At first sight The Great Escape can be an overwhelming proposition, irrespective of if you’re a newcomer to the event or a regular attendee. The sheer number and diversity of artists playing (over 600 including the festival’s sister event the Alt-Escape) and the multitude of venues, some of which appear new for 2015 but are actually just renamed, is mind-boggling. But for most punters, once they have collected their festival wristband and set off through the seaside streets of (still) the UK’s only city represented by a Green MP, things just fall into place. Some will take the strictly timetabled and disciplined approach to the festival, whilst others will have a more relaxed ‘catch whatever and wherever’ attitude, but however you experience Great Escape, as a new music fan, enjoyment will be something that factors high.
It seemed that sense of being overwhelmed transferred to some of the venue organisers at the start of this years’ festival. Rain had left the carefully fashioned and made for videoing outdoor stage at the Wagner Hall unusable and so Jack Garrett’s morning acoustic gig, filmed for Vevo, had to be moved to a leaking yurt structure, complete with plastic bags positioned over laptops and a request from the director of the shoot for nobody to move whilst Jack performed at the risk of the temporary floor structure wobbling and affecting the camera shoot. A slightly surreal start to the day.
Over at Patterns (formerly Audio) the newly refurbished club and bar was also struggling. Due to start at 12:30, doors eventually opened at 13:30, the smell of fresh paint clearly present, with parts of the venue, particularly the toilets, still resembling a building site; sinks were fashioned from large pieces of plastic guttering and the walls were all bare concrete blockwork. The local authority only signed the place off as safe to use five minutes before doors opened. However once inside, nothing would defeat the music.
A Welsh showcase found Violet Skies giving a perfect demonstration in note perfect singing with smoothly elegant electronic based pop songs such as Patience. The recently Radio 1 playlisted Casi mixed both languages, singing in Welsh and English, as well as musical styles, from soft keyboard based tunes to more traditional and organic sounding pop rock, with a voice that was neatly balanced between power and restraint. Finally Llanelli five piece Cut Ribbons closed the showcase, performing with a mysteriously placed chair right in front of the stage (jokes about the best seat in the house would have been entirely appropriate), and whilst clearly a polished group with a well-defined pop sensibility and a breathless dynamic in their sound, their indie pop was let down by a poor mix which left co-vocalist Anna Griffiths barely audible.
One of the odder venues at Great Escape is the Queens Hotel, with bands playing in a downstairs lobby area of the building rather than a traditional music venue. There we caught two acts from the Dutch showcase. First Pollyana made it possible to forget the grey skies and rain outside, despite some initial technical difficulties with her bandmates guitars. Hooky, melodic songs that mixed elements of pop, rock, and country were the order of the day, all played with a delightful prettiness. In stark contrast tattooed boy-girl duo Tears & Marble played sorrowful ghostly late night electronic atmospherics (even although it was mid-afternoon) including a starkly anguished sounding cover version of Haddaway’s What Is Love.
Over at The Mesmerist good old fashioned indie rock ‘n’ roll was found to be in safe, albeit slightly scruffy hands with The Jacques (streaming below). Clearly influenced by The Libertines ( both lead singers even hollered into the same microphone together at certain points – very reminiscent of Carl and Pete) these floppy fringed youngsters provided the first bouncy indie anthem of the weekend, in a song appropriately titled Weekends. Let’s just hope they learn some lessons from Doherty and co and avoid the drugs.
A few years ago record label XL held a showcase at the Great Escape at the relatively small Red Roaster coffee house, a gig that featured a certain singer called Adele on the bill. If you want a demonstration of how XL has developed and become one of the most important labels in the UK music industry, the large queue that had formed before doors opening outside the brick vaulted under road super club that is Coalition would have given you all the information you needed.
Upwards progression was clearly evident for the first artist on the XL bill as well. Liverpool’s Holly Lapsley Fletcher, who goes just by the name of Låpsley, has come on leaps and bounds since her nervous and somewhat shaky set at the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury last year. Beautifully minimalistic in sound with a new found confidence in her emotional vocal delivery, Låpsley’s hushed tunes combined elements of soul, jazz, club culture, and ambient pop to fully justify why she’s become one of the most hotly tipped artists of the last 12 months. After Låpsley the culture clash sounds of Ibeyi, two twins who fused French, Cuban and Yoruba culture fell oddly flat. Despite their perfect harmonies and experimental sonic vision their set wore thin after a number of songs.
What was needed was an injection of energy and in Patterns Basement Swedish electro-poppers Kate Boy overloaded the audience with adrenalin. Lead singer Kate Akhurst bounced around the stage with a huge smile on her face, posed for selfies with the audience and managed to mix a commercial sensibility with a left of centre coolness. That mix continued with New Zealand’s Broods (pictured below). On record the band might take pop to a somewhat more melancholy place, but in the live environment songs like L.A.F became bona fide bangers, with lead singer Georgia Nott at the centre of it all -the swaying thrusting figurehead. Despite the exhilaration, there was a touch of disappointment as well, the band’s set shortened due to the late opening of the venue. You had to feel for a band that had flown for 30 hours to perform, only to be cut off at their peak.
And so after nearly 14 hours of live music our final destination was back to Wagner Hall, this time the indoor stage, which because of the Vevo connection had been fitted out to look as much like aTV studio than a gig venue. First up was the rock ‘n’ roll rampage of The Bohicas, but it seemed that the majority of the crowd were there for the man who started our day; Jack Garrett (pictured above). Joking with the crowd that he couldn’t believe how many people were in the venue ‘apparently there are lots of people who…aren’t here as well,’ he added, his one man all singing, all playing mix of bassy electronica, guitars and pad hitting rhythms brought day one to a close with some excellence and as one punter requested at the end of his set: “Send us home Jack, send us home.” His job was well done.
The Jacques - Weekends
Further reviews of Friday and Saturday at Great Escape 2015 will follow.