The Great Escape 2015 - Friday Review

Friday starts (as did all three of my mornings) with an all you can eat breakfast to set me up for the day. The sun was out early but by the time I'm ready to leave my hotel it's cloudy and chilly, still it's a step up from Thursday's rain (it's so much nicer to be at a festival and have a real bed and a shower each morning!).

I make my way to Paganini Ballroom to see an artist I've never heard before Sasha Siem, her show is well received by a midday crowd. It's the sort of set that's impossible to take your eye off, a genre-hopping combination of Bjork styled eccentricity, varying between grandiose chamber pop where violin, keys and guitar collide in a dizzying spell and sparser, more beautiful moments, it's the latter that I find most rewarding, I am partial to a bit of gorgeous melancholy after all.

Through one of Brighton's narrow passages next to Shipwrights Yard where I first take in a short, sweet set by Portsmouth singer-songwriter Jerry Williams (all the sets here are just twenty minutes). She looks impossibly young and her set is infinitely charming, her sweet voice carries nostalgic (that's to old boys like myself, to Jerry they are current) tales of teenage love and boys checking out girls from behind their sunglasses. 

Next in the same venue it's a band I'd never come across before, Secret Company. They aren't my usual thing and their drummer is seemingly nursing the mother of all hangovers but I'm impressed by their polished alt/indie pop sheen, delivering a set full of guitar driven melodies and undeniably charismatic vocals, I can see them doing well once their EP comes out later in the year.  

Afterwards is a little unexpected bonus with a previous unannounced set from Brighton's own Dog In The Snow, it's good to finally hear "Africa" live for myself. The duo's set combines sparse, tranquil electronics, rhythmic guitar riffs and ethereal vocals to delicious effect, I keep hoping it's going the brooding intensity is going to explode but perhaps it's a little early in the afternoon for that.

A short hop across the road to Sticky Mikes for a not very well advertised set by one of the pre-festival hyped acts Bully.

The quartet, apparently tired from an early morning travel from Cardiff show absolutely no sign of fatigue in a blisteringly intense show. The highlight of the weekend (to this point) is a half hour set full of tracks that will make up their debut album (due in June) and includes the aforementioned "Trying" and "I Remember". Bully are a formidable force live with much of my attention focusing on the simply incredible lead guitarist whom spends much of the set perched down delivering a head-spinning display of guitar mastery amongst pummelling beats and Alicia's raw, growling vocals. The audience feel the thrill too, a non-stop, brutal set of quick, sharp grunge-pop. Awesome.

I'm undecided whether to catch Aurora performing at SpiegelPub next but decide I'll catch her later and instead follow my friend to The Fishbowl to catch Dios Mio, with a pint of the fine Brighton IPA in hand I watch the quartet deliver a strong performance of their sweeping alt-pop.

There's ringing layers of dreamy guitar swirls carried by a  powerful rhythm section and Helena's gorgeously soft vocal, it draws you in and when two new tracks are played near the end it's soon clear that Dios Mio will soon be building upon the foundations we've heard so far.

One of the acts I was most excited to hear follows, my live debut of Siv Jakobsen (I learn I've been pronouncing her name wrong, it's softer than sieve).

Ever wondered what a Britney Spears song would sound like through the eyes of softening melancholy? Well if you were in the audience you'd now know (the answer is awesome). Most of the set is taken from Siv's forthcoming EP The Lingering, an apt title for the spell she weaves with her incredible vocal and acoustic guitar.

"Caroline" leaves you drenched in a state of familiar longing yet one that's comforting too as haunting tones cover you like a warming blanket (just as the second IPA does). There's a more suitably genre-matching cover of Joni's "River" to end the set in majestic fashion and I'm already penning in a repeat dose when Siv performs again tomorrow. There's also a funny moment during an impromptu tuning Q&A when someone asks Siv 'What is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?' (with thanks to Monty Python) and Siv only hears Swallow. I'll leave that there though as this isn't an 18+ website!...

There's a gap in the schedule next and I meet with some friends for a chin wag and some dinner before starting the evening session at The Mesmerist.

So good is Sophie Jamieson these days that half an hour disappears in an instant with a trio of new tracks hinting that her next EP may surpass her last, the quartet deliver a masterclass in spacious, exquisite songcraft with Sophie's voice leaving you hanging on her ever word. It's great to see a full band set as the last couple of times I've seen Sophie she had been solo acoustic (I use acoustic loosely, the guitar these days is firmly electric). I quickly say hello to Sophie at the end and it's only when I'm on the way out that I realise there was no "Waterloo", "Stain" or "Other". A note to festival bookers, if you are booking Sophie Jamieson, she needs at least 45 minutes!

I didn't want any repeat of Coalition shut-out today so I'm inside the venue early to see Aurora. Early enough to find Robin from Breaking More Waves (again) and catch Beach Baby, it's not particularly my thing but the band are decent and the last song "No Mind No Money" is catchy enough to ear them some radio airplay and appeal to fans of sun-drenched slacker pop. 

Aurora is worth the festival admission price alone. I've talked about her wide-eyed glare and hand-shape movements when I reviewed her track "Runaway", in the flesh they are even more pronounced. Her stage presence belie's her still teenage years. She transfixes you with her stares and dances and makes you swoon with her incredible personality.

She is visibly taken aback by the huge, huge cheers that her breathtaking songs receive (the cheers and screams only grow throughout the set) and she seems to be genuinely enjoying herself too. It's magical. This is pop music right here, not what you see on television. She deserves all the success she is going to get, I just hope when I see her again in a year or two's time, that her unique charm and excitement is still there (the nerves won't be, this is just the start). The moment of The Great Escape 2015 and I leave possibly the happiest I've been at an individual TGE gig since I walked out of Josh T Pearson back in 2011.

I head over to The Haunt next, The Vaccines are secret headliners and I know it's going to be busy so I arrive early and abandon plans to see Monica Heldal (I'm unsure I'd get in to her venue too, Soak played directly after her, I assume it was extremely busy). I'm early enough to be inside within ten minutes to see The Big Moon (a band I've been meaning to cover here for about two months now). Perhaps too early because I have to endure one and a half sets beforehand. The first band are playing a guitar solo to rival Brian May. It's self-indulgent and it's shit. When they finally get going they play an acceptable form of 60's leaning psych-stoner rock.

The next band are worse, much worse. The only highlight of which is when the set comes to an abrupt end. The guitarist decides it's a good idea to stage dive into the crowd, the crowd disagree and it ends with him crashing onto the floor. He jumps back on stage and goes off in a huff, the rest of the band finish playing on follow him off. I'm happier to be hearing the entirety of Prince's 1999 played in between. 

The Big Moon redeem the last hour, you can hear the melody and rhythm for a start, it's better than that though, a triumphant set that's rudely interrupted when an amp stops working. I already know how good a guitar player Soph is but the rest of the band are great too with recent single "Sucker" providing a real sing-along moment (along with a cover of Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger"). It's hard to know just how many of the packed crowd were here for them but it's certain at the sets end that The Big Moon have made some new friends.

I head to Brighthelm. I know it's a mistake soon after. The first band are proficient but not what I need and I sit down awaiting some friends. We all then witness a band who make The Darkness seem original. I'm intrigued at the start because the singer sound-checks his mic by singing Queen's "Dreamer's Ball". That's where it ended for me. A big crowd love it though and the band probably draw the biggest mosh-pit I saw all weekend. Proof if it were ever needed that one man's meat is another man's poison.  The last band playing are just noise, any hint of melody and vocal lost amongst (I believe on purpose) a quagmire of feedback and noise. I quickly escape to the safety of my room.

It turns out to be a pretty meh ending to a great day. Those earlier highlights though far outweigh any negativity, especially that incredible performance from Aurora.