It’s rare that we review anything here on The Recommender, choosing to preview most things instead. This is so we can keep things positive and remove the pressures involved in reviewing shows, bands and releases that turn out to be rubbish. However, The Great Escape Festival is such a special event for us, with so many impressive new bands arriving in our home city, alongside the generous helping of unique and memorable experiences, it’s more a case of – where to start!?
We will run through the shows we witnessed from each of the three days and try to include some of the various anecdotal moments too…well, if we can remember them all. It was quite a messy affair and the hangover has refused to budge for two days now. Suffice to say, with a couple of Press Accredited passes in hand, we were once again fully able to enjoy this spectacular spectacle, with all the blindingly good experiences it’s able to throw up.
Having decided to co-host The Recommender’s first ever Great Escape party, alongside the Brighton Source magazine, on the opening night of this year’s festival, we were immediately launched into the weekend with a million things to organise. Starting the whole event by standing in a lengthy queue for our press passes meant that we were late for the start of the band’s soundchecks for our party. Not the ideal way to begin, but Source legend, (The) James Kendall, stepped in to cover until we got to the venue to help.
The sun was beaming broadly and the first pint of many was poured. As we sipped our beers we contemplated that drinking this early in the day probably isn’t a great idea when standing at the start of what will be a three day set of Leo Sayers (cockney rhyming slang = an all dayer). Pope Joan were already there setting up, with Foreign Office arriving soon after. Mirrors followed and The Agitator hovered around. Quite a star-studded bar for 5pm on the first day!
We were aware that time was ticking closer to the doors officially opening at 9pm and already the soundchecks were falling way behind. King Charles arrived last and we all concluded that there simply wasn’t going to be enough time to soundcheck them before their earlier gig that day, at The Queens Hotel. Like an alcoholic ostrich ignoring the problems we continued to bury ourselves into yet more pints, with Battery Powered DJ (and Recommender contributor), Matt Allfrey, joining me and the delectable Geogre (Poundance) Nunn. Neither of them are known for their sobriety. Gulp.
The bar was open during the day, even though we officially started at 9pm, so during the soundchecks you had this strange set up where people were arriving and listening to bands rattle out thirty seconds of a tune, before stopping and shouting and pointing at the sound engineers. It didn’t stop the crowd actually applauding Foreign Office though. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen people clap a soundcheck. Talking of firsts, it was time for me to head over to the first show of the evening, Crystal Fighters, at Digital. We may have had responsibilities to our own party, but surely we could sneak off to catch a band or two, right?
EXPERIENCE – Note to self: Must not forget to eat during the Great Escape weekend. One rapid Italian bite later we were around the corner at the excellent beach-fronted club, Digital. With Brighton’s best soundsystem, large stage and larger dancefloor, alongside some fantastic lighting, controlled by our friend Tom, it felt the perfect set up to watch our first show of the weekend. We got right to the very front, as with a photography pass in hand, we were able to enjoy that space between the packed crowd and stage. Crystal Fighters walked onto the stage in complete darkness as the crowd spotted them and began screaming. Boom! The strobe started as they launched into their high energy set. One of them already had his top off as he bashed those Spanish wooden planks that are so synonymous with their sound. With them all having long hair and constantly headbanging, it has a rocking, metal feel to the show, but rest assured this is octane-fuelled dance music at it’s wildest. The crowd responded as we looked back to witness carnage, fists pumping and broad smiles aplenty. As much as their track I Love London ruled the set, it had me thinking – I love Brighton! We grabbed our photos and headed out to run back to our own party before anyone told me off. The perfect start. Phew!
HIGHLIGHT TRACK: I LOVE LONDON
EXPERIENCE – Now back at our party, we realised that the venue was absolutely rammed. We wedged our way to the stage area and got talking to James and Ally from Mirrors. We spoke about how we had seen their first ever gig at last year’s Great Escape, so it felt fitting to have them play our event. They seem relaxed, the crowd was buzzing and well oiled by this point, so all was well. As the lights went down and those first few synth bars of Fear Of Drowning started on the empty stage the crowd reacted with the expected cheers and clapping. Mirrors walked on in their dark suits, looking the sharpest dressed people in the building and burst through a majestic set. Frontman James has grown into a much more complete and confident frontman, even going down onto his knees, James Brown-style, at one point. It was particularly enjoyable seeing a band that had clearly evolved from last year’s showcase. All the hard, grafting efforts from the team involved in the run up to this gig felt worthwhile. Perfection.
HIGHLIGHT TRACK: FEAR OF DROWNING
EXPERIENCE – This band are the least experienced on show tonight, still without full management, agent or label, but we fully expect that to change in the near future. Tonight’s performance was yet another example of a band with a packed bag of tunes, ready for the pop charts. Hassle free to deal with, punctual for soundchecks, positive and appreciative. Everything you need from bands as a promoter. Perhaps it’s once you throw managers, agents and labels in the mix that things suddenly get complicated? Just. Saying. The crowd responded well, perhaps knowing less about this band than the others, which meant that this was a true case of ‘recommending’. Tonight our suggesting skills were clearly on form, as people enjoyed it, dancing and smiling as they watched. The set was tight and the atmosphere was buzzing like a stomping house party. There’s something awesome about gigs where the crowd is packed and only about one yard from the lead singer.
HIGHLIGHT TRACK: VOICES
EXPERIENCE – You simply cannot throw a party like this, with five bands on the bill, at minimal costs and not expect a couple of technical issues, right? Right. We should start by saying that our friends Derek and Rob entered the stage to perhaps the most anticipated show of the evening. Those folk in the audience who have never seen them before were salivating over their reputation for being an extraordinary show, whilst those in the crowd that have seen them before were salivating because they knew this was about to go off! They kicked into gear with the usual rolling, breakbeat thump and the otherwise meek and sweet Derek Meins began his rallying call. Political lyrics, along with his usual foot-stomping, jerked dancing and thrashed shaker, accompanied his rasping vocals, that are sung like his head is about to explode. He got through the majority of his set, before the sound problems occurred, so it wasn’t much really, but sadly three microphones died on us for no reason and the set was cut slightly short. Disappointingly, Derek walked off fuming at the sound engineer, but we did what we could. It’s perhaps expected when he gives so much energy, drama and anger into his songs that his emotions were running at full steam. Me and James duly met him outside and sorted out the apology, but this is live music for you. To be honest, it actually left the crowd wanting more, which is definitely no bad thing.
HIGHLIGHT TRACK: GET READY
EXPERIENCE – There was a tap on the shoulder from the bouncer. Apparently there’s been a one-in-one-out policy all night long on the door, but in the queue outside the venue there were eight or nine people claiming to be in one of the bands. We squeezed our way to the front door to check this out. Once outside we were greeted by a patient, but confused King Charles keyboardist, James Barnett. Behind him were the band, including the distinctive Charles himself and a handful of friends, or seeing how good they looked, probably groupies. We laughed and took them all backstage via the side entrance. The giant, but lovely Mitch, who manages the band with James, chatted and helped out, arranging for The Recommender to try to meet with them next week to see the rest of their roster etc. We remembered that there’s going to be a lot of networking done this weekend too. King Charles kicked off, roughly on time, with a performance, and this was a true performance, of, well, royal standards. They looked great, the tunes were as upbeat as they were beautiful and Charles is about as good a guitarist as we’ve ever seen. They totally rocked the crowd, at one point jumping on top of the drums during a guitar solo. We witnessed a full on, proper star of the future going at full tilt tonight. It perfectly suited the hedonistic, drunk party atmosphere. Extraordinary, considering we’d originally booked Velo for this slot, but they pulled out at the last minute, which meant that we had to run around just 24 hours before as we desperately looked for a replacement band. What a substitution it turned out to be! We WILL definitely be booking them again.
HIGHLIGHT TRACK: TIME OF ETERNITY
EXPERIENCE – Last on tonight was Pope Joan, who had been around the venue all evening waiting for their slot and observing one blindingly great performance after another, so there was undoubtedly a bit of pressure by now. At least the crowd were warmed up to boiling point for them. The key thing with this band is that they have an awesome frontman, who comes out of nowhere, performing with his distinctive moustache and quiff. Mark’s ability to punch the words out, almost headbutting the microphone as he sways back and forth, virtually fucking with his guitar as he does so, is an astonishing thing to witness. The pressure to perform evaporated immediately and the crowd responded well to their punked, indie rock tunes. Although pretty much mullered by now, we continued to take photos, of which many more, from the whole weekend, will be posted up on our Flickr site here. Jumping around the small stage, Mark and the band ended the night flawlessly, completing the perfect start to what would prove to be a very memorable weekend. The main problem now was, how can any show top this? We guess that’s precisely what we were aiming for. Mission accomplished. At the party’s close we wandered around to Digital again to meet backstage at the club with their Promotions Manager and good friend of The Recommender, Jonny Cassell. We compared notes on our respective venue’s performances as we walked home. Bed by 4:40am. What a day!
HIGHLIGHT TRACK: DICTATOR