Great Escape 2018: Day 1 Roundup (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 31st May 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

It can’t be emphasised enough that the festival gods really smiled down on The Great Escape 2018 earlier this month. While in Washington, DC, my friends back home were suffering under torrential rains, I was by the sea in picture-perfect Brighton and never once did I have to break out the brolly. (Wasn’t so lucky the following Friday in Newcastle.) For anyone who has been soaked to the bone during The Great Escape in past years, you understand how this year’s impossibly good weather was incredible luck.

While the sunny skies did wonders for everyone’s mood and probably helped the sales of off-licence, takeaway liquor, friend and former writer Braden and I mused if the good weather could have adversely affected foot traffic and turnout to the both the official Great Escape and its sister event The Alternative Escape. As the weekend wore on, it seemed that with the long queues and huge crowds everywhere I went, there were plenty of music lovers in town to make this concern feel nonexistent. You’d have thought performances priot to the noon hour would be sparsely attended, but you would be wrong. Must be that early May sunrise in England!

Model Society Thursday The Great Escape The Alternative Escape 2018

London’s Model Society were already in full swing by the time I arrived at East Street Tap, host of the End of the Trail Records / Amazing Radio showcase. John and I knew this place in its previous incarnation as The Fishbowl. Their energy so early in the day was admirable, but I didn’t hear anything particularly exciting that would set their music apart from their indie peers. I was waiting for the act who would follow, Dan Lyons, who performed with a full band Saturday night at SXSW 2018.

Dan Lyons Thursday The Great Escape The Alternative Escape 2018

Lyons advertised it as a stripped back set, to be accompanied only by his guitar and his backing singer, bandmate and partner Freya. While his set in Austin came across as full-bodied blues, this barer version of Dan Lyons live was an entirely different experience. ‘Special People’ delivered in a deadpan makes you wonder how serious Lyons is being about people watching, or if he’s simply being cheeky. We were also treated to his upcoming single ‘Gargoyle’, which is currently only listenable if you happen to tune into a radio programme playing it. Everyone else, you’ll have to wait until it drops on the 22nd of June.

I thought I had gotten a good jumpstart on the acts following my in-person coverage of BIGSOUND 2017 in Australia last September and SXSW 2018 in March. But I can say now that I feel like there’s so much that I missed on at The Great Escape this year. There was the ever-present issue of clashes, of course, but the lack of separate lines for wristband and badge holders at many venues meant press could show up at a venue, only to be disappointed. Like at BIGSOUND 2017, I was thwarted again from seeing Hatchie properly on Thursday afternoon, but my personal setback could be viewed in a positive way: Sounds Australia’s Sound Gallery, taking up both the main Komedia venue space and its Studio Bar, were rammed all afternoon.

Hollow Coves Thursday The Great Escape 2018

When I made it back up to the Laines from East Street, I was only able to get into the Studio Bar. But with some luck, I managed to get reasonably close up to Hollow Coves. They’re a folk duo whose members are from Brisbane and The Gold Coast. This is a case where looks can be deceiving: they kind of look like smiley, yet unassuming builders. One of them is actually a carpenter, so I wasn’t that far off. At their simplest, I’d describe them as ethereal folk but interestingly, they also use synths on some tracks, taking folk songcraft and pairing it with electronic beats for a more 21st century flavour. I can get behind that! Their gorgeous music, including songs ‘Coastline’ and ‘Home’, took me back to my visit to Brisbane last year, when I took in the city’s very California-like climate and beauty.

On the other side of the Old Steine Gardens and back down closer to the sea is the Latest Music Bar, which hosted the Horizons / Gorwelion showcases Thursday and Friday afternoon. Even with rushing after an interview with Hollow Coves, I couldn’t make it in time before hyped Welsh act Boy Azooga finished. Drat. Cutting any further losses, I headed down to Patterns, Fender UK’s venue for the entire Great Escape, for a unique afternoon.

Declan McKenna Thursday The Great Escape 2018

Young but politically astute singer/songwriter Declan McKenna had been announced as the stage’s opening special guest shortly before the start of the festival, and his fans filling the Marine Parade venue were super excited as he and a female guitarist live bandmate began with single ‘Humongous’. Despite McKenna’s relative live inexperience, he seemed entirely at ease, his stage patter between songs hilarious. “I can’t play ‘Brazil’ now!” he hissed to the punters shouting for his World Cup-themed hit. “Everyone would leave!” Collective laughter. He ran through several other songs from his debut ‘What Do You Think About the Car?’, including ‘Paracetamol’, ‘The Kids Don’t Want to Come Home’ and ‘Make Me Your Queen’, before launching into the inevitable set closer.

Some of the crowd dispersed after McKenna finished, their spots to replaced to, shall we say, a much older crowd for BBC 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny’s interview with legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. I knew this would be an opportunity for Marr to peddle the Fender Jaguar he helped design with the guitar company: at one point, Marr insisted to the crowd that you don’t need so many guitars, his guitar is so great, you only need the one. Hmm, right…I’ll get back to you on that.

Johnny Marr and Shaun Keaveny Thursday The Great Escape 2018

I was happily surprised that the conversation didn’t de-evolve into a boring, gear head kind of talk only accessible to real guitarists. Instead, Keaveny’s humour coupled with Marr’s down to earth nature made for a comfortable interview for both, Marr entertaining us with unexpected guitar interludes that any Smiths fan worth his salt would recognise, including the intro to ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and the dreamy, yet mournful passes in ‘Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me’, the latter that he revealed was his favourite Smiths riff of all, written alone on a tour bus, missing his girlfriend.

He described writing melodies on a guitar as “It’s like chasing an angel”. What a beautiful, beautiful image to give us. I’d describe Johnny Marr as having a quiet peace around him: he’s obviously one of the 20th century’s greatest musical heroes, but he’s not throwing his weight around or feels the need to be showy. He’s content with where he is in life and he’s happy making music with “the best electronic machine” to write pop music on. Being that contented and happy: something we can all aspire to.

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