Festival Review: The Great Escape 2019

The Great Escape 2019

Various venues, Brighton, 9-11th May 2019

Words & Photos: Elena Katrina

The Great Escape.…  a festival that prides itself on being at the very forefront of new music so of course, we had to be in attendance again. A festival that isn’t just for music fans but also for musicians. With heavy industry attendance, this is the place for bands to learn as well as play, to network, make friends, make contacts and generally work their arses off…. all with a drink (of choice) in hand. There’s a thing I’ll come to again later about the drink of choice….

Wednesday evening saw me catch my first glimpse of live music and it was certainly nothing to be sniffed at as I entered The Dive Bar at the beach to watch Sick Joy – a wonderfully loose and grunge-fuelled trio who are not short of having made a few fans this weekend, if conversations I had were anything to go by. But it was Popped babes Thyla I was really keen to see play on home turf. A band I first came across last year and have had the pleasure of seeing play a few times now and the good thing about seeing them here was the support and I really loved that Millie deviated from their usual set to play a request from her sister “because I love her”. I mean what more can I say? Great band who delight in so many ways.

Attending TGE with an injury isn’t really the best way to get going because Brighton is a reasonably large place with hills, twists, winds and pebbles… so many pebbles… so to have two injuries really was meaning I wasn’t quite going to be able to cover the distance I was hoping to. Taking day one relatively easy I hit up some of the conference hosted across two hotels on the beautiful sea-front. While most of the talk wasn’t really aimed at me, I forever find it useful to understand the industry at large and am hugely interested in it. My favourite panel was provided Help Musicians, hosted by Phil Taggart. Here the panel were discussing how to futureproof musicians. An interesting section of this brought around the discussion of mental health and wellbeing amongst artists, on tour and in downtime. As a pretty straight-laced girl myself (sugar my only drug of choice) I find it hugely encouraging to hear bands speaking out about giving up drinking. To hear Slaves‘ frontman Laurie Vincent say how he decided to stop drinking and to take his role as a musician seriously and as a job and to give his best performance meant being sober and taking care of himself. DIY artist AWATE also had something to say about how the industry fuels the notion of alcohol being a part of what it means to be a musician – promoters providing him with a rider of alcohol and no water when he has specifically told them he doesn’t drink.  Of course, it is a personal preference but for some people, the choice not to do the norm becomes awkward in almost all social settings so for it to be discussed in an arena such as this feels personally gratifying. The general consensus  of this part of the discussion here wasn’t just about alcohol (it still is very much fun for the majority and that’s cool!)  – but that self-care on tour (and in general) is imperative; be it taking yourself off for a walk, staying hydrated, getting rest and having activities outside of your music to help you unwind and relax… fairly sure I heard the word pottery, but don’t quote me on that! Note to self- book a day off!

the van tsRe-Balance is a concept put together by Festival Republic and PRS Foundation and has been set up to help address the gender balance. Their stage brought together a collection of some of the finest female fronted music you could wish to find. A new discovery for me was Tamzene – a blend of dancy pop melodies and strong r&b soul vocals. With a set up that was just her and one other it was decent but I can envisage a massive production and sound for her that would kick her songs into the stratosphere someday… should she so wish. The Van Ts were also on this line-up and with it being their only showcase at the festival it was one I couldn’t go without giving my support to. We’ve been shouting about this band for ages and they’ve played 3 shows for us (so far)… their rough n ready punk laden tunes went down a hit with the crowd – all of whom I imagine, like me, forgot that it was only 2.30 in the afternoon.

There was, in all honesty, not much on my mind after this show – I was in considerable pain (don’t even ask) so as my mood slipped I decided to go and be with some friends who were looking after a band- this meant only one thing – Red Rum Club. Not due on stage for about 5 hours I basically went on a little jaunt and had a nap in their van, sat grumpily through their soundcheck and laughed (far too loudly) when they did an interview… then refused to one with them myself because they’d been far too cheeky. I’m not really sure where the time went but soon enough they were on stage and I could barely squeeze into the room up-top The Prince Albert. Opening with their usual set closer, Would You Rather Be Lonely … I was instantly alive again. The crowd was attentive and at some points, they had to turn stagehand, as frontman Francis shook himself around the stage so much they lost all sorts to the crowd… including, at one point,.. .the microphone. The six-piece piece have been pleasing my ears for an absolute age and to see them now playing shows like this, having released their debut album Matador, fills me with absolute glorious happiness and all I have left to say about Thursday at The Great Escape is… HOO HAAA!

the post romanticsI began Friday buy swinging by The Mesmerist as our good friends The Post Romantics were delivering their usual sombre affair to a busy bar full of people.I believe they class themselves somewhere in between Emo and R&B and it really isn’t all that far from the truth. I admit that as much as I love them I find myself fighting to find a happy thought to rebalance the mood. Luckily the band themselves are a bounce a moment in real life and with the friendliest of smiles they never fail to make my day.

sayter playFriday saw me spend rather a lot of time in one place… that place being Beyond Retro as From there Friday saw me spend almost the rest of the day with our pals Distiller and Scruff Of The Neck. They were hosting some brilliant bands and once I got there it felt more like a party – the kind of party I didn’t want to leave early from. Not only that but it’s where a community hub was building – with bands watching bands as well as everyone else. Orchards had played the day before but returned to check out more new sounds. Cassia delivered what I’m calling “Sunshine Part 1” – with their bright uptempo calypso-indie set, on the shop’s fire escape and Saytr Play were the punchy filling between them and “Sunshine Part 2” – Marsicans. While Saytr Play seemed somewhat confined to their space, lead singer Fred Farell grabbed desperately at his railings… ever threatening to rampage through the crowd before him. Their high energy did at one point make me worried they’d collapse the stage, which could also have been described as a very large shelf, floating above the shop’s counter. Thankfully all was OK and Marsicans gave as good as they could on the tiny platform too – usually a band found bouncing all over the stage (last time I saw them they had the whole space of the o2 Academy Leeds to play with)they still seemed comfortably squished. These kinds of shows are really special because they give the crowd something so much more intimate – even though these bands have all been playing bigger stages and no doubt will play bigger still – the energy you can get from something like this means you’ll never forget it. As I sang along I made sure to make a mental note of how happy I’d been at this party… sorry, festival stage, because I want to recall it for shit days.

cassiaIt was also here at Beyond Retro where an invite came my way “Cassia are going to play acoustic on the beach… come and be the official press for it.” Well, I was hardly going to say no so just as the sun was setting on a beautiful day in Brighton I found myself surrounded by a small gathering of people while I clutched my camera and hoped to god I wouldn’t fall head-first into the pebbles while I clumsily (at best) manoeuvred around trying to catch the last of the sun on the band as they performed a few tracks from their recently released debut album, Replica. If I could have ended my Friday at this moment I would have because the whole thing was just bliss… however, there was a little matter of seeing Popped Present’s most recent headliner…

bang bang romeoSkip to that exact moment… a festival tent, on the beach, filled to the brim and on walks Anastasia, frontwoman of Bang Bang Romeo. Uh Oh, I thought… she’s going to decimate this place tonight. And I wasn’t wrong. I have seen so many shows, incredible performances, terrifying ones but there’s not quite anyone I’ve ever seen command the stage and indeed the crowd quite like Anastasia does! It’s not just her powerful vocal that demands your attention, she’s not afraid to tell you what she wants – “come closer” … “play quieter”… doesn’t matter who you are, if she wants something for her performance she’ll damn well ask for it, and to that point, get it. I always want to refer to the band as her band, but that sounds a little unfair – each of them in their own right delivers a performance, it’s not the kind of show where you can’t glance across and not be mesmerised by the movements of another member. That is if you can prise your eyes away from the lady in command that is. Not  A Bag Of Bones was easily my highlight of the set, I can’t really tell you for why, maybe just because it came out on my birthday and has been stuck in my head intermittently ever since. I implore you to watch Bang Bang Romeo live… rock music is dead is it? I think I have four people here who will change your mind.


the ninth waveIt’s a difficult one at many city centre festivals when it comes to trying to fit in as many bands as possible. You aren’t sure of the capacity if you’re from out of town, nor do you know the shortcuts. Handy then that I was staying with someone who did and the first port of call on Saturday (after a hefty brunch) was to get our backsides in line for a band, admittedly I had no intention of watching – again. Yet I couldn’t resist the temptation when asked to tag along to see The Ninth Wave. I say see, anyway. I mean hear, yes, see? not quite. Once we actually got in (the venue was at capacity) wow the amount of fog was breathtaking – literally. While I could have reached out and touched Millie and Haydn there were times I couldn’t even see them. Atmospheric. That’s the one. I do believe this is the fourth time I’d seen the impressive doom-punk duo since mid-March – a habit I’m not overly keen to break either if I am perfectly honest. They give a performance that, for me, outweighs what it is like to listen to them on record. There is an intensity in the live performance that transports me. I can’t help but stare at them yet something about doing that makes me feel wholly uncomfortable (thankfully I have a camera to hide behind, most of the time).

creeping jeanMy afternoon was spent catching some bands who weren’t part of the Great Escape before heading off to see some of The Alternative Escape. I found myself at The Richmond where Modern Age Music were hosting a fabulous showcase. First up for Popped was Drusila – an engaging energetic duo with a frontman not at all afraid to be present. A multi-talented frontman at that – his instruments scattered from one end of the stage to another. I took an educated guess that he doesn’t quite have it all spread out as he clambered awkwardly at times to reach what he needed – but styled it out and delivered.  Next up was Creeping Jean, a band so big they didn’t even fit on the stage. They looked a tad squashed, it didn’t deter them though and they romped through their set of 60s and 70s influenced rock n roll  – heavily driven by keys (which weren’t even on the stage because they didn’t fit. I often find myself erring on the edge of uncertainty with bands like this but I’m already chomping at the bit to watch them again – as soon as possible. I’d love to see them support Black Honey who have a similar aesthetic with their vintage appeal.

the mysterinesEnding The Great Escape almost back where I started, at The Prince Albert, where I was yet again faced with a line that snaked down the staircase and around the corner. I’ve wanted to see The Estevans for an age and we are big fans of all that This Feeling does for new music – so it was a no-brainer to get in and stay put for a whole host of wicked bands. The Estevans probably wished I had chosen somewhere else to go – I think at one point they wished the world would stop. Shit happens… strings break… two is highly unusual but … shit happens. The show must go on and as uncomfortable and apologetic about it as they were, they actually massively impressed by delivering a really enjoyable showcase. Next up was a band I am familiar with. I think the first time I saw them play was early 2017 and I was a fully signed up fan from that moment on. Who are The Mysterines? A very good question in fact – hailing from The Wirral in the NW this young three-piece deliver a sound far beyond their years and far beyond anything else we have heard out there – to this standard  – in a long time. Hefty thick bass thuds over fast swirls of guitar as the drums steady a pace but it’s Lia’s vocal that disarms; deep gritty and guttural. So far they’ve released 3 songs and so a live set is a must-see if you want to grips with more (and I do).

saint agnesThe final band for me wasn’t Broken Hands as expected (I literally ran out of air to breathe in the venue) but it was the incredible Saint Agnes. For a geek like me who enjoys watching the stage set up almost as much as the show itself sometimes – this was a band who I already thought were too big to be playing this tiny stage  – any tiny stage really – and as they traipsed cable upon cable around the stage I felt almost intimidated by their set up. They are a band many of team Popped has been banging on about for years now and it’s wonderful to finally see them playing these kinds of shows to hoards of sweating people moving en mass to get closer. What a way to end the night. What a way to end the festival. A week on and I’m still truing to get over it all – I was blown away and have come home with a list as long as my arm of bands I missed and plan on seeing off the back of other people telling me. Wonderful festival.







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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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