FESTIVAL REPORT: The Great Escape 2022
Credit: Julia Mason

FESTIVAL REPORT: The Great Escape 2022

When: 11th – 14th May 2022
Where: Various venues, Brighton, England

Attending my first ever edition of The Great Escape festival in Brighton earlier this month I have to say the stress and FOMO levels were rising with every announcement. Cancelled for the last 2 years but determined to comeback bigger and better than ever before, how the heck was this going to work?

As well as the official festival (the small fact of 500+ bands in 30+ venues over 3 days), there was the Alternative Escape plus a whole heap of free shows put on by labels, PR companies and venues across the city.  This was clash central on a monumental scale and a lesson in accepting that it was simply not going to be possible to see all you wanted to see.

Deciding to skip the biggest venue Chalk completely, the aim was to try and make new discoveries rather than see established artists.  It was as if the Gods were smiling on Brighton as on the eve of the festival, the drizzle of the previous few days lifted, the clouds parted and the skies filled with blue.  Everything was in place for The Great Escape Festival 2022.

Day 1:
First stop was the Scottish showcase at One Church.  I spotted swim school waiting patiently for the doors to open and had a chat with lead singer and guitarist Alice.  Already I had a sense this is what The Great Escape is all about, seeing the artists playing but also bumping into them around Brighton.

Onstage the introductions were made by Vic Galloway and first up was rapper and DJ BEMZ, the winner of the SAY Award (Scottish Artist of the Year).  With a beaming smile the self-proclaimed nerves melted away as he delivered a set which surely must have been a first, at noon on a Thursday!  Having completed a support slot with The Snuts and gaining attention from BBC Radio the future is bright for this young artist.  This was followed by singer songwriter Blair Davie who opened up onstage about his struggles with anxiety and depression.  Music has saved Blair, like so many, and his songs reflected this with music full of passion and emotion.  And then a complete left-hand turn to laptop-rock band Memes, whose banter and colourful language were hilarious in the church.  The room was full to hear the frantic electronic beats and guitar fuelled  music of this Glasgow duo.  How great it is to be dancing at 2pm in the afternoon.

A dash to the Queens Hotel on the seafront for Belfast’s Enola Gay but the room was packed and with its low ceiling it was impossible to see anything.  And here is where the Festival App was perfect.  A quick scan of what else was on nearby and a snap decision was made to head for Patterns downstairs to see TEKE::TEKE, and what a great move that was.  Eclectic music full of joy fronted by two Japanese ladies, the whole room was grinning.  OK, I nearly got hit on the head a number of times by the trombone but it was so worth it to hear this funk, surf rock, big band energy which cast a spell over the whole crowd.  The bowing by the band at the end just sealed the love in the room.

A rush back up to the centre to Jubilee Square where there was a small queue but quickly I was in and in plenty of time to see KEG who were one of my must-sees.  They were preceded by Brighton indie bands Flowvers and Cowboyy, the latter having a guitarist wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt which was impressive in itself.  Both bands were full of confidence and demonstrate Brighton is a breeding ground for new talent.  KEG however were a whole different ballgame.  The antics on stage were entertaining but of course this has to be accompanied by the music and then it is party, party, party.  I think there are seven in the band but I could be wrong as they never all stood still at the same time.  Another trombone brings that but these guys are having fun and not taking themselves too seriously.  I mean what other band plays a conch?

Next stop was the Hope and Ruin and a nervous wait in a queue for Irish band The Clockworks but once in managed to squeeze to the front for their set.  Signed to Alan McGee’s It’s Creation Baby label they are creating a loyal fan base with their observational lyrics and social commentary delivered with a raucous guitar and drums fuelled vibe. The packed room lapped it up.

Final venue of the day was the Green Door Store to carch the end of Chilli Jesson performing to a crowd-moshing out which was fantastic to see.  The gentler demeanour of Lunar Vacation from Atlanta Georgia, gave way to Yorkshire 5-piece Priestgate who are frenetic live.  The whole band are wild onstage with one of their guitarists doing impossible back-bending whilst not missing a beat.  However, it is lead singer Rob Schofield who steals the show.  The music is loud, with guitar hooks, euphoric and empowering, a rally cry against the mundanity of life and the perfect way to end Day 1.

The band Teke:Teke onstage at The Great Escape

Day 2:
The second day was always going to be an early start as Irish bands The Clockworks and Sprints were playing upstairs in the Prince Albert.  There were people milling around an hour before the music started at noon and hence I took the decision to start a queue on the stairs.  Very quickly others followed and before you knew it was around  the block.  One of the joys of this festival is seeing bands in such small venues and for both The Clockworks and Sprints to be in such a tiny room was a treat.  Both bands delivered raucous sets and it was easy to forget just how early in the day it was.

Have to say I sympathise with the bands having to do soundchecks with the crowd staring at them!

One of the buzz bands of the festival was Welsh punksters Panic Shack and it was impossible to get into the Brighthelm so I headed for the beach.  For the first time there was an area created for the festival and it was a gorgeous space; I have no doubt it will remain a fixture going forward.  With all three stages within minutes of each other it opened up the choices of bands within one area.  In addition there was plenty of bars and eateries which made the whole experience wonderful.

My favourite venue of the whole festival has to the MVT (Music Venue Trust) stage at the beach.  It was a retro classic Airstream silver bullet trailer.  Hilariously, the two bands I saw were Opus Kink (seven members) and Thumper (four guitarists plus two drummers!).  Indeed members of Thumper were spotted slightly scratching their heads, obviously working out the logistics of actually getting onstage.  Brighton’s Opus Kink are such good fun and in the spring sunshine it was an utter joy to watch them play.  This is stomping, honking music full of energy and fizz.  Irish band Thumper followed causing utter mayhem on the beach and it was brilliant with both guitarist and singer jumping into the crowd.  The photographers didn’t know where to look and the rest of the band just kept rocking on.

A complete tangent music-wise next in the Amazon New Music tent for Police Car Collective.  The duo combine 90’s hip hop, 2000’s pop punk and infectious pop hooks to create a sound which is a vastly different to the post-punk that currently dominates.  However, whether it was part of the act or the lead singer was genuinely unhappy at being on so early in the day there was a great deal of angst emanating from the stage at the perceived lack of response from the majority of the crowd.  The literal mic drop moment at the end and stomp off stage seemed churlish to say the least.

Back to the Beach tent and Brooklyn’s Been Stellar whose lead singer audibly gasped when he saw the size of the crowd.  This is another band generating a bit of interest and from this performance I can see why.   The five-piece play indie rock in the vein of The Strokes with confrontational lyrics and a strong vocal which remains long after the performance is finished.  One to watch for sure.

Another joy of this festival is that bands can play multiple sets and having missed out on Enola Gay from the first day I was determined to see them on the Beach stage.  The tent was packed and it has to be said the number of photographers speaks volumes about the interest in the Belfast noise-rock band.  They achieved what Police Car Collective couldn’t, got the crowd on their side and moshing.  The guitarist even jumped in at one point.  This is a band making a noise at the moment, in all senses of the word.  Even the technicians and roadies were coming round and sitting in the pit watching.

No time to waste, it was straight on to the next venue.  Casablancas was about a 15 minute walk along the seafront.  Speedy Wunderground had their showcase on downstairs and as the venue was running late we caught the end of Moreish Idols set including their current single ‘Speedboat’ which was a bonus.  It was The Lounge Society we were here to see and the Hebden Bridge four-piece release their debut album in August.  The talent in this band is phenomenal and it was an utter privilege to see them in such a small venue.  Their outspoken view of the world is delivered with a passion that is mesmerising and thrilling.  Head of label, Dan Carey was just behind us in the crowd and I have a feeling the days are numbered of seeing The Lounge Society in such intimate settings.

Last stop of the day was the Paganini Ballroom in the Old Ship Hotel just around the corner.  The surprise was that this was a BBC Introducing stage and was being filmed by BBC Radio 6 Music.  DJ Steve Lamacq was introducing the bands and he quite rightly had glowing words for both deadletter and homeboys Opus Kink.  Not perhaps the best venue for these bands as it was a long thin room but dramatic nonetheless with its high ceilings.  Both bands play stomping music with lyrics that take a cynical view of the world around us.  Both also have charismatic frontmen who know how to get the crowd on their side, and both backed by talented musicians thus providing tight sets fit for a dancing ballroom.  A wonderous end to Day 2.

The band Opus Kink onstage at The Great Escape 2022
Opus Kink

Day 3:
And so to the final day. And what a day it was, with glorious sunshine.  Straight to the Alcopops! Records Showcase upstairs at Casablancas just off the seafront.  New friends were made as there was confusion as to which door opened and it transpires I had literally walked straight to the front of the queue, thinking it was the back!  Such is the vibe at the festival there were no dramas and everyone got in.  There were a few technical problems but self-proclaimed punk witches Dream Nails were relaxed and produced a set as energised as if it was 9pm rather than noon.  As well as old favourites, new music was played with a tantalising glimpse of what we can expect from album No. 2.  Second onstage was Me Rex which includes Kathryn who is also in Fresh and Cheerbleedz.  The work ethic of the bands is boundless and their patience and performance whilst playing a set in a small venue on the possibly the hottest day of the day so far is admirable.  Brighton alt-poppers Orchards surely produced the highest kicks of the festival!  Their live set was far edgier than expected with heavy guitars and much clambering on the amps.  Fabulous

Time for some air and a stroll along the front to Revenge for Sniffany and the Nits.  Steve Lamacq was spotted in the crowd watching these punk noisesters.  The music borders on the unhinged and is both confrontational and challenging.  Any artform has to push the genres and boundaries.

Back down on the esplanade and a visit to Coalition to see part Chess Club Records showcase with Colebleu and L’objectif.  Colebleu opened the venue for the day and her energy and vibes were infectious.  Jumping offstage she pointedly sang at those chatting at the bar, quite right too.  I did not see one band over the three days not put the effort in, even if it was not their crowd.  Leeds’ L’objectif are not your average four guys in a band sound.  Their last singles confirm this.

And so to my final showcase of the festival, the Bad Vibrations showcase at Revenge.  I arrived as Unschooling were playing and how the heck did they travel with so many guitars?!  Next up was another one of my must-sees Regressive Left.  Unfortunately the venue seemed to be struggling with technical issues and their set was beset with problems.  But it did not stop the three-piece continuing with thanks to the crowd for being patient.  The lead singer’s microphone was temperamental but when it did all come together oh my goodness one of my new favourite bands.  Electronics combined with guitar and drums created a dance vibe with lyrics to make you think and question.  Next onstage were PVA and to be honest the technical problems simply got worse.  It looked like technicians from other venues were finally pulled in and PVA delivered a reduced set.  The trio blend club music but also have a drummer and once they finally got going the audience loved it.  The patience of both bands however was to be applauded.  No histrionics simply a desire to play for the crowd.

And so to the mighty Crows.  The crowd was full of love for this band before they even stepped onstage.  Their first time playing as part of the official The Great Escape festival they gave it their all, as they always do.  Various members of other bands were spotted in the crowd including from Ditz, Joe and the Shit Boys, Lambrini Girls and Enola Gay, a compliment indeed.  Crows created one of those special moments, when band and crowd are as one.  Lead singer James Cox headed into the crowd which only intensified the atmosphere.  Live music – Bloody Hell!

Three members of the band Dream Nails onstage
Dream Nails

And all too quickly it was over.  Yes, there were problems.  Talking to festival goers it seems the venues who were not used to putting on gigs just couldn’t cope with the technicalities but hopefully this will be easily resolved for next year. But Brighton threw its doors open and after a two year gap provided a festival to savour.  It further solidified that most important of human needs, the positive shared experience.  Community exists between the artists, the gig-goers and across the independent music industry sector.  Coming together in Brighton created wonderful memories and new discoveries were made.

Tickets for The Great Escape 2023 are now on sale, #justsaying

All Photos: Julia Mason

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.