Photos by Jodie Meggs
The Great Escape
Brighton 10th-12th May 2012
The Great Escape Festival has always been a favourite of mine to both attend and cover due to the location as well as the fact that the majority of acts play inside venues that aren’t bogged down with the usual problems you face at outside festivals throughout the British summer. Looking at the gigantic list of all the times and places of the bands performing over the weekend it seemed that a spot of band pruning would be required as I didn’t want to miss anyone great because they were on at the same time as an amusingly named trendy band. As for some of these bands, I think they need to sit down and have an honest and frank conversation with themselves. It’s not funny or clever to take famous actor/musicians name and swap the first letters around, it’s lazy and lame. So please hang you head in shame Com Truise, Chet Faker and Himi Jendrix (Ok I made up the last one but you can see where I’m going with this right?).
The first band I saw after making my merry way along the lanes of the Brighton seafront was School is Cool, a five piece of multi-instrumentalists that juggle between percussion, guitars, bass and violins with ease and planned performance. Their set is tight, well thought out and with their stage personas being both funny and engaging (hopefully on purpose otherwise I’m going to hell) they managed to tick every box that I needed to see from a new unknown band. They played well, had great songs and even managed to up the cool and avant-garde stakes by using the stage to stomp and drum on during a free for all percussion solo involving the whole group.
Finding out early in the day that new indie hopefuls Tribes had pulled out threw a curve ball in the direction of what to do next but with some other great bands lined up an alternative was decided upon. I caught the end of Pond’s set before Eugene McGuinness took the stage with his band. I haven’t seen McGuinness before and was immediately impressed by his command of the stage and strong tight band that rocked through his set never letting up. His new single ‘Shotgun’ was announced and although it’s a definite single it seems strange that McGuinness isn’t a lot bigger and widely known already as he seems to tick every box required in this business. A great set.
Bass Drum of Death helped blow away the cobwebs and although both loud and raw they seemed to go over the same riff and arrangement constantly throughout their set. Reminiscent of a magician showing you a trick, by the 10th time it’s not that impressive. The evening of the first night ended with Bwani Junction, a Scottish four piece who played loud, fast and sung in their own accents which made a nice change from the mid west American twang that has been appearing out of the voice boxes of artists from Belgium, Norway and Sheffield of late.
The Black Belles arrived in Brighton in their full stage attire, they are definitely a Third Man artist and like their mentor Jack White before them, the look and the image of the band is just as important as the music itself. With their jet black hair, makeup, covered only by vintage dresses and Black Fedoras, The Black Belles brought Halloween mixed with vintage Fuzz Blues to Brighton and lifted the bar very high for the rest of the artists who could be heard talking about them long after the show finished. Their set was compiled from songs off their first album including the opener ‘Wishing Well’ and their excellent cover of 60’s garage rock band The Knickerbockers song ‘Lies’. The 3 piece (the 4th member absent this evening for undisclosed reasons) are a well drilled and powerful combo with each taking turns to hold down the groove while the other takes a solo, special kudos to drummer Shelby Lynne as well for her almost demonic treatment of the kit throughout and for putting that ‘Meg White’ female drummer conundrum to rest.
The final day of the festival saw a few great acts playing at venues such as Komedia as well as car parks (King Charles) but it was the double hitter of J.D McPherson and Alabama Shakes that stole the festival for me personally. J.D McPherson plays rock and roll, honest true to the bone rock and roll, from a time when it was still considered the ‘devils music’, a time when it was still called ‘boogie woogie’ and rock ‘n’ roll diners were still a glint in the taxman’s eye. With his Chuck Berry attack on guitar in songs like ‘Fire Bug’ to his bona fide Little Richard primal scream in single ‘North Side Gal’ McPherson led his 4 piece backing band through a fast packed wall shaking ‘across the tracks’ performance that I doubted could be beaten at this festival.
Alabama Shakes have been growing in popularity very quickly of late with everyone from Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner, Bernard Butler and Jack White queuing up to shout their support and love of the group to anyone that will listen. Arriving at the venue ‘Komedia’ I immediately saw the massive queue snaking up the street in support and this dear readers was just the queue for us humble hacks, the actual queue for the fans was double that. It seemed that the arrangers of the festival hadn’t planned for the massive increase in popularity of the band as well as the fact that they would be gracing the cover of NME the week of the festival. After finally getting in I was hit immediately by the sheer power of the group, not in volume but just in vibe and presence on stage. It’s very easy to make obvious comparisons to Janis Joplin, Lorraine Ellison and even Otis Redding as lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard tears through the songs with a voice full of honesty and true emotion but it’s the cradle of her band that shows the true greatness of the music. This is a group where the musicians aren’t looking for the spotlight; they are old school players that are there to make sure the music and the singer sound as great as they can with no ego trip or guitar pyrotechnics involved. The set included single ‘Hold On’ as well as ‘Heavy Chevy’, ‘I Found You’ and the soul stirring ‘You Ain’t Alone’ (from their ‘Boys & Girls’ debut album), the later which pushed the gig over the edge from being a ‘set’ to ‘standout performance’. This summer real music is making a massive comeback and Alabama Shakes will be leading the charge.