The Great Escape comes to Brighton every year and for three full days fills the town with music. However, you don’t have to follow the crowds, buy a wristband and join the queues for the touring acts and bigger names. There’s also the parallel Alt-Escape with hundreds of local and visiting bands playing short sets for free in the widest variety of small venues. This year, we decided to see just how much fun you can have without an official wristband. Spoiler Alert: Turns out, it’s loads.
Everybody’s Alt-Escape is different. The number of bands performing really is phenomenal. Some promoters put on a full three-day extravaganza, others organise a session for one night only, some just an afternoon. You have to pay attention, but then sometimes it’s nice just to wander from venue to venue and enjoy whatever you find. It doesn’t matter, it’s all good, and it’s all free.
Our Alt-Escape experience started Thursday lunchtime with a visit to the East Street Tap, a tiny pub, where there were 20-bands scheduled to play in an all-day-all-nighter sponsored by End of the Trail Records.
Our next stop was a venue that isn’t normally a venue but proved to be an outstanding space to hear the very fine selection of independent acts hosted by Small Pond and Republic of Music.
The Alive Gym’s room was light and airy, but full to the brim with a dozen bands playing over the course of the afternoon and early evening. We saw four, who were all great – starting with The Hundredth Anniversary (above) who play intelligent fast-moving indie rock.
Next up in the Gym were three-man band Wicketkeeper (above) who we had not heard of before but who played a dynamic blend of grungy rock. They were followed by another outstanding female-fronted act Our Girl, more of whom later.
Then we caught Dream Wife (below), a Brighton-Icelandic band who have been getting a lot of press recently on the back of their strong ‘not-give-a-fuck’ but empowering approach. The band started out as an art project but have morphed into a really tight and exciting live act. This was the first of about half a dozen gigs Dream Wife performed over the weekend.
In the evening, Brighton Museum opened its doors to a half-dozen acts promoting new Canadian music at the Great Escape. The night was also open to any member of the public if you pre-booked a ticket online. Each act performed acoustically in a different part of the building so the audience had to meander through the various galleries to hear the music. This interesting experiment finished perfectly with the beautiful soulful singing of Wooden Sky (below).
The night wasn’t over yet as we decanted into the busy Black Lion pub to see an array of young British bands. We saw Photophobes (below) who played a raw Happy Mondays style of danceable rock-based songs. They were followed by the riotous Shame, who have a reputation for trouble and didn’t disappoint.
The following day we returned to the Black Lion pub to see 80s legend Nick Heyward perform songs from his new album. This was no revisitation of our youth but a genuinely classy performance, and the songs were excellent.
Shipwright’s Yard is hidden away but it’s usually good value for wristband wearers, providing a tiny intimate space for up-and-coming bands. This year, Republic of Music opened it up to Alt-Escapers for free and we saw the pop-funk-rockers Theme Park (below) perform there. Talented musicians those boys. We didn’t like the use of the phrase “Sexy Ladies” in new track ‘LA’ (seriously? Is this the 1980s?), but we were still singing it most the afternoon.
Then it was back to the Hope & Ruin pub for an inspiring selection of acts from Love Thy Neighbour. First up were local act Prince Vaseline (that’s Eleanor, below) who were playing as a stripped-down two-piece but always seem to make interesting, inventive music.
Then there was the awesome Porridge Radio, playing the first of two gigs that evening. Followers of Brighton Source know that we’re big fans of this band and we interviewed Dana last year. They never get boring.
We wanted to end the night at the Black Dove in Kemptown with the mighty kraut-rock blast of Zofff but on the way stopped into the Mucky Duck who were featuring the ‘Next Buzz’, in the form of two bands with tiny female lead-singers but a powerful pop-rock sound, Thyla and Dama Scout (below).
Perhaps unsurprisingly Saturday started slowly, so we decided to meander down to the new Cafe Plenty at Preston Circus where they were hosting the third in an amazing three-day musical line-up. We could have spent three days sat there eating cake and drinking coffee but that might have made a less interesting review (Ed: Or maybe not). Our Saturday brunch was accompanied by Brighton’s Bloom and up-and-coming Londoners Marine (both below).
We were so impressed by Our Girl at the Alive Gymnasium we decided to see them again at the Hope & Ruin and clearly word had got around because the downstairs of the pub was packed. The band blasted out their smart, quick-fire rock with aplomb and we reckon we’ll be seeing them again before long.
Music is on every corner on a festival Saturday, and we stumbled across Mrisi Makondo-Wills (below) outside the Mobile recording studio in Church Street.
On to the Fiddler’s Elbow, another pub with a full three-day schedule, all for free where we saw The RPMs blast out their punky rock-with-attitude on the outside stage (above) and then for a change-of-pace found ourselves inside for the gorgeous Joni Mitchell-esque songs of the charming Brighton-American Deirdre Faegre (below).
We even got to see the Singing Barber perform.
Our final stop for the night was an amazing Alt-Escape experience curated by Brighton’s Finest at St Mary the Virgin Church in Kemptown. The church has been covered in scaffolding for a while so it doesn’t look that fine from the outside, but the interior is quite extraordinary – an enormous cavernous grade II-listed Gothic plain-Church style, a perfect setting for music.
Danny Green’s seven-piece Laish (above) came down from London to perform a stunning set overflowing with bright, intelligent and soulful proto-hits, including BBC Radio 6 favourite ‘Learning To Love The Bomb’. The final act was Tom White (Brakes, Electric Soft Parade) in The Fiction Aisle, a gorgeous meandering orchestral rock band. Tom’s exquisite vocals really soared and provided a wonderful finale to a great festival.
Words and pictures and three days of excellent music, all for free, were enjoyed by Jon Southcoasting
See our coverage of the main The Great Escape here.