The Great Escape 2014 - Thursday Review

I feel slightly brighter now, I'm not sure if it's because I'm away from the battering sea-front winds Brighton treated us to all weekend (although, Thursday lunchtime aside the weather was on the whole nice) or if it's a decent nights sleep or a day off alcohol (probably a combination of all three) but no sooner than it had seemingly begun, The Great Escape is over for another year. The next three posts will serve as my review, the highlights of my weekend and some general observations as we go along. The first one - on Friday and Saturday especially the day time alternative escape shows seemed busier than ever before. Friday and Saturday's review might be delayed, as I've previously mentioned, I'm moving house (in about an hour).

I arrive into the aforementioned rain. It's a terrible journey to Brighton too, problems on the railway lines mean I'm standing on a platform at Gatwick Airport for half an hour and then have to head to Hove and grab a taxi to town instead. The first thing I notice is the wind, boy, the wind. It's raining as well. A beautiful start.

After a bag drop and trip to the wristband exchange (which has moved to the Old Steine this year) it's a walk up to the station and to Green Door Store first to see Ballet School (I had planned on going to Blind Tiger but our lateness hindered that). The Berlin based trio combine big punching beats with an even bigger vocal and soaring guitars, it's a potent combination of 80's power pop nostalgia that rarely pauses for breathe and one which draws a capacity audience to a Thursday lunch time show, though perhaps a later show would have helped to get people dancing.

Beer update 1: £4.20 for a pint of San Miguel.

After it's a new venue to me, Brighthelm. It's an unusual place, the front has a day centre, down stairs there's a pre-school and in the back there is a sizeable room that looks like it usually hosts amateur theatre. The first act I see is someone I'd never come across before, Aimee Gould. She's a young singer songwriter who takes to stage with a male counterpart and the duo harmonise throughout. Aimee's voice has a soft, pretty feeling similar to that of Emily and the Woods and there are indications of future potential throughout, especially on her recently released track "Don't Let Go".

Afterwards I quickly head to Pompoko (I head here for lunch every day, one of the two places - the other being Ben's Cookies - that I wish I could clone to my hometown) and back to Brightelm for the next act Wyldeck.

The first thing you notice is the hair - there is a lot of hair on stage but soon I discover an accomplished band, their darkly hypnotic rhythms are compulsive and have people in the crowd dancing around like they've found themselves in a Clint Eastwood movie.

A bloggers mini convention occurs before The Night VI take to stage and soon I'm hit by the first really swoon-tastic moment of the festival. A set book-ended by the fabulous singles "Thinking of You" and "Sienna" highlights a band with an infinite amount of potential, shimmering crescendo's, beautiful, soothing harmonies, a devastating lead vocal, catchy hooks, it's a set that has it all.

Beer update 2: £3.50 for a can of Becks.

I head back to my room quickly to check in and drop off my bag, I'm not really a fan of carrying stuff around all day!

Next to the main area of the festival and to the green, very green surroundings of the Heineken Stage. As you walk in you wonder where the stage is, there wasn't really one. A speaker in the corner of the room gives the game away and eventually it's joined by a microphone. I'm here for Eliza Shaddad and soon she plays amongst the unusual surroundings, on the whole the audience are obliging and remain quite as her soft, devastating tones fill the room and sounds never more beautiful than on "When We". Eliza later tells me she'll play her first ever band show on Saturday night and I make a note in my diary (in my head).

Beer update 3: A pint of Heineken for free. I think I got lucky and had a drink when Heineken were handing out freebies. I'm not one to complain! (it didn't taste very good).

I was left wondering where to start the evening but agree with my friend that we'd give Norma Jean Martine a shot, I'd not heard her before but we head to The Coalition shortly before she enters the stage and I'm impressed. Very impressed in fact. A young American (though from her soundcloud page I learn she is perhaps living in London now) who's piano led pop is made for the radio, joined by bright guitars and precise beats there's an instant quality to her music and her voice is quite lovely too. I make a note to listen to her properly once the dust settles on the weekend.

Beer update 4: £4.40 for a pint of Staropramen

I head outside and battle the wind to head to The Warren, a venue tucked away behind the shopping centre and find a mini world tucked away, more reminiscent of a Glastonbury area than a venue at The Great Escape.

I'm here for Russian Red who starts bang on time (I found most venues to be very punctual). There are a few technical problems and Lourdes seems somewhat more business like than her fun-filled headlining show on Tuesday (at London's The Lexington) but I'm still putty in her hands and I absolutely adore both her voice and her new direction, the rockier full band sound of her latest record is my favourite of her three records and the only thing I am disappointed with is that the show finishes after half an hour. I do like precise half hour sets, about the perfect length to showcase a band and for them to grab your attention but when you are seeing an artist you really like who doesn't often play in the UK, you can't help but want more.

Beer update 5: £4.00 for a bottle of Carslberg

I only intended to call in on Wilsen next (after all I'd seen her perform on the previous two days) but Unitarian Church is running behind schedule and I arrive in time to see the whole set. The acoustics of the church suit the restrained, shimmering atmospheric of their music perfectly and Tasmin's luxurious tones have rarely sounded so crystal clear, the audience are deadly silent and it's a joy to watch, especially when it comes to "Anahita", their perfect set closer.

I leg it up the road and get into Green Door Store just as Tennis begin, it's not often that you see a band with a couple of albums under their belt and you say this; the set highlight was a new track. I'm not sure what it was called but it was fantastic, a real edge to it, one that sounded bigger, brighter and catchier than anything the band have done before. Again, it's a band that have too much material you want to hear over a half hour set and there's naturally disappointment that we don't get to hear "Marathon" and more tracks from their debut but I leave happy I made the trip.

I quickly scoot across the road to the Prince Albert to see Arthur Beatrice and after some time queuing on the stairs whilst the previous band play I enter and find myself perfectly positioned at the front.

What follows is the highlight of the day (and probably the weekend too). A 45 minute set drawn from their wonderful record Working Out that is refined, restrained, elegant and brilliant. A mic stand failure aside everything is delivered with perfectly honed skill and I am left wondering why the band are playing a tiny, roasting pub room when there is a venue like the Corn Exchange down the road (not that I mind seeing them in a small venue of course). This is a band who should be playing to bigger crowds, hopefully they'll find the success they deserve soon. Go and listen to them.

Beer Update 6: £4.10 for a pint of Red Stripe.

It's now past midnight and I head to Sticky Mike's Frog Bar to see Claire, however, the band before are really not my thing and I can hear bed calling. I think the decision to retire early was the right one. Overall day one was a great start to the weekend where I managed to see almost every act I wanted to.