Sky Larkin in thetiny Water Margin. Which we do. From the ladies’ toilet we accidentallyrush into thinking it’s the gig venue. After composing ourselves andsauntering casually into the basement, where the gig is actually justfinishing, a straw poll of (two) punters gives the band a cautious twothumbs up. A good start – already a peer review, and we’ve notactually seen a single note played in anger yet.
Much of the Great Escape Festival, based as it around 20 or so venuesspread across a large seaside town, is guesswork, informed judgementas to your fitness levels and sheer luck. Near the seafront, we weighup our chances of getting across town to see The Boxer Rebellion atthe Coalition – then look at our sagging beer belly and realise itwould probably do more harm than good. Instead, a pebble’s hop, skipand a jump across onto the beach and we’re inside Digital, one of thetown’s largest – but by no means best – venues, because of an entry inthe official guide that calls Broken Records (for it is they who areplaying) “The Scottish Arcade Fire“.
While there are a number of issueswith the official guide – see later entry on Ungdomskulen – they’vecome up trumps here. Broken Records are, to all intents and purposes,the Montreal band’s doppelgangers. There’s a large, ginger hairedguitarist. A man wields an accordion dangerously close to the side ofthe stage. Even frontman Jamie Sutherland has the same plain shirt andcentre-parting look of Win Butler. This is all no bad thing – we’rehappily bouncing along to the chamber pop of If Eilert Lovborg WroteA Song when, suddenly, the gypsy violin kicks in and everything goesa little Gogol Bordello, instantly transforming Broken Records frombetter-than-average young pretenders to balls-out brilliance. It’s love, dear reader, and we’ve not even started drinking yet. Sure,there’s the odd moment that they slip back into sounding a little toomuch like Idlewild for comfort – like on slowy Wolves. But overall,we feel like we’ve hit undiscoved paydirt with the first band of theevening.
So it’s a wrench to leave the Scots tying up a tight set to trekacross town to hit the Barfly to see Norwegian post punk racket makersUngdomskulen. “Fucking brilliant!” proclaims the programme. “Fuckingterrible!” screams musicOMH’s suddenly collected collective over the sound of three utterly bonkersScandinavians playing 12-minute death metal solos. We ask for a secondopinion. They agree with us. For a band who have a certain MarsVolta-ish charm on record, their exuberant experimenting doesn’ttransfer well to the stage. We pass perturbed expressions on the wayout.
A hasty injection of music with tunes is in order – and this correspondent risks overegging the pudding (and mixing metaphors) by attempting to catch two up and coming bands at once. The problems forging across a town-wide music festival have already been noted, but there are some bright spots for the lazy journalist here – The Ocean Rooms, a bar-cum restaurant nestling in a particularly insalubrious car park, for example, has two floors of musical goodness running concurrently. Astonishingly there’s no queue, despite the looming presence of Mancunian disco-botherers The Whip, and we slip into the upstairs room to see as-yet-unsigned Leamington Spa four-piece Post War Years. Having recently come off the back of touring with MGMT and Lethal Bizzle, you’d expect a little diversity in their set – and they deliver this in spades. Unfortunately, this diversity extends only to the amount of bleeps, bloops and squees juddering out of a synthesizer the – admittedly cute as a button – lead singer leans over intently. Although their dreamy, jerky pop is reminiscent of both Foals and the late, lamented Clor, it’s delivered in such an insipid way that our attention begins to wander almost as soon as we walk in. Single The Black Morning is atmospheric enough, but we can’t shake the feeling that the band are just another electronic-tinged post punk band swimming in an already overcrowded pool.
Downstairs, however, it’s another story. New Zealand blonde bombshell Ladyhawke is onstage, and the Great Escape’s punters and delegates are partying like it’s… er… 1983. Sounding like Stevie Nicks fronting The Cars, Ladyhawke spins the retro roulette wheel and wins every time – her brand of soft rock and synthesizers is twenty times cooler than most of the jagged electro-punk on display at the rest of the festival. It’s a mark of how distinctive she’s become in her short sojourn in the UK (her first non-festival gig in London was just a few days before the Great Escape kicked off) that the front row is made up entirely of photographers, one who is dressed identically to the singer. During the stick-to-your-brain-like-gum-catchy The Back Of The Van (sample chorus: “You set me on! You set me on! You set me on Fire!”) it’s almost as if Debbie Harry had discovered the fountain of youth, and single Paris Is Burning is as seductive and danceable a hit as you’ll hear this year. That’s how you do it, Post War Years.
It’s getting towards the evening, where the venues begin to fill and gigs are thinner on the ground, so we make haste to Digital to see The Futureheads‘ headlining set. After begging our way in (there are fifty forlorn-looking ticket holders without a hope of getting in outside – a trait that both the Great Escape and the Camden Crawl seem not to want to dispel, much to the chagrin of the people who pay 45 to not see any live music during an evening), we stand between a rock and a fat place and strain to see the Geordie four piece tear through a tightly-drilled but pretty samey set of oldies and tracks lifted from their forthcoming record, This is Not The World. Decent Days and Nights, Area and Beginning Of The Twist are all post-punk thrashes that stand head and shoulders above most, despite their obvious stylistic similarities. New single Radio Heart sounds promising for their new record, but there is little evidence here to suggest that they’ve pushed themselves too hard to produce an album that will confound expectations.
We leave early to try and get to the last few venues with bands on after 11, and immediately encounter the Great Escape’s biggest flaw. With 35-odd venues showcasing over 100 bands in a single evening, you’d have expected there to be an after-hours provision for the thousands of punters cramming onto the streets. You would, however, be wrong. There are only four tiny venues with bands playing between 11 and 1.30am, and one of them has a band that prides itself as “sounding like The Black Crows“. We are firmly turned away from Envelopes at Hector’s House. We try to get into see Brighton folk two piece Peggy Sue And The Pirates at The Hope, and are turned away again (“C’mon mate,” the bouncer replies to our pleading. “It’s only fucking Peggy Sue.”) So, like many more disgruntled punters, we turn homewards, ready to fight another day.–>