The Great Escape 2011 - Friday Review

Day two of my The Great Escape 2011 review (Thursday here)

Friday lunchtime started as Thursday had, with a trip to Above Audio, whilst it's certainly not my favourite venue as the main standing area is by the exit door and close to the bar the stage is quite well positioned for views. First on were Norwegian troop Team Me who were pleasing enough, a rich typically Scandinavian guitar based indie-pop sound laced with electro and abundance of percussion played by six(?) multi-instrumentalists who put their all into the show, the venue was packed and I didn't see many leave which speaks for itself. 

Next are a band I was definitely interested in seeing, The Jezabels. Almost immediately we were treated to the enormous vocal of Hayley Mary, if you took a look at her slender frame you would never believe her capable of such a powerful performance as she pranced around the small stage. On tracks such as "Hurt M2" and "Mace Spray", the piano-led emotive, cinematic trademark of the group really shines. Overall there is no doubt the Aussie four piece are pretty impressive, my criticism could be down to the sheer size of the venue, their sound is meant for halls not a converted pub but on occasions there's perhaps too much going on, the drummer is incredible but in places with the sheer volume is a little overbearing, saying that I wouldn't hesitate to see them again given chance. 

Next I head to Shipwrights yard to catch The Smoke Fairies who are running late, Katherine later explains it was due to some traffic which means their set is cut short but what we do get is a wonderfully crafted brooding folk music, the girls are exceptional musicians, their intricate guitar work and tightly woven harmonies are utterly captivating, it's such a shame the set was so short (three songs). The fizzy vimto was to-die-for though, hadn't had one in years and it comes highly recommended.

I had a gap in my agenda so I took a chance and went to see Rebeka purely because I was in the mood for some 'dirty synths' as the programme notes called it (along with a more bizarre claim of Chinese Techno) and I was more than pleasantly surprised as the Polish duo were quite exhilarating in a highly enjoyable half hour set. Combining beat-heavy disco electronica with those raw, dirty synths previously mentioned, add in a couple of tracks with some crunching guitar and an energetic vocal and it adds up to a pulsating show, it sure had the mixed crowd at Horatio's dancing about, even at 3pm with the sound of the funfair a distant buzz. I'll certainly be checking out their music once I get the chance.

Four hours drinking yet again took its toll and I retire for a rest before kicking off my evening session at Above Audio for Canadian youngsters (I hadn't previously realised how young) Modern Superstitions who are thoroughly enjoyable in a half hour set led by the energetic lead of singer Nyssa. Her spunky performance and Chrissie Hynde howl vocal is certainly the highlight, overall it's charismatic, entertaining and damn-right fun, the punky guitar lines and catchy tracks were a more than pleasant way to kick off the evening.

I had so many options of bands to see next but I decided to stick to my pre-festival agreement with myself to see bands I'd never caught before ahead of ones I had so I reluctantly missed Still Corners (thankfully they've two London shows next month) and head to the Prince Albert to see Rachel Sermanni.

Now I'm not really convinced this was the ideal setting for her, the Albert is a dark, dingy room on top of a quite decent pub (it sells Birra Moretti on tap after all) though once the young Scottish folkstress steps onto the stage the setting is soon forgotten, you are transferred to a much more serene place as her captivating, well crafted and incredibly beautiful music calms you with a blissful ease, literally causing goosebumps with its spellbinding quality. As she stepped onto the stage she came across as a little shy so it was really alluring to find that Rachel is really witty and funny, in-between tracks she talks with ease and confidence with some amusing stories and song introductions. Soon a potentially tricky venue where you could easily expect to hear the clunking of beer glasses at the bar is quickly transformed to a silent theatre, with an attentive crowd eager to hear every word from Rachel. Her guitar work was also exemplary, some traditional folk strumming along side more slightly aggressive up-tempo turns too, she sometimes plays with a backing group, on this performance I don't see the need.

I really shouldn't say things like this given most music I think should be household is reserved for small clubs whilst mundane and mediocre artists rule the charts, but if this young and talented lady doesn't find herself with an army of devoted fans before long, then the world really is in need of some help.
She teased us with mention of future releases, I hope that one isn't too far away, I'm eager to hear more.

Next up are one of my favourite acts Let's Buy Happiness, I'd first seen them at TGE last year and in the interim year I'd fallen for them time and time again on record and become increasingly encouraged by their developing live sound, the good news is that they are still finding room for improvement. There are some great new tracks in the set, my memory is shocking but "Dirty Legs" was one title, you can tell they are increasingly confident and comfortable on stage as the expand on their dynamic shimmering guitar soundscapes. A reworking of "Works Better on Paper" especially wonderful, alongside singles "Fast Fast" and "Six Wolves" and a favourite of mine "Clean Mistake". Sarah is as charming and immediate as ever, her beautiful vocal is certainly one of my favourites in the business, though, just where is "Devil's Show"?!

There was only one place I heading next, to the Pavillion Theatre to catch Josh T. Pearson. I arrived in plenty of time (thankfully as the venue was soon to be packed with both Josh and Villagers fans) and begin waiting a little while for Josh to arrive, when he does he is taller than I anticipated carrying a cable for his amp in a couple of Rough Trade bags. He starts dead on time, perhaps a little early and immediately showcases a dry sense of humour as he jokes about his age, tiredness and not knowing what day of the week it is. He then kicks into the first of his "ten minute chart smashes", "Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ" which (as you'd
expect if you've heard his extraordinary album 'Last Of The Country Gentlemen') is a dark, morose and lengthy track of stark, honest Americana.

"Woman, When I've Rasied Hell" follows in similar fashion, equally heart-wrenching and hauntingly beautiful, the audience remains silent throughout. It's completely captivating, his achingly painful and honest words, a face that shows signs of a thousand heartaches, every single second is absolutely commanding, all this whilst he flawlessly strums at his acoustic guitar with nonchalant ease.

Josh was due to play 30 minutes but the enormous reception he received meant neither Josh nor the crowd wanted it to end so we were treated to some more jokes (most not so good!)  and "Thou Art Loosed", the audience response at the end was probably the loudest reception I heard all weekend, I think it reached Josh too and he appears not to want to leave before a Villagers roadie finally asks him to finish his majestic set.

I've been to a few gigs in my times (275 according to Songkick) and this 45 minute set ranks amongst one of the most jaw dropping things I have ever seen, he plays London in November, don't miss it.

The night ends with disappointment, a trip up to the Green Door Store to see Planningtorock ends before it has started, an earlier blown up PA system led to ptr not playing, certainly a shame for the queuing crowds, though I'll get a chance to see her next week and after the Josh T. Pearson show perhaps it's fitting that I hear no more live music, I have a couple of reflective beers instead, Friday you were pretty spectacular.

Unlike the pictures, this video isn't mine:

Rachel Sermanni : Sleep @ The Great Escape 2011 from Josh Butterworth on Vimeo.