Review: The Great Escape 2017 – Day One

The three-day music bonanza returned to Brighton for another instalment. Here’s what went down on the first day:

Brighton is incredibly vibrant in May. With the Brighton Festival, the Brighton Fringe and The Great Escape all taking place, the city is alive with art, theatre, dance, comedy and, of course, music. You can barely cross the street without bumping into a band carrying their gear from one venue to the next, or theatregoers heading to a show, or indie kids studying their phones for the address of a tiny music dive. It’s wonderful mayhem.

At the heart of the month and in the belly of the city lies The Great Escape. With hundreds of gigs played in every nook and cranny of Brighton over three days, it is simply the place to be for music lovers. To stumble from venue to venue is to chance upon emerging acts and returning heroes. Then, after partying into the night, you collapse into bed ready to do the same thing all over again the next day. It’s the kind of festival where you can catch someone like Courtney Barnett, then a set from East India Youth, before following the rumour mill along the seafront to a secret gig by Kaiser Chiefs. Which is exactly what we did one year.

So, with excitement about what to expect this time round, we took a deep breath in dived into The Great Escape 2017.

The thing we should have expected, was rain. Of course. This is England, after all. Thursday’s grey morning skies soon turned to a downpour which made venue-hopping a miserable experience, as shoes turned sodden in moments and remained that way for most of the day. Fortunately for us, our afternoon was entirely based in the same venue, meaning we could avoid the precipitation. The Komedia hosted the Australian Sound Gallery, featuring heaps of bands we love and a bunch that we were keen to get to know better.

An early highlight was the punchy indie-pop of Middle Kids. It’s easy to see why they have been turning heads of late and one gets the impression that the could very well be Sydney’s next big export. Talking of Sydney exports, Dean Lewis has blown up in 2017 and the set of ballads he performed suggests that things are going to keep getting bigger and better for him. His songs of love, regret and breakups – such as big single Waves – are perfectly suited for radio play and, perhaps even more so, for singing/crying along to at festivals.

Next, The Goon Sax (pictured, below) made us feel nicely woozy with their charming brand of off-kilter indie, while Olympia offered ethereal synthy-pop. Jack Ladder then played a solo show filled with dark, gothic songs which nodded to Murder Ballads before Gordi closed the afternoon session with her beautiful, nuanced tunes, including the wonderful Can We Work It Out.

The rain failed to abate as the evening kicked off. So with raincoats and brollies at the ready, punters trudged through the Brighton puddles to their venue of choice. The Haunt, just off the seafront, hosted Bahrain’s Flamingods, who played psychedelic-pop which got hips shaking across the packed room.

Over at Wagner Hall, one of the buzz bands of the Great Escape, Norway’s Sløtface (pictured, below and top), gave an energetic, irresistible performance of guitar-led, punky indie-pop. Fronted by bundle of energy Haley Shea (pictured, top), songs like Take Me Dancing truly hit the spot. You are definitely going to be hearing a lot more from this four-piece over the next few months.

Alongside The Great Escape runs The Alternative Escape, which presents a bunch of free gigs and showcases across the city. With so many acts already on the main bill, you might think that it is somewhat overkill to have a whole other programme of shows running at the same time. In fact, the opposite is true. With TGE, the Brighton Festival and The Brighton Fringe drawing thousands of visitors into town, there is an insatiable appetite for quality live music. The Alternative Escape is free to all, meaning that those who don’t have tickets to the main festivals can catch some awesome live acts, while those that are attending the ticketed shows can still pop their heads into random pubs and venues and discover their new favourite acts.

As well as showcasing some new talent, The Alternative Escape also drops the occasional big name into the mix, like highly-acclaimed, award-winning musician David Ford (pictured, below), who warmed up for his UK tour with a stripped back solo set at The Fiddler’s Elbow. Leaving behind his usual array of instruments, he simply stood with his guitar and belted out a mix of old favourites, such as Every Time, along with newies like Why Don’t You Answer Your Telephone?. It was an intimate performance and illustrates just how fantastic The Alternative Escape can be if you do your homework and are well organised. After all, where else can you see outstanding shows like this without spending a penny?

Back to The Great Escape, and Zambian-born, Australia-based Sampa The Great was getting the crowd moving at Sallis Benney Theatre with her intelligent hip-hop offerings. She dropped lyrics which touched on political and personal issues, all to infectious beats.

An added bonus was the guest appearance of Remi (pictured below), while Sampa’s back and forth with the audience was good fun. She is so natural a performer that it’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since she released her debut mixtape. We’re excited about what she brings to the table in the future.

As day one apologetically drew to a close, it was time for a night cap or three in Brighton’s bustling bars to discuss the day’s highlights and to make new friends amongst the thousands of festival attendees. Gradually, as night turned to morning punters stumbled back to their hotels, peeled off their wet socks, put their umbrellas in the bathroom and, with ringing ears and happy hearts, hit the sack.


Review by Jayne Cheeseman and Bobby Townsend.