Most promising TGE set of the day: Keston Cobblers’ Club @ Spiegeltent
Best new song of the day: The Maccabees – ‘Spit It Out’ @ Corn Exchange
Best discovery of the day: ZIBRA @ Patterns Downstairs
Best TGE moment of the day: Will Varley’s typically euphoric set @ The Mesmerist
All good things must come to an end. It’s a real shame they can’t all do so like The Great Escape did, with a momentous closing set from The Maccabees. Imagine that – you finish a top notch breakfast, and BAM, ‘Pelican’ starts playing over by the fridge. The Brighton-born rockers wrapped up a third and final day of chaos and brilliance that featured performances from over a hundred acts, including The Cribs, Lonely The Brave, Skepta and Paul Weller. As locals took to the beach on – *News Exclusive* – what might be the first proper day of summer, myself and 20,000 others buried ourselves above and below ground in darkened pubs and venues, to sample some more sparkly-new noise.
I started the day’s proceedings in the downstairs dungeon of Patterns, having been tipped off by the charming chaps from Sunset Sons that their recent support act ZIBRA would be one to watch in the coming months. The four guys exhibited an onstage confidence fit for a bigger venue and a larger crowd, and their sharp, attentive music – think MGMT, The Naked and Famous and The 1975 blended and strained through a Radio 1-friendly sieve – spells promising things to come.
Next up was folk and acoustic singer Charlie Straw in the Unitarian Church, whom I knew next to nothing about but decided to check out because I found his name delightful. Cut from the same hemp as Ben Howard, Charlie has a strong yet warm vocal and a talent for tender songwriting; his closing number in particular was a beautifully composed musical and lyrical expedition into a spread of sounds and spaces, all bound together by a steady hand on a guitar. There’s always something indelibly lonely about a singer songwriter as they leave a stage after a well received set – it’s perhaps that mysterious sadness that draws us to them in these cold, postmodern times. Charlie Straw is an asset to us all.
From the sublime to the sublimer (sub-lemon?) then, as I made an eager trip over to The Mesmerist, the principle venue for The Alternative Escape that acts as TGE’s fringe event. It was here that Will Varley, increasingly distinguished folk troubadour with a guitar and Frank Turner’s stamp of approval on his back, was scheduled to regale an assembly with his just downright brilliant old-fashioned songs for the modern age. It is, I am swiftly realizing, these absolute gems that make The Great Escape such an absorbing festival; sandwiched between acts big and small, electric and acoustic, label-backed and unsigned, are real, genuine artists just trying to peddle their creations in the backstreets of Brighton because they can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s this simple impulse to share that Will captured as he played ‘King For a King’ to a rowdy and emotional audience, all singing out of time and like their lives depended on it. He was typically kind-hearted, good-natured and ridiculously talented and, as is surely true with every show he’s ever played, he left The Mesmerist with many more fans than he went in with.
Things took a lull on this sunny Saturday in Brighton, as I entered The Arch – accidentally by the backstage door, which proved confusing – to catch Spector‘s evening show. After having payed £5.50 for a single Southern Comfort (missing the North supremely by this point) I found a place on a surprisingly empty venue floor and took in an underwhelming set from Fred Macpherson and co. The frontman entered through the crowd to get to the stage, which was embarrassing for us all given how empty the small venue was, and rattled through a pleasant but uninspiring collection of pretty standard indie-pop.
The next performance in what ended up being a folk-heavy day all-round was from another personal firm favourite, Keston Cobblers’ Club, whom I was fortunate enough to interview earlier in the day. As charming onstage as off, the five band members are some of the loveliest and most committed artists you could hope to meet; it’s likely in part down to this charisma that they have amassed a significant support base over four years of touring festivals and releasing exceptional, intelligent indie-folk music. As is their way, they turned a busy Spiegeltent into a dance hall within minutes of taking to the stage, and had calls for more echoing around the circus tent after a typically delightful half-hour set. They’re set to release a second album, Wildfire, next month, and owing by the new material on display at TGE, it’s going to be something special. It’s bands like Keston Cobblers’ Club that are the beating heart of a festival of new music.
In a surprise set, The Maccabees rounded things off in the Corn Exchange, sounding as distinctive and refined as ever. New songs ‘Marks To Prove It’ and ‘Spit It Out’ ooze the confidence of a band that know exactly what they’re doing and where they’re going. It’s going to be an exciting year ahead for the Mercury Prize-nominated Brighton boys, who still know how to reinvent the wheel of indie rock.
We hope you enjoyed our coverage of this year’s The Great Escape. Keep an eye out for further festival coverage in the exciting season ahead.