Great Escape 2014: Aussie Sound Gallery

Courtney Barnett at The Great Escape

Arriving in Brighton on Thursday morning, it was easy to understand why England has a well-earned reputation for being eternally grey/wet/windswept, as disgusting horizontal rain greeted revellers stepping off the train for The Great Escape 2014. This weather, however, was not in the script. Usually, the festival is soaked in nothing but sunshine, but this year the Rain-Gods decided to piss on everyone’s parade. It was certainly going to be interesting to see what effect it had on the vibe of the three-day event, which features over 400 artists.

The immediate impact was that it made hopping between the city’s 26 venues a pain in the arse. They are all pretty close together, so usually it’s just a gentle and not unpleasant stroll. Now though, no sooner had clothing dried thanks to the bodyheat (sexy) inside the venues, than shoes were getting sodden and jeans soaked again when moving on to the next place. This left many people smelling quite a lot like wet cats. Not the best scent.

It didn’t cause too many problems for Something You Said on the opening session though, because our mission was pretty straightforward. Namely, heading to The Komedia for The Australian Sound Gallery and pretty much staying there until we couldn’t even handle any more Australians in our ears.

Kate Miller Heidke at Great Escape One of the day’s highlights was Brisbane’s Kate Miller-Heidke (pictured, left). Don’t be fooled by the blonde, diminutive singer though. She might look cute, but she can curse like a trucker. And were such a thing to exist, she would have won the award for the most Australian Australian in the room with her lyrics. “I swear I’m gonna lose my shit if you come this way… for fuck’s sake.”

But it wasn’t just swears, this woman can belt out a vocal. Holy moley, at times her range reached operatic, glass-shattering proportions. Impressive stuff. She had a bit of the Regina Spektors about her, in the way she segued between gentle balladry and sonic quirkiness with ease. Fuckin’ Oath Kate!

Earlier in the day were The John Steel Singers, who pulled an impressively sizeable crowd for a midday show. And rightly so. Their epic sound featured long periods of – sometimes boneshaking, sometimes groovy – instrumentation, punctuated by vocals as an embellishment rather than a necessity.

Last time we saw Tigertown, it was at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory, an age ago. Today, they displayed the same level of sugar-sweet indie-pop, which is undeniably infectious. Elsewhere, The Trouble With Templeton battled through serious technical dramas to deliver a powerful, if slightly shortened, set with nice boy/girl harmonies pushing through a wall of sound. They are ones to watch for sure.

Courtney Barnett at The Great EscapeThe Komedia was absolutely rammed for the headline appearance from Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett (pictured, top). She’s certainly riding a wave of popularity at the moment with her TV appearances and radio play, and deservedly so.

Barnett tells stories that walk the line perfectly between being observationally sharp and stirringly emotive. Her songs are witty and intelligent and wordy and beautiful. Towards the end of her set, she claimed that Depreston was “a straight-up Paul Kelly rip off,” but it sounded just as much like something Jeffrey Lewis could have written, to be honest. Which obviously makes it brilliant.

Her well-phrased lyrics weave around unobtrusive guitar-playing, provoking nods of appreciation as her words hit brains and hearts. It’s a joy to see an artist telling such honest and clever yarns in such a humble and non-showy manner, and filling a large venue when doing so.

Leaving The Komedia, the first thing to notice was that the rain has abated. It must have been the Australian vibes that pushed away the clouds. Well done Australia.

bobby townsend


Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend.