Brighton Rock - The Great Escape 2022
Updated: May 18, 2022
So I am down in Brighton for my fourth Great Escape. It's a become a regular part my and Mrs JO’B's year, though the pandemic took out 2020 and 2021.
It's a music festival running alongside an industry conference. A few hundred bands play in 20+ venues all around the city. For £70 you can get a 3 day wristband and get into any show, though industry delegates get first refusal and some of these shows are rammed! Industry delegates attending the conference have lanyards and have paid a lot more, so (rightly) get first dibs.
Sadly this year, Mrs JO'B can't come, so I am here alone. But I am still excited to see what 2022 will introduce me to. Previous years have brought Ailbhe Reddy, Jane Weaver, The Beths, Swimming Tapes and more into my musical world. I am hopeful for a great few days.
Wristbanded up and good to go, I head off to my first gig…
Bad Waitress, The Beach Stage
First band of the day, and perhaps unwisely, first beer after I had a dodgy tummy the night before - a ‘make or break’ move. But it’s all good. I hang with the early crowd - "young, cool and hip". I feel out of place, as I am more "old, cold and have a dodgy hip", but hey ho.
I feel immediately better when I spot Bristol’s Big Jeff - if the gig going legend is here, then I have made a good choice for my first show of the day. I was going to ask for a selfie, but it's too early and too tragic.
Bad Waitress are a Toronto punk band, signed to Royal Mountain Records. They are loud, sounding to me like L7 - heavy grunge punk and fabulous. Their guitarist rocks some fab tartan trews and has an impressive line in tongue waggling - she could out waggle Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls or Kiss’ Gene Simmonds any day…
Delusions Of Grandeur is the standout track for me, which rocks and their last track has a pleasing intro collective shout of “FUCK”. My only niggle would be what’s with the mullet hair style, but I think I am just out of touch. As the day progresses, mullets are a frequent occurrence - am I guilty of “mullet-shaming”? I will have a stern word with myself latter.
Grandmas House, The MVT Stage
I only catch the tail end of one song. Not my cup of tea. My main reason to see them was the band name - Grandmas house - where's the f***ing apostrophe? Sadly, I don’t get to ask them. You think I am joking. I am not. There's no excuse for bad grammar, even in rock'n'roll.
I head to Patterns to catch up with some of Mrs JO’B’s old colleagues, including the fabulous Kerry and Amanda. As I walk in, I catch the end of Alice Pisano - she sounds great, but very earnest, another singer songwriter. But checking out her music, there is a lot more to it, the set up just doesn’t lend itself to her tunes, so it's just her and an acoustic guitar. She is worth a further listen.
Next up is Peaks! hailing from Turin, via London. They play loud, fuzzy rock, with a really fabulous drummer. In many ways they are deluded, shouting to the crowd to put their hands in the hair and clap at every opportunity - it’s 2.20 pm in a tiny club - they are mad. But in fact, I love their ambition - Kerry and I agree they are playing a tiny room as if they’re playing Wembley Stadium and that’s marvellous.
Headbanging and guitar shredding , they feel to me a bit Green Day but heavier. There’s a surprising switch to a power ballad, but it’s great. They play recent single, Bitebybite - another glam rock, heavy stomper, but I head off before the end, to get to the next venue….but they have been fun. Not my cup of char, but great.
Ailbhe Reddy, Club Revenge
I settle in at Club Revenge, a tad early and catch up on writing this. TGE22 so far has been a lot of Tartan Trousers. Is this a thing? I feel undressed in my rolled up blue jeans. But I think it’s fair to say, I would look ridiculous so any mid-life crisis temptation to pop into a Brighton Boutique and snaffle a pair is resisted. It’s times like this I miss Mrs JO’B to gently steer me away from such misguided temptations
Instead of the splendid Ailbhe, around 15.00, a German rock band take the stage. Unless Ailbhe has had a serious change in direction, then something is wrong with the scheduling. I find myself watching Kill Strings, and am not feeling very disposed to them. There are no announcements, no explanation and it’s not clear what is happening.
I need to make a Clash style decision - should I stay or should I go? I really want to see Ailbhe, but I also had planned to check out Sinead O’Brien at 16.15. Both are not feasible. How irritating and how badly organised. For the first time in four years, I am properly unimpressed with TGE22.
I decide to stay (would Mick Jones?). I love Ailbhe, and want to hear her more than check out a new artist, plus I will try and see Sinead on Saturday.
So while I am waiting…
Torus, Club Revenge
I am questioning my choice. Torus describe themselves as loud and heavy rock, influenced by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong, I love both bands, but young bands who think they sound like either tend to in reality be badly dressed, dysfunctional young men with an alarming disposition for wearing Lynx Africa and sleeveless T-shirts…I am scared….
Mrs JO’B would have said let’s go check out the new band. I think she is right. But I stay, and regret wasting 30 minutes listening to dull, cliched rock. Yawn. Two tragic men with mullets make a two fingered devil signs to the band during a headbanging drum solo escapade….I appear to have time-travelled back to the 70s (and not the good years).
Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of heavy rock. Therapy? are fabulous, and I genuinely love Led Zeppelin, AC/DC (as is apparent by the design of this website) and more. But God, this unimaginative dull shite is an insult to them…Torus are paint-dryingly dull. Even the use of a cowbell does not improve things (and I love a good cowbell). You had better be good Ailbhe Reddy, I am taking one for your team…
Ailbhe Reddy, Club Revenge
For those of you not familiar with Gaelic pronunciations, Ailbhe is pronounced Alva. We saw her at our first TGE back in 2017, and saw her again since in London. Her debut album came out in 2020 and it's marvellous (see Ailbhe Reddy - Personal History).
Ailbhe soundchecks whilst an inconsiderate venue still blasts out some shite dance music or other no one is listening to. It’s a hard life playing a festival like this! Sound problems persist but she is a trooper and the glitch passes quickly. With just her voice and an electric guitar, she makes way more impact that the preceding nonsense. Less really is more.
Seven great songs, including Shitshow (“No more staring at the ceiling waiting for the morning”) and Last To Leave (“Make the host wish they’d never met you"). The latter fills me with self-loathing - how many times have I been that guest? The songs are impactful, even if that makes me feel uncomfortable!
I do something I rarely do and go and tell her how fab the show was at the end. How embarrassing - she joins a small, but elite group that includes:
Steve Rothery, guitarist from Marillion. A daft Dutch fan was lecturing him after a gig in Tilburg about the set list - the fan was a dick, I was drunk and I pushed him to one side and told Steve how fabulous the show was. I was right…
Andy Burrows, who I told how much I loved his album Company, having bumped into him at a Scritti Politti gig and may have hugged him (oh dear). He was terribly nice to me...
Arthur Smith, who I showed a picture of a piece of his art that just said "Gloria Gaynor Will Not Survive" - I had taken a picture of it ten years before. Arthur tipped his glasses down his nose, looked at the picture and just said "looks like I was wrong" - and to be fair, she is still going strong...
Fortunately, Ailbhe is gracious and lovely and shakes my hand - yay! Then I leave, because after yesterday’s dodgy tummy and now three, probably unwise, beers, I am ravenous. Sustenance is acquired and devoured, and I then head to Brighton’s Old Market.
Mykki Blanco, The Old Market
Mykki is a hip hop artist from the States - she was initially part of a video art project and evolved into a great musical performer and a leading light in "queer rap". She comes on stage wearing a hat that Jamiroquai even might consider oversized and garish….but the hat is soon lost, and underneath she is wearing a headscarf akin to one my mum used to wear to protect her perm when it rained…
It’s strange. On paper musically this is not my cup of tea, but I love the show. Her band are tight and the backing singer has an amazing soulful voice - Mykki Blanco may get the attention, but it’s quickly made clear she is the star on stage.
The songs switch quickly from soul funk to something heavier, harder, rockier - this is unexpectedly excellent, which is what TGE22 should be about. Stretching your comfort zones.
Mykki talks about her stage persona versus her private life and kicks back into some gentler, soul rock, but again the backing singer steals the show, her voice is amazeballs.
Mykki does a poem, accompanied just by guitar. My innate Britishness makes me cringe, but actually it’s ok. Mykki has enough panache to pull it off. Still not sure about the big hat, mind. Let’s not go soft here.
Mykki's duet with REM's Michael Stipe, Family Ties, is performed stripped down and solo and is just great. I am sold, a great show.
The WAEVE, The Old Market
I am looking forward to this. Mrs JO’B and I LOVE Rose Elinor Dougall, so her teaming up with the ever talented Graham Coxon as The WAEVE is exciting. His recent work with Duran Duran was astonishing. And frankly I want to find out how you actually pronounce “Waeve”! I am assuming it’s as in “wave “ and “Maeve” but who knows? A friend was unsure when we spoke earlier - I am on a mission to find out…
As we wait for the band, I can’t help but wonder, if this is the music industry’s finest, the people behind the record labels, promotion, marketing, royalties etc,, the people discovering, loving, living and breathing music….how come so many of them talk through so many shows? There is a breathtaking lack of respect for artists at gigs these days, and I naively thought there would be less of that at the TGE shows. But people with lanyards rather than my humble wristband chunter loudly away through performers. If the industry has no respect for artists, what hope is there that punters might? I really am getting old and grumpy…
They take the stage, a quick hello and we are off, into a dark, brooding ballad, that then suddenly explodes, as a tambourine is beaten to within an inch of its life, while the sax player blows up a storm. A heavily pregnant and ever glamorous Rose introduces them as The WAEVE (and IT IS PRONOUNCED 'WAVE'!), and they pelt straight into Someone Up There, that begins with a pleasingly yelped "Hey!" from Rose and Graham. and then they are off, a stomper of a song. Graham yells “man” at the end, very pleased with the performance, and then a barely audible “thank you”
Over And Over is a slide guitar wig out, while Drowning is harmonica, violin, madness...it's like Graham has let his inner Syd off the leash - this is prog, not folk.
Graham takes to the sax for Sleepwalking and Kill Me Again, the latter featuring some Graham smirking and playing some atonal sax yelps, while the bass guitar knocks out some throbbing Krautrock riff.
They close with Something Pretty, which to me sounds like an electrifying Roxy Music does punk - “Unplug the radio, unplug the TV, unplug the internet, and while you’re there unplug me". Graham rolls around on stage, still playing and then they are finished and gone. The drummer (one of the brothers from Electric Soft Parade?) salutes and they are gone.
It's a great show, lots of promise and Rose's voice is stunning throughout. I will see The WAEVE again, though what's with the unnecessary capitalisation?!
And then I call it an early night. I am tired, and there's two more days fun to be had. Night night, x
FRIDAY, I'M IN LOVE
The Clockworks, The Prince Albert
I head early to see a midday show by The Clockworks. Signed by Creation legend Alan McGee, these Irish rockers have it all going - a cool legend supporting them, support slots with Pixies, pounding tunes, sharp lyrics and they look cool.
Sadly they are so cool that when I get here at 11.35, I am too late to get in. I decide to wait and see the next two bands in this Irish showcase and while I am here, stand on the stairs and listen to their show. It sounds fantastic! Shame we can’t get in!
But there are a lot of us disappointed punters - maybe that’s the point? They want the hype? Daft really as anyone who heard them would have know this venue was too small for them. But such is The Great Escape.
As the show progresses, so does the queue so I get tantalisingly close to getting in for a song…but it’s not to be. I just get a better listening spot…The Future Is Not What It Was sounds great. I really MUST see this band...
Sprints, The Prince Albert, 13.00
Next up are Sprints - a Dublin garage punks, lauded by Steve Lamacq. The pre-gig music is confusing - Avalon but Roxy Music isn’t really going to set the mood for this band…
They hit the stage 10 minutes early, but it’s just an impromptu sound check - “see you at 1.00 pm sharp”.
They are great - energetic, loud shouty punk. Great fun, nothing new. But sometimes there doesn’t need to be - they have a fantastic sound and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
My poor ears have taken a bashing so I demur from CMAT and take a walk to let them reacclimatise to not being deafened. A shame as CMAT interests me - her lyrics are so sharp they’ll cut you. I will see her another time.
POLICE CAR COLLECTIVE, Amazon New Music Stage
I meet up with my colleague, a Brighton local who is out for the day - fortuitously we are both planning to see POLICE CAR COLLECTIVE. This two piece US duo, who met in Liverpool, are impressive on record - their last few singles have been eclectic, inventive and fun.
They take the stage to the Pulp Fiction Ezekiel 25:17 speech. Then two skinny, pale men take the stage, one in a balaclava. We are expected to think this means they are “dangerous”.
When Manic Street Preachers wore a balaclava on Top Of The Pops it was genuinely shocking, given the associations of the time with the IRA etc. To be honest, I sort of assume Police Car Collective (oops, I didn’t capitalise it - how off brand of me)…I assume they are just cold? And no wonder he is irritated during the set - those fucking balaclavas are itchy as hell.
For all my mocking, the music is great and is again genuinely a mashup of lots of genres, and the singer displays some impressive mike swinging - they remind me of the skate band in Hi-Fidelity. They look a joke but they are in fact fantastic.
But they rant about how they are the greatest band in the world and are mithered by the lack of crowd reaction. Drop the attitude and they would be so much cooler.
We, the audience, are slated for not moshing and an impromptu mosh pit is created…for three people, who give it a heroic go. It’s like that thing - imagine you threw a party and one one came? PCC just threw a mosh pit and there was a lot of tumbleweed…
It all feels a bit like teenagers having a strop rather than the next big thing in rock’n’roll. They love a small group in the front row and tell them “If you fuck with us, we fuck with you, you’re in our box now. Welcome to POLICE CAR COLLECTIVE”.
The last song is an electro r’n’b ballad - it’s serious man, as by now our singer is topless, displaying his PARANOID stomach tattoo, and strapping on his axe to deliver a gurning rock guitar solo over fuzzed up r’n’b, then kicks his guitar over and stands on it - it’s more petulant than Pete Townsend sadly. Shame as the song is fab.
Overall genuinely good music, but they were dicks to be honest.
Jalle, The MVT Stage
I catch the tail end of Jalle's set - it’s pleasing pop music. I only catch one song but it sounds fun. I wish I'd seen more.
Been Stellar, Beach
Oh my God they are young. So young! Been Stellar hail from Brooklyn, and I fall in love with them straight away. They are a rockier mix of Pavement, The Strokes, Interpol and a dash of The Chameleons. Tribal drums, Cure goth guitar, underpinned by a harder rock rhythm guitar…they are superb, a highlight of the festival.
Again, a recurring theme remains delegates with passes talking through the sets…maybe if this was my day job, I would be equally blasé but it’s a real shame.
I don’t know their song titles yet but one includes the lyric “New York is wasted, start again” and it’s my favourite - I will be seeing this lot again..
Priya Ragu, Amazon New Stage
Priya is Tamil-Swiss and her music is R’n’B, suffused with southern Indian influences - she sounds different to everything I have heard so far so I decide she is worth a punt!
The set opens with a Purple Rain Prince style guitar shredding - wow!
Fairly standard jazz r’n’b but it’s played brilliantly and there is an edge brought by her heritage and use of sound. She has the crowd in the palm of her hand by the second song - impressive and fun.
Then I call it an early night, I'm not quite feeling it today, so plan to be on better form tomorrow....lots to see! Or at least try to...
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
It's a beautiful, sunny day in Brighton again, and perfect weather for The Great Escape. I head out early to the beach and then down to the New Stage and Beach Stage, for the Sounds Australia showcase - always good for catching new bands.
Azure Ryder, Amazon New Stage
First up is Azure Ryder, a songwriter from Sydney who's just relocated to London. Thanks to the pandemic, this is the first time she has seen an English audience that's allowed to stand up, so she's very excited.
It's a slow start with a ballad, but it's quickly followed by some powerful pop soul, with Running Up That Hill style thundering drums. The music's nice, catchy, but she can come across a bit too earnest when she chats between her songs - it's a little schmaltzy for my tastes. But that said, she has a great voice, some fantastic guitar backing her and she can hold a crowd. New single Holding On is the standout - lots of potential here, she just needs something a bit grittier.
Didirri, Beach Stage
I pop over the beach to the other tent to see what's going on and there is a lone guy stood on stage. Didirri's unscheduled and the sound desk guys don't know his name. But he is fabulous, playing lovely, heartfelt songs and telling great stories in between. One song he says he doesn't like anymore as when it was first played on the radio, his ex called him to tell him - it reminds him of her so he finds he hates the song now.
He's a long way from home and was only added to the bill a week ago, when another artist was taken ill - he thanks us for not talking in songs. He's a lot more polite than some of the crowd yesterday.
And he must be good as Big Jeff is here again - I am in the right place again! Didirri tells us a story about his electric toothbrush - this is a relatively new thing for him, along with showering with his partner and acquiring some new pet budgies. When showering recently with his partner, he took out his toothbrush to clean his teeth at the same time - he and his girlfriend have their own toothbrush heads, but share an electric base. His girlfriend was horrified to realise that the head he uses to brush his teeth is the head she uses to clean the budgie cage. Nice...
Didirri has a really beautiful voice, he reminds me of Andy Yorke from The Unbelievable Truth (Thom Yorke’s brother). He doesn't do much in terms of self-promotion, like tell us the song titles (or even his name!). One has the lyric “Couldn’t see life is unfair, shooting for a spare” and it's great - I make a note to look him up and learn more. He’s an unexpected new find and real treat.
Tyne-James Organ, Amazon New Stage
I pop in to check Tyne-James Organ out, but it's fairly bog standard rock - it's actually ok, just nothing special and nothing compared to the last act. The singer has a mullet....I really must stop mullet-shaming people...
Beckah Amani, The MVT Stage
I am walking across to check out The Lazy Eyes, but don't make it as I have to sit down and listen to Beckah. Just her and an electric guitar, but she is mesmerising. Tragically, the sound guy in the adjacent tent is determined to deafen the audience listening to Tyne-James Organ's pub-rock dullness, especially annoying as their singer is alternating between yelling and impersonating a Theremin. Its not necessary.
Beckah is Tanzanian, but grew up in Australia and has now moved to London - we will definitely look out for her and I hope she gets more of a chance at her next gig - despite the distractions and noise, she really stood out, her voice fighting, and winning, against a huge soundsystem.
PLANET, Amazon New Stage
Second time seeing PLANET at The Great Escape, having enjoyed them in 2019. Last time it was a tiny venue in a hotel. This time they are in a pretty big slot, and have released a good album - they have done well. They are engaging, catchy, buzzy. It's really good, but there is something missing. I enjoy the show, but I still not sure I would go and see them if they were playing on their own (a good friend did and enjoyed them). Maybe I need to give them another blast, away from a live event.
Alex The Astronaut, The MVT stage
Again, Alex The Astronaut is another great singer and raconteur, drowned out by the sound from the larger Amazon New Stage. It's understandable when PLANET were playing, but this is just the "in between bands" mix - someone again not giving a fuck about the artists here. A great pity.
Little Quirks, Amazon New Stage
Little Quirks are family band of siblings and cousins who are making a hit on the folk scene. The singer is dressed like she is in ABBA and has the voice of The Cranberries' Dolores O’Riordan. That's pretty cool.
There seems to be a few technical issues (the microphones for second singer and bass player are not working) but these are resolved quickly, And frankly, a little thing like that would not stop Little Quirks - 10 out of 10 for energy. They are a little whirlwind on stage, and have the chops to back that up. The tunes are good - the first song Three (I think), swells and swells. And by Life Wouldn't Be, even the drummer is leaping out of her chair and still playing.
They 'fess up to having played for Boris Johnson as part of some cultural exchange event since they came over, and apologised as they didn't realise what people thought of him.
New single The Rain is storming (forgive the pun) and frankly, they get the biggest cheers I have seen all weekend, with the crowd jumping along. There is a stag night in the crowd and they go collectively nuts during closer Crumpled. If Mumford & Sons are your cup of char, then check out Little Quirks.
Stella Donnelly, Amazon New Stage
She is a great performer, and has one of my favourite EP titles ever - Thrush Metal.
Again, a mark I am in the right place, Big Jeff is here yet again! Stella is the closer on this stage as part of the Sounds Australia sessions and we get six songs - three new, three old. Opening with Old Man, a standout from her debut album, Beware Of The Dogs - a gentle yet furious challenge to a sexually harrassing boss - "Oh, are you scared of me, old man? Or are you scared of what I'll do?". It's swiftly followed by Flood, a keyboard driven cracker. It's brilliant, with Stella switching to piano (she brushed off a bum note as jazz, which is hilarious).
By song three, the tent is rammed. Lungs, her new single has a great barroom piano bit to it and an emboldened Stella wastes no time getting the crowd to join her in a singalong. Wryly teasing the audience she is going to make even the delegates sing. How Was Your Day? is another positive blast of happiness, and is met by a surprisingly obliging and vocal audience. Die, from her debut, comes with her usual "cirque de soleil" dance routine with her bass player.
Before she finishes, she gives a shout out to Amazon Music to say thank you - specifically to Jeff Bezos, as a true inspiration to anyone who wants to be an arsehole. Great stuff and lapped up by the audience. She finishes with Tricks, and then she's gone, all too soon. But leaves the audience loving her.
AND IN THE END....
Though there's loads more I could go to, I decide I have had enough and head back to London. Quit while you are ahead. It's been a great few days and I have a few bands that I will be exploring more in the coming weeks - exactly what The Great Escape is for.
Brighton in the sun has been a real tonic and it's been wonderful to see so much live music - only marred by a tweet from Billy Nomates:
If The Great Escape is the showcase for the industry to hear new talent, it needs to treat the talent better and also talk to its delegates about paying a little more respect to artists while they are performing. I've just bought Billy's debut album so at least something good has come from her shoddy treatment.
Roll on 2023, I am sure we will be back!