My Great Escape began by watching Fazerdaze from behind a pillar at the Queen’s Hotel; their pleasant indie guitar pop was a pleasing enough start. Afterwards, Alex sent me a message on WhatsApp: “The Black Lion’s where it’s at this afternoon.” He runs Brighton’s Fat Cat records, so he’s very well informed and had already provided me with a playlist for the day’s events. Alex told me to watch Goat Girl, so when I arrived at the Black Lion and discovered that they were playing at 2:30, I let him know. “I’ll be there in ten minutes!” came his reply. Rich’ joined us there, too.
Goat Girl were great - raw and loud - the crowd who squeezed into the Black Lion loved ‘em, but me and Al’ couldn’t help thinking that the young boys happily jumping around in front of us, spilling their drink over everyone, were peaking a bit early. Sure enough, when we came back a couple of hours later, to watch Dead Pretties, one of the lads had switched from a happy drunk to a darkly depressive alcoholic. Granted, that might have been because someone had punched him in the face. Sigh. But even an act of sadly predictable ABH couldn’t detract from the brilliant, edgy performance of the lead singer of the Dead Pretties. He has the touch of Pete Docherty about him; a few years ago, I tried to see The Libertines at a festival in Hyde Park, where Mr Docherty arrived on stage an hour-and-a-half late and could barely stand up, let alone sing. Note to lead singer of the Dead Pretties - please don’t go down that route. Sadly, I fear he might.
By this time, Phil had joined Rich and me, and we wandered over to The Haunt to watch the Flamingods. They’re probably what would happen if the Tamil Tigers met Asian Dub Foundation and Faithless. If only one of ‘em could sing! In fact, I’d sack whoever came up with the idea of the bass player having his turn mumbling up front. But don’t let that put you off - they’re good! Then came one of my highlights of the festival - Shame. They’re fucking awesome; edgy, ever-so-tight and deafeningly loud! The lead singer managed to create the most wonderfully awkward moment of my festival experience when he took off his top and started fondling his breasts - he has a proper ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude, typified by the dismissive lyric in their single, Tastless: “I like you better when you’re not around.” I liked him better, even though his being around made me a bit uncomfortable.
Afterwards, we wandered over to the Paganini Ballroom, in Brighton’s Old Ship Hotel, via a bag of chips on the sea front. I vaguely remember making, through the chip shop window, what was intended as a friendly yet rude, post-industrial gesture at someone, but I can’t remember actually eating the chips, so I probably shouldn’t have been as affronted as I was when the bouncer at the Paganini told me: “Watch what you’re drinking, mate.” I was moaning to Rich about it, as I stumbled up the stairs and nearly bumped into a young woman on the landing. Somehow, we ended up backstage and later, when I got home, I found a 6Music microphone windshield that I must have decided needed a better home than there; apologies Auntie Beeb - if you need it back, I’ll gladly return it. Back out in the main room, we watched the safe indie rock of Willie J Healey, before enduring a very strange, gurning performance by Aldous Harding. I could have sworn she was singing Hebrew through a Gazoo. Imagine my amazement, the next day, when I found out she’s not from Israel, but New Zealand! Perhaps the bouncer was right, after all, and I was way drunker than I thought.
By this time, Phil had made a tactical retreat, but Rich and I found ourselves in The Arch, where the lead singer of Little Cub spent twenty minutes pointing up and down at the Sound Engineer and then proceeded to look utterly bored by having to perform to the great unwashed. Shame really, ‘cause their New Orderesque sound has potential; if only the front man could be a little less anal about his sound and a little more enthused by performing on stage. His apathy spelt the end for my evening.
I woke up, far too early, feeling rougher than a badger’s backside. I went downstairs, drunk a pint of water and then went back to my bed and slept in fits and starts before having to rush down for breakfast, a shower and a shave before meeting Rich at the Latest Music Bar for Gallops. This was my first festival experience of layers of sampled, looped sounds. What’s more, their guitarist had the most flash set of foot peddles I’ve ever seen. The band made a great sound - a sort of singerless Radiohead meets Steve Hillage. Afterwards, we went to The Marlborough where one of their bar staff tried very hard to help us win a drink. Six free raffle tickets later and, sadly, we had failed, but Rich was the proud owner of a CD of something or other. We then sat through a pleasantish performance by a young female singer with accompanying acoustic guitar. Unfortunately, there were only about three of us there, so when she began covering Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, I wasn’t able to walk out in disgust. Actually, that eventually proved to be a good thing, ‘cause I was able to witness the guitarist’s slides on his e string, which I’ve stolen for a little punkish love song thingy I’ve written about a girl I met on the college campus - the e-minor, slide, f# major transition works really well, I reckon.
ps. I haven’t really met a girl on the college campus.
Then we met Phil and went to the Komedia to listen to Klangstof: “We’re from Amsterdam, and we’re really cool!” Their looped guitar samples meant they sounded vaguely similar to Gallops, albeit a slightly more raucous version. They throw in some Sigur Ros type vocals, too. I liked ‘em a lot, but Rich walked out - not sure if his hangover had kicked in and he needed air, if he found the low, dark ceilings a bit claustrophobic or if he thought Klangstof were shit. Either way, he looked a bit pale when, afterwards, we found him outside, so we went for something to eat in Pompoko. Whereupon, Rich regained his colour.
The evening began back at The Haunt with King Nun followed by more of the Dead Pretties. They sounded fantastic on a proper sound system. Then came HMLTD; they’re hard to describe, but you know those bucket list things that are all the rage amongst Guardian readers? Well, put HMLTD at number seventy-three. Unexplainedly, I found myself up the front, pogoing. What’s more, I think I rediscovered my inner-gay (I had a similar experience at a fancy dress party a few years back, when I turned up in drag, played the part, then found it took me about a week to get out of character). Imagine my disappointment when, later, I learned that HMLTD hadn’t actually found their inner-gay and it was all an act. Ah well. Cabbage came on afterwards. Pretty good, too, but I think the guy on the mixing desk had turned the volume down - he was probably still a bit fazed by the performance of HMLTD.
Then it was on to the East Wing to watch The Districts. Phil and I found ourselves at the front watching the band’s lead run through his pre-show sound check. His corduroy trousers, button down denim shirt and orange baseball cap didn’t fill me full of confidence, but when the show actually started, he morphed into Jimi Hendrix (and wasted the hat). One shouldn’t judge - they were great.
Outside, we met Alex and his A&R girl, Sam. Apparently, she knows the guy who runs The Haunt, so we wandered down there to see if we could get in to see The Charlatans. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around, and with the queue already into the hundreds, we decided, instead, to go for G&Ts in the Waggon and Horses. There, Alex met an industry type who offered to buy us all drinks. I declined, but then Alex told me that he was something to do with Adele (I was a bit drunk by this time, but Hello?), so I shouldn’t worry about the expense of it all. I ordered a double, then stumbled home.
My Saturday began with Hello Moth in the Green Door Store. His silver spandex shirt and a strangely operatic sound check made me wonder if I’d made a correct decision to make an earlyish arrival at the festival. Twenty minutes into layered 80’s synthesisers and bad poetry, and I was pretty confident I hadn’t. When Moth thing announced he was about to do a synth’ free choral piece from the 1700’s, one wag remarked: “You’ve already taken us back thirty years, you may as well go the full three hundred.” Indeed, the whole set felt like entering some laughably weird, androgynous, space-time continuum that you’d really rather not have entered. Thankfully, my afternoon was saved by Youngblood, who were decent. Not least because, unlike Little Cub from a couple of evening’s prior, they looked like they were actually enjoying being on stage. Although, I wish the attractive lead singer hadn’t announced that, after two months on the road, she didn’t have any clean underwear left. Er, thanks, but soiled knickers and a sweaty crotch wasn’t the lunchtime image I wanted, really.
After the trauma of the Green Door Store, I was glad for some fresh air while wandering up to St Mary’s to meet Rich and Phil to watch Breathe Panel, one of Alex’s bands. The church was probably the most reverberant setting in which I’ve ever watched amplified music. It didn’t work for me. Or anyone else for that matter: “Can I get some vocal on my monitor?” the lead singer asked the sound man. “Can we get some over here, too?” joked Alex, sat behind me. If the church is trying to diversify and want to put on more events like that, they might do well to invest in some soft furnishings. And I wonder what HE thinks of the clergy selling cans of Red Stripe?
After a curry, Phil, Rich and I went to Sticky Mikes Frog Bar to watch another of Alex’s bands, but we couldn’t get in, so instead, we strolled over to the Sallis Benney Theatre. To get there, we had to cross the impromptu homeless camp set up outside the Brighton Festival’s Spiegel Tent. “Alright boys?” shouted one of the fellas there. I gave him a big smile. “We’ve got a fire going, and everything!” he beamed. I gave him a thumbs up but decided not to take up the implicit offer to join them fireside. We had bands to watch! Queuing up outside the theatre, I reflected that, actually, rather than “everything!”, they had a fire and not much else, sadly.
I’m trying to build up the courage to drag me and my guitar along to an open mic’, and I jokingly broached the idea of taking my guitar along to that campfire. “They’re probably quite a forgiving audience,” thought Rich. I was unconvinced. “I’ve only got one song so far,” I admitted. “And it includes some lines that are only good for a university crowd.” “Like what?” asked Rich.
We went for coffee on the college campus, We talked about philosophy, But on my mind wasn’t ALBERT CAMUS, Because she wouldn’t come out with me.
“Er, I think you’ll find that’s AlBAIR CaMOO,” said Rich, pretentiously outdoing my pretentiousness, the git. Now, the philosopher who’s not on my mind is Karl Marx, which only just rhymes, but fuck it.
Once we got inside the theatre, we caught the end of Lowly. They sounded excellent; the drummer, in particular, was fantastic. Unfortunately, the act after, Pavo Pavo, didn’t do much for us, so we went across the road to the One Church where, thankfully, they had a much better handle on the sound than St Mary’s. I enjoyed Jane Weaver, despite her being backed by some rather bored looking session musicians.
Phil then drove us over to the Old Market, where we caught the second half of the meandering big guitar solos and heavy bass sound of Tigercub, who are led by the BFG. “I think he should be shouting ‘DESTROY!’” I told Phil, who agreed. I then got really confused when the singer actually did start shouting the chorus to their next song, which wasn’t about destroying stuff. The world’s just too fucking strange for my liking.
I ended my festival experience by pogoing at the front to Blood Red Shoes. Awesome. Later on, Alex sent me a text: “HMLTD on in the Albert in fifteen minutes. You know you want to!” Unfortunately, by then, Rich and I were halfway home and having a sneaky pint in The Wick, so I had to decline, even though he was right - I did want to!
Before getting the bus, Rich bought a burger, and I tried on the halo and devil ears of some girls who had been out on a hen night. It soon became apparent that we had saved them from the seedy clutches of the fast food staff, who, to try and entice the girls out the back of the restaurant, had given them a free chicken burger. Even in their ever-so-tipsy state, the girls were a little freaked out by the experience, so my night ended with a superhero act. Clark Kent turns into a useless git whenever he does drugs (Kryptonite), but even after consuming copious amounts of alcohol, I remain capable. Ner.
All in all, a brilliant three days of music and laughs. Bring on next year….
My Great Escape by Steven Huckle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://glowkeeper.github.io/assets/misc/MyGreatEscape/.