I’ve broken my own rule and berate myself harshly. There’s swearing. Finetime has a good laugh about it. Quite right too. Peter just seems a bit bemused. Time to catch a band.

The idea of The Great Escape is that during its three days (this is its final day), it showcases rising talent from all around the world. This area of the festival is today dominated by Australia. At the MVT Stage, the Airstream one, a very Aussie host MC tells us that introducing the next act makes him “feel like a proud dad”, and on they come, Melbourne trio Telenova (pictured above left and right).

Frontwoman Angeline Armstrong looks great in a flared bright scarlet suit, white tee-shirt, and gold-rimmed shades, initially playing a cream-coloured acoustic guitar. On each side of her the other two guys play bass and guitar but she’s definitely the point of focus. In front of her huddles of people mass seated and lazing around on the ground, while behind her the panorama of sun-drenched Georgian townhouses high above provides a notable backdrop.

Two things to say about Telenova are (a) they have some delicious songs and (b) that those delicious songs sound almost exactly like prime 1990s Morcheeba (not as in plagiarizing, but the overall sound and feel). With pre-recorded drums and percussion, by the last couple of songs the twangin’ live guitar, the fluid funkin’ bass, and the sheer catchiness of the songs have pulled the crowd to their feet for an easy-going shuffle.

Notable numbers include the memorably melodic “Tranquilize”, the David Lynch-y, dusty tones of “Lost Highway” and, best of all, “Bones”, with its righteous chorus line “I was dreaming of the skies in California while you were loading the gun.” They close with this and even a momentary glitch in the backing track cannot stop its momentum. Tune!

pistAt this point nature calls. The queue is a monster. There are no urinal units just Portaloos. Is this supposed to be about equalling things out between the sexes? All it does it create longer queues for everyone, female, male, and anyone in-between.

Next up on MVT are Pist Idiots (pictured left and below right), a punkin’ pub rock band from suburban Sydney, fronted by uproarious, moustachioed frontman Jack Sniff wearing a Polo Sports shirt and a pair of bright blue rugby shorts. At first it seems very Seventies punk, one line in “Motor Runnin” belligerently shouting, “Shit on me and I’ll shit on you”. During this song Sniff takes off his top, revealing various tattoos, including the word “WINNER” on his right chest.

pist2They also have slower, bluesier numbers such as “Leave It at That”. In fact, there’s big room rock potential beneath the scuzzy lof-fi vibe, redolent in places of The Replacements. Overall, I just liked the way they didn’t say much, just getting on with it, unconcerned and unimpressed that they’re on a beach thousands of miles from home. They sort of seemed like they might as well be in their local bar, or that they’d brought the atmosphere of their local bar with them.

During their set, the constant waft of barbecue from the stalls all about has Finetime and I slavering, so we head back along St James Street (which runs parallel to the seafront) and at an inexpensive Thai restaurant quickly put away a pad thai and a Singha beer each. On the table next to us two young people are having their meal with tap water. It may be for financial reasons but I don’t think so. And they’re too young to be recovering alcoholics. There’s no excuse for it really. The world is going to hell in a handcart. Also, they don’t laugh at a bad joke Finetime makes about his Morrisons store-card just as we’re about to leave.

Next up is Welsh outfit CVC at Latest Music Bar. Their name may not be the most memorable, but they turn out to be a phenomenon. They hail from Church Village, 10 miles northwest of Cardiff, and CVC presumably stands for Church Village Collective or similar rather than being a reference to credit card verification. Word is out. Latest’s basement venue area is backed, and there are queues down the road, but we arrive before they start.

I make a new friend called Nick the Vegan who says he saw them last night.

“What are they like,” I ask.

“They have the humour of the early Beatles,” he suggests.

cvc guitarThey also have cheeky musical flare to an explosive level. One of their two guitarists, white suited, turns up literally as they go on, having been “eating pizza on the beach”. The other guitarist looks thoroughly flamboyant, long-haired in a green velvet jacket, colourful silk neckerchief and long-brimmed fisherman’s hat (pictured left).

Their music is playful rock, but that description denigrates it; they are tight as anything, elastic, both guitarists singing songs but the main vocals being taken by curly-haired frontman Francesco Orsi. They emanate jovial panache, an utter confidence that’s contagious, the entwined dual guitars on “Mademoiselle” an almost-psychedelic raw attack, but elsewhere, paring down to doo wop vocals (for a short song about “smoking all your weed”). They sweep all before them, hooking us in and in and in with a sound that jousts around rollin’ funk, early-Seventies blues-rock, Laurel Canyon harmonies, and a whipcrack musical insouciance.

By the time they reach closer “Docking the Pay”, the place is in uproar, everyone singing along, bellowing so much that the band are allowed an encore, unheard of at The Great Escape. As I bathe in their set it occurs to me that this is why I do this, to be in the presence of something unexpectedly truly great, at its raw beginnings. Of course, catching it all in the studio is another matter and the single version of “Docking the Pay”, their only release as far as I can tell, doesn’t nearly do justice to their live show. I hope they capture that lightning in a bottle. Some bands never do. It would be a huge shame if someone produced them into The Kooks or something.

After the gig we run into our friends Tom and Matt and I can’t stop babbling. I tell anyone who’ll listen that CVC are the best band I’ve seen live this century. In fact, this is an exaggeration brought on by multiple pints of lager and ale, and a few shots of Tuaca, but as I write I can feel in my bones exactly why I said that. CVC live are something else and everyone should go see them as soon as is viably possible.

treeThe four of us head up to Green Door Store, just around the corner from Brighton Station, where we mostly stand around the smoking area comparing notes on festivals and naughty behaviour. But there is time for one more band, the improbably named Treeboy & Arc (pictured right), a Leeds outfit whose half hour set takes no prisoners.

Held down by a motorik rhythm, snapping from the drums and synth, the band is fronted by shaven-headed vocalist-guitarist Ben Morgan and bassist-vocalist James Kay, whose intensity of expression and gurning tongue displays only adds to their visceral performance. Owing a vocal debt to The Fall, they actually remind more, especially in the ballistic industrial Kraut-dub of their closing number, of World Domination Enterprises and, especially, that lost classic “Asbestos Lead Asbestos”. It’s a fearsome racket but rhythmically lean and sound.

With that, Finetime and I decide that nothing can really top they day we’ve had and settle to drinking beer in curious locations that have no place in this review, where inebriated young people involve themselves in shoelace tying competitions.

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