Once more unto the beach, my friends. It’s May, which means Spring has sprung, so it simply has to be time for The Great Escape festival in Brighton City. And so the Pandaman gets slayed with his bucket and spade in the company of battalions of battle-hardened new music fans and half-concussed industry droogs. Some panels, some parties, some nutbag networking sessions and a billion gigs in the company of the good, the bad and the underrated.
We start before we’ve even started, on the Wednesday night when The Great Escape hasn’t even officially kicked off, with PORCHLIGHT lighting up the Green Door Store. They do that angsty post-punk guitars thing and they do that sullen spoken word thing and they do both those things with grace and intelligence and exquisitely uplifting grouchiness. They sound heroic, important. And the singer has a terrifically important and heroic ‘80s mullet which is slightly more Mark Burgess than Bono, but let’s not split hipster hairs.
Thereafter it’s a matter of holding on tight as we are confronted by a blizzard of bands, a tsunami of supercharged pop tykes. There is a stack of Pandaman panda acts – cf SOLAR EYES, ENJOYABLE LISTENS, BAG OF CANS, CHINA BEARS – all on top form and full of sparkling endeavour. There are old Pandaman diary faves as well, notably HUMOUR proving they really do have a sense of humour with a fraught breakdown at the Hope & Ruin and BIG SPECIAL showing flashes of vulnerability and outright melody amidst their beefy post-punk palaverness.
But the biggest fun is to be had rocking on the relentless Great Escape new band wurlizter. Enter GERMEIN at North Laine Brewery, three sisters from Western Australia doing it for themselves making a sassy mallrat pop racket with little more than bass, drums, guitar, some strong sisterly harmonies and an alarming level of intensity for a midday showcase. They are going on tour with The Corrs, and you can see why. From Greer to eternity, etcetera.
REB FOUNTAIN is a sultry and stormy New Zealander with strong femme fatale vibes. Her poetry is dramatic, the artistry is dynamic, the half of an ice cream van wedged into the North Laine bar is bewilderfuddling. CONNOR MAC meanwhile is furiously handsome and sweetly soulful, one man and a swish backing track like Michael Buble crossed with Barbie’s Ken. Connor comes flashing his guns. The vest is history.
To REDOLENT at Horatios, very much showing up on the end of the pier. For six such vigorous looking youths they make a surprisingly restrained noise, all casual electronic layering and leisurely pacing. The fun lies in the lyric matrix running across the front of the line of keys and synths which diligently details the hearty Edinburgh drawled f-bombs that pepper the set.
To HOTWAX at the Beach Stage. Invaders from down the coast in Hastings, the girl / boy / girl trio are sleazy and breezy and grungey and slamming. Dashing over the pebbles, DEADLETTER are livening up the sun-drenched crowd with some feral ructions being hurled from the side of a gleaming caravan.
To MIA WRAY upstairs at a lushly lit Folklore. She’s a beaming Queenslander with a piano, an extravagant vocal range and a very tidy take on enraptured emotional soulpop. It’s searingly commercial, but bolstered by a nonchalant jazz undercurrent. Mia has been on tour with Maisie Peters, and you can see why.
To WHITELANDS at the lavishly carpeted Paganini Ballroom. Later on this BBC 6Music hoedown will have queues a’plenty for Vlure, but early doors find the multi-enthnic Whitelands quartet in spangly nostalgic mode, curving back to the birth of the late ’80s dreampop vibe. It’s got the aura of early Ride but it’s also riddled with the spirit of sonic explorers AR Kane, which is extremely tidy because AR Kane have been on remixing duties on their new single.
To ENUMCLAW at Komedia. (Now there’s a google surprise (Enumclaw, not Komedia)). Another multi-enthic quartet nodding to the past they create a terrifically loud and lithe hardcore noise underpinned by the gnarliest bassist of the whole festival, and that’s saying something. The supercool Washington Staters have already won over the battered hearts of Seattle with their grunge thrustings, so the tagline of “The best band since Oasis” could either be taken as being super-ironic or mega-prescient. And if that doesn’t sum up the summery Great Escape vibes then we’re not sure what does.
PANDAMAN’S GREAT ESCAPE TOTAL: 31