To an early Great Escape performer caught in a light drizzle performing to a non-existent audience on a stage so makeshift that it was just four stickers on the ground opposite the Theatre Royal, in passing I heard five demoralising yet crucial words: “Do it for the art.”
Brighton, for all its multicultural wonder, is not the most thrilling place at 12:45 on a Thursday afternoon after all, even if it is hosting the start of festival season. Sure, some things are new – posters congratulating the Albion on Premier League promotion, dodgy phone shops flogging fidget spinners, the retail outlet long home to my questionable CD purchasing undergoing a rebirth as Victoria’s Secret, a chap on a bench by the station swearing at the floor with The Sun in his pocket – but the closest anything gets to the traditional brand of summertime debauchery is someone slumped in the doorway next to a bank-turned-Wetherspoon with a two litre bottle of Blackthorn. It was at this point that a man from SoundCloud gave me a bloody delicious marshmallowy ice cream from their branded van, a who’s who of industry folks that I might have emailed once congregated in a queue for the conference portion of it all, and I picked up a wristband from an Airstream trailer in time to completely miss the first of Raye’s three sets of the weekend. In pondering, I decided to take a punt on Crimsons – a band the festival app likened to Jimi Hendrix – as they were on at the first obvious venue I see. Naturally, it’s at capacity, so it’s chicken katsu curry time with Lorde on the radio to plan my next move to. (And yes, to confirm your ridiculous ideas of Brighton, the venue in question was indeed one that sells vegan barbeque from a caravan in the corner of its pub portion. I love this city.)
It was half way through the katsu curry that I realised I may have actually been sitting next to James Hersey, the Viennese singer-songwriter, but on reaching the unassuming room above a pub under the train station I realised the real Hersey is significantly more equipped in the facial hair department and probably spends far less time on WhatsApp pondering which emoji is most appropriate for documenting his noodle bowl. Hersey did indeed remark on mobile phones for a rather aimless segue between tracks from the Pages EP of two weeks prior, and after crossing the fold on the scrawled setlist the more familiar aspects did show through – between recuts from compatriot Filous and the more established behemothic pairing of Dillon Francis and Kygo, ‘Coming Over’ has over 130 million streams on Spotify alone; bittersweet closing track ‘Miss You’ maintains the affable if not entirely distinctive tone – delivered with laidback pulses and gentle shuffles of battered trainers. Two accompanists each took small moments to shine, but it was Hersey’s own enchanting performance (and the sheer indifference of the pub crowd below) that kicked things off with such pleasantry.
Will Joseph Cook
Of all the music media brands taking the opportunity to host a very literal song and dance at The Great Escape, it is Vevo that perhaps is most intense. Afternoons at Wagner Hall saw filmed garden sessions which would have been lovely if it hadn’t been pissing it down all day Thursday. Having scurried down after Hersey’s set to catch the tail-end of Edge tip Will Joseph Cook and been taunted with ‘Take Me Dancing’ echoing around as a member of Sløtface pointed out the clearly-signed back entrance was sealed, it was unfortunate that the remaining spot of shelter ensured a sacrifice of Cook and the gang. Fortunately, each rendition of Sweet Dreamer tracks came delicately and inventively: personal album highlight ‘Treat Me Like A Lover’ sat perfectly between singles ‘Girls Like Me’ and ‘Beach (I Wanna Make You Mine’ with clear harmonies, and opener/closer (because video #content is king) ‘Plastic’ – an outlier on the LP with a more guitar-averse demeanour – was a delight for all and sundry under their Vevo-branded umbrellas.
Cook and I later bumped into each other in the garden. He said I looked wet. He was not wrong. I never got that Vevo umbrella.
One song can be all you need to fall in love with an artist, so it was comforting to hear BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway extolling the virtues of 19-year-old multi-hyphenate Be Charlotte beyond the Radio 1-supported ‘One Drop’ after he finished teasing a tantalising Creative Scotland networking event with deep-fried Mars bars and whisky tasting. Hailing from Dundee, Charlotte Brimner’s website describes her as “one of the most innovative artists in Britain” and she certainly came dressed to match such a bold statement with her combination of neon pink hair and neoner pinker trousers the only moment of the day that really required sunglasses. In her 30 minutes she sung, rapped, commanded, did all of the above from on top of a box, and even brought the whole band onto percussion duties for a track that really tested the Brighthelm Centre’s sense of rhythm in clapping along. The group affair of ‘One Drop’ was indeed the highlight, but her extended acapella portion to the opener carried the most gravitas.
If you ask Sigrid’s keyboardist how their first of two Great Escape shows was, he’ll tell you about having to guard his Mac from a leaky Coalition ceiling. If you ask anyone in attendance to see pop’s next big superstar doing her thoroughly enthralling thing – and especially those who’d appeared early at the Line of Best Fit showcase to get a good spot via a delightful set from Swimming Tapes, Northern Ireland’s harmonic match for Day Wave and Death Cab For Cutie – then you’d probably get something far more ecstatic. From the seismic opening of ‘Go To War’ to the flawless manifesto that is debut single ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe,’ she meditated, roared, balanced, stunned, and most importantly delivered. Her enthusiasm is more infectious than the cold I picked up by not having an umbrella until a 6pm Boots trip. Her writing is passionate. Her delivery is assertive. Her HAIM-esque bass faces are incredible. Her name is one for all your futures.
Last time I saw The Amazons play, it was a two-track acoustic session in a radio studio with an audience of two others. It was gorgeous. To then see them kick things off in the Brighton Centre’s East Wing with frontman Matt Thomson emitting a shout of “Brighton” as if possessed by some smattering of devils before getting engulfed by his own resplendent orange locks was a little jarring, but there’s no doubting how confident and steady they are in doing it. To a capacity hall, their opening tracks (including recent single ‘Black Magic’) did drag a bit in duration however the attitude – even when talking about the show being part of drummer Joe Emmett’s stag do – was of seasoned, swaggering, rock’n’roll-embracing veterans. With the debut album still a week away and venturing more into the singalong territory with the ilk of latest re-release ‘Junk Food Forever,’ their return to Southampton in October will be one to keep a close eye on.
There are times in life when you wonder how exactly things have panned out in the way they did. Standing right next to a speaker almost as tall as me at the rail for Rejjie Snow’s indoor Wagner Hall slot when he kicked off ‘D.R.U.G.S’ (“I got all the drugs / I got all the weed / I got all the blow / Baby, what you need”) with bass so forceful that I could once again taste chicken katsu curry was certainly one of those moments. Inside, I had hoped for it to introduce me to rap shows like see on Twitter, where Migos can be drowned out by the city of Lagos or Travis Scott can perform the same song 14 times and people seem to enjoy it. Considering how many A&Rs, managers, agents, and other officially-labelled conference delegates each Great Escape show hosts, that it didn’t end up that way isn’t really a surprise. At least a chap with symmetrical braided ponytails seemed to be up with every lyric.
Writing about Tom Grennan’s set should have been easy: he walked onto the stage in a mime’s shirt and a Yankee’s trousers, he picked up an acoustic guitar, he started strumming ‘Sweet Hallelujah,’ and my jaw didn’t return to a raised, standard position for at least five minutes. It’s been clear from the get-go that the lad from Bedford can sing a bit – Chase & Status wouldn’t just pluck unknowns for their singles without good reason – but to encounter it in person is really rather astonishing. In my crude, rudimentary notes from the set, each series of squiggles on a song ends in “but WHAT A FUCKING VOICE MY GOD,” such is its impeccable growly nature, and when his band began to pick up the reins for newer material he deployed it well as a radio-friendly element of the experience rather than simply as an incredible centrepiece. Such is its power that nobody could blame him for accepting the shrill of the fire alarm as a challenge, almost goading it on by singing until the building was no more. Ultimately, the only fire present at the Brighthelm Centre was within his soul, warming the journey home to no end.