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Day Two: Friday
Words & Pictures by Ben GC
So, Day 2 of the Great Escape, now this in my opinion is the biggie. Yes, the Saturday as with any last day of festival is the climax and some of the real treats are saved for those ‘headline’ slots, but more often than not, that’s the big players, the (more) established acts and let’s be honest – that’s for bums on seats and is all about the public tickets (plus a little bit of nonsense with separate tickets for the big shows so you can’t even get in with your festival ticket anyway... don’t get me started !) But the Friday, this is the sandwich filling. It’s the right time for everyone to be ready to peak. Brighton and even further afield festival-goers have finished work for the week and are ready to party, a large majority of the delegates and industry folk tend to depart on Saturday so are ready for their last night festivities (as well as the bulk of the convention programme having finished). And, to add extra weight to the proceedings something almost absurd happened by current day standings... the sun was shining! That’s right, it was a corker of an afternoon (5am bedtime the previous night explained where the morning went to) and I was going to squeeze some daytime band action in.
The focus of my attentions on day 2 was Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar (formerly Jam in previous Great Escapes). I like Sticky Mike’s, it’s one of those proper small venues where 100-150 people pack the place, and I’ll be honest, this venue was busy for pretty much the whole festival which meant it was a great place to play. It has a proper darkness to it with just silhouettes of people lurking around – you just know that some of the slightly older, less-cool looking folk at the back are important players who maybe just maybe can make or break your band. That one Guardian journalist with the right thing to say, or that one music-for-TV agent who might just find that nice commercial route. Over the past few years I’ve definitely seen a few of my favourite ever Great Escape bands in that room!
‘Mash Tun corner’
But, as with yesterday, in fact, as with any day of Great Escape ever, I walked around a lot and checked out various things, so my day started with a Bloody Mary (again, see yesterday’s bedtime) at The Mash Tun, so that I could rejoin the great blue-lanyard-wearing army of delegates once again, dream my dreams of music industry fantasy and overhear conversation the likes of “I’ve got 2 of the biggest model agencies in the world fighting over this one...”. Needless to say the scenes around that junction of Jubilee Street, Church street and New Road was a throng of sunshine-loving boozy chit chat, with important looking music dudes and hot looking indie women all vying for pavement space.
With work in mind I headed off to The Hope and took in an act that was part of a Brazilian connection with the Great Escape this year. The room was fairly empty, which suited my hangover in not having to push to the front to take photos. Now, whilst the Great Escape is what it is - the lucky dip of bands - but at the same time astutely informed and well-booked, every year without fail you will see something which quite frankly, no matter how much you try to spin it in your own mind or judge it outside of your own box, is thoroughly, truly, madly and deeply, AWFUL. This was that moment. Anna-Anna, was tipped to be some new force in the weird, whispery, emotive, but angelic soundscape-backed singer/songwriter category – but sadly the singing was not on form and that is a fundamental part of what was required. It also looked like nobody had ever told her how to use the MPC which was indeed her only piece of equipment. Crikey. The good thing about being a photographer is that no-one assumes that you are staying for long anyway, so I did my best ‘Gotta get to the next gig’ snap-snap and headed for the door. There was a look of jealous contempt on the other 30 people’s faces as they too questioned when they could feasibly leave the room (I later heard that she did indeed stop her set early when the room was totally empty after 20 minutes – slightly sad).
Not perturbed by a shocker of a start (experience has shown me that a howler is expected on average once a year, so I was positive about the rest of the day/weekend) I cruised down to the seafront and went to Life which was hosting a range of events for ‘The Alternative Great Escape’ (again, don’t get me started, not even sure why it is called that as it’s still more unheard of bands and they are even listed in the Great Escape programme). Slightly different vibe down there, almost as if delegates and Festival-goers can be more relaxed because they are staring at the sea. Strangers were playing in Life. I like the upstairs of Life for bands and particularly in the daytime as there is a dazzling stream of sunlight in an otherwise underground venue and due to its small size it‘s intimate and loud – two things I like a lot. Strangers were nice - very smart, dressed in black with matching outfits and an electric drum kit added to their whole 80’s vibe.
I absorbed some more seaside chill then headed back into the madness of Mash Tun corner, which was by now basking in sunshine and host to probably a few hundred people – a very Saturday scene for a Friday indeed! Helped no end by the fact that seminal Brighton jazz-hip-hop-funk-soul record label types, Tru Thoughts, were hosting an outdoor party at The Waggon and Horses just across the road with al fresco DJing for the whole neighbourhood to enjoy.
Every day of the Great Escape there’s always this lull in the musical proceedings between 4 and 6pm (ish) so this is when this street drinking and frivolous banter ensues, before the evening programme kicks in we all start the merry dance of the venue relay. I kicked back with a pint and some people watching and even caught a band playing in Jubilee Square at The Great Escape’s Hub.
My evening at Sticky Mike’s was a thoroughly enjoyable one. The 4 bands that I saw throughout the course of the night were all different and really good (mainly because there was no hard rock, which seemed to be making quite an appearance on the whole this year). After an early evening jaunt to Coalition to see Canadians Odonis Odonis (just to get my music head back on), I got ready for Sam Sure and Giacomo back at sticky Mike’s.
It’s always interesting to see a very ’pop’ act like this because it’s nothing I’d ever choose to see, but you remember that the Great Escape is all about new music, no matter which genre. And in fact, this was exactly the kind of act that you could imagine being enjoyed by the female teenage masses and becoming a crossover success. The music was playful, in an R&B vein and the performance by the 3 piece band was assured and entertaining. Sam Sure himself, had the stylings of new wave 80’s front man (I was imediatley thinking of Hurts’ Theo Hutchcraft) but with a big nod towards Topman. This cheeky Essex Boy had the chat, “I’m Sam Sure, spelt like the deodorant, and he’s Giacomo, spelt like the Italian name”, but also had a damn good voice and did more than enough for me to believe they’ll get somewhere.
‘Sam Sure And Giacomo’
Next up was Rich Aucoin at Sticky Mike’s. I only caught a little bit the end of Rich’s set (because prior to that I’d quickly hotfooted it to Coalition to catch obscure Scottish rock affair, The Twilight Sad) but it was enough to know that this was a super-fun guy. Not only was he playing danceable electronica and wearing shorts, but he at one point sung with a lit light bulb in his hand and followed it up by unravelling a huge parachute into the crowd and jumping over the fence to sing one whole tune from the middle of the venue with nobody being able to see him at all. Just your normal everyday kind of gig, right?! I love seeing things that are different from the norm and this was that, so much so that you almost forget about the music – however, I imagine the album is not as exciting as the show. And, breath.
‘The Twilight Sad’
Now, as the festival had bedded in and the several thousand band members of it were all in town doing their bandy things – the timings of acts had deviated from the programme (substantially in some cases) and this can have dire consequences, especially when you have spent at least a pint’s-worth of time figuring out ‘your plan’. However a seasoned gig-hopping pro such as myself had no problem in readjusting my scribbled upon, circled, doodled, totally bastardised programme timetable and managed to catch 3 bands in the gap before my next Sticky Mike’s appointment.
I managed to catch two bands at The Hope. Firstly, LA-based Australian band Red Ink who were brilliant. I’m a big fan of stage presence and charisma (more so than talent perhaps) and these guys had it – the short Jake Shears lookalike front man, had a great voice and the crazy jesticulations down to a tee, even writhing around on the floor at one point. The Hope was packed (as it was all weekend, bar the Anna-Anna mess) and Red Ink provided some cool relief from what had been a ‘heavy’ Friday night down there (rock and some more rock with a smattering of ROCK).
Then I managed to squeeze in the last band of the day at a busy Life, Worship. They were ok. They were doing a fairly generic indie pop thing, they had an MPC (the must-have Great Escape tool of 2012), they looked like nice boys, etc. Then, back to The Hope, where I caught the only hard rock/heavy metal/call-it-what-you-may thing of the whole festival which I actually thoroughly enjoyed. Please welcome to the Great Escape... Wet Nuns! How was I ever going to do anything other than like these guys with a name like that? Yes, they were hard, but the joy of this was that they did as much talking in-between songs as they did playing songs. In fact, they were so drunk that on more than one occasion they pretty much forgot that they were even supposed to be playing songs “Rob... ROB! Come on, we should play a song” said the bare-chested, heavily tattooed, ginger-bearded drummer who may well have been an actual pirate. Rob eventually stopped looking in his pint glass and did once again remember that he was not only at a gig, but actually supposed to be performing at it... “Oh yeah!” Abusing a few members of the audience and anybody from one whole area of the country and a good 5 minute crowd participation conversation about their favourite service stations, all ensured that this was a fun and lively gig. Despite the hammeredness, when they played, THEY PLAYED, and I hate myself already, but, it sounded very good indeed.
Distractions out of the way (and maybe a pint down at the Mash Tun street-scenes central) it was back to Sticky Mike’s for We Have Band. Very intrigued I was about this - a rare commodity in my book, not only a band that I had heard of, but a band that I’d actually HEARD before (all be it briefly and ages ago). Some bands have an air of ‘we’re good’ about them, not in a pretentious way, just in a ‘this is what we do and we’ll do it well’ way. This was that. As they set up and got underway they looked the part, yet they had an unthreatening likeability. They ticked all the boxes: cool black dude, white trucker guy, kooky hot female with drumstick, long hair dude on drums... plus of course MPCs! They win. As a result the sound was right up my street and done excellently. An electro indie disco thing, sometimes dark, sometimes more pop-like – all the time body-moving dancefloor stuff. This goes straight into my good Great Escape memories folder.
‘We Have Band’
Leaving that gig was one of those Great Escape moments. Because gigging at the great Escape is different – everyone is at a venue for a considerably smaller period of time than normal and of course there are people from all over and some more ‘industry’ than other and everyone’s in a rush. There is always a good buzz after a great gig – especially outside the front door, strangers collide and share raised eyebrows and heightened experiences without worrying about being too cool... “that was really good, wasn’t it?”, ”OK, bye now” and off they run.
With a gap before NZCA/Lines I raced back to the street scenes as I’d had a tip-off about a secret act and wasn’t disappointed as it was indeed just starting and it was Riz MC, one of the acts from last night and he was essentially starting a street rave outside the Waggon and Horses and Mash Tun which all 500 people that were present turned their attentions to. After what could’ve been labelled a disappointing showcase the night before, this was about to put Riz on the Great Escape map for 2012. For this area at this time (11pm Friday night) was alive with not only willing dancers but more importantly the Great Escape Industry elite – and Riz ‘killed it’. Everyone was buzzing, none more so than Riz’s label/management team and the man himself, but important journalist were seen scribbling notes, big-players from London’s big hitters were actively making a bee-line to express their delight. Secret unannounced things like this are what makes the Great Escape, many a magic moment has been had with a minute’s notice and a frantic run to some tea shop, roof terrace or shop front to catch a future star shine. Good luck to Riz MC, he played this one well and what a performance – one girl, who had try to leave early on, say (after staying to see it all) “I don’t even like this kind of MCing but that was amazing”.
‘Riz MC Street Rave’
So my last appointment at Sticky Mike’s eventually realised itself and NZCA/Lines hit the spot. Again we had plenty of MPC action. Good. We had some matching shirts action. Good. We had an uplit singer who was definitely getting a bit White Lies about things and they played their own tight, occasionally-dramatic electronica and again proved how this dark little venue is an excellent choice for the excitement and intrigue that a hotly-tipped band can deliver. Yay.
Without further ado, I hung up my camera and took up my place in the Queens Hotel bar chaos. One has to wind down after a hard day’s work don’t you know?!
To see all of my photos from Friday click HERE
Date: Tuesday 29th May 2012