FestivalsLive Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: The Great Escape 2019 – Friday

We’re welcomed on day two by glorious sunshine, so what better way to start than to head to The Great Escape’s purpose built pop-up stage directly on the beach. A new addition to the festival site in 2018, The Beach is home to a vibrant collection of stages, eateries and bars, and comes alive when the sun is shining. Cheeky, chirpy singer/songwriter James Smith keeps the feel-good vibes going in The Dive Bar, one of three venues at The Beach, showcasing his plucky, uplifting acoustic tracks. Between songs, his vibrant personality makes him a pleasure to be around, it’s just a shame his character doesn’t come through more in his music. Hailey is by far Smith’s most accomplished song, with melodies that allow his excellent voice to shine through, but sadly the rest of his repertoire is all too forgettable. 5/10

Still within The Beach site, Clara McHugh is next up on the Ditto Stage. The Irish singer/songwriter’s gentle, emotionally driven folk voice is moving on record, but on an open-air stage, with the bustle of the location around it, McHugh’s set is unfortunately lost amongst the background noise. There’s no doubt that in a small, enclosed space her voice would flourish, but this setup feels too detached and ultimately the set fails to grab the attention it deserves. 4/10

With over 500 acts performing across the city, festival goers are awash with choice and sadly you can’t be everywhere at once. Every now and then, you discover a set that’s so good, you feel bad for everyone who chose to be elsewhere at this exact moment. Step forward Japanese electro-punk quartet Chai. The band are so full of joy that their energy becomes infectious and their fuzzy, bass-driven slabs of punk-tinged pop-rock are just as contagious. Splice in some spontaneous dance choreography and a bizarre cover of Dancing Queen and you have one of the most original and entertaining sets of the weekend. It’s testament to Chai’s spectacular entertainment levels that despite the cramped, sweaty conditions within Hideout, there wasn’t a person left standing without a beaming smile on their face. 9/10

Over the years, St Mary’s Church has hosted some of the most memorable performances of this event. The remarkable architecture of the building and its pristine acoustics creates a soulful synergy which, when combined with the right act, can produce a deeply moving experience. French-Canadian pianist Alexandra Streliski’s beautifully arranged compositions are tailor made for such an environment, the vaulted ceilings echoing each carefully considered note in a way that resonates with your soul. Each piece ebbs and flows, toying with your emotions with each twist and turn and could easily fit the score of a silent movie, as each song does all of the talking with just piano keys alone. The combination of songs that tug on the heartstrings and this wonderful setting make for a number of moist eyes amongst the appreciative audience, our own included. An unforgettable experience that stands out as a highlight of the festival. 10/10

With our emotions in tatters, we head to another place of worship, this time the Unitarian Church, adjacent to the festival’s central hive of activity, Jubilee Square. Acoustic singer/songwriter Archie Faulks allows us no opportunity to regain our emotional composure, as his wonderfully soulful voice tugs on the heartstrings once more. When It Rains demonstrates Faulks at his best: a haunting melody carried by lilting acoustic chords, emphasising the maturity and strength of his songwriting. Capped off by a beautiful rendition of the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody, Faulks’ set emerges as one of the strongest acoustic acts of the whole weekend. 9/10

Brighton locals Black Peaks released their hotly anticipated second full length earlier this year and judging by our struggle to enter The Old Market, it’s been very well received. By the time we’re able to squeeze into the venue half the set has passed us by, but we’re in time to witness the ever-impressive, bone-shaking growls of front man Will Gardner as he launches the band into fan-favourite Say You Will. As was the case with Black Peaks’ debut album Statues, the live cuts of their latest album carry much more weight on the stage, delivering tones and emotions that go beyond what even the best studio could possibly capture. Black Peaks are one of the alternative scene’s most cherished live acts and this short-but-sweet performance has certainly whetted our appetite to see them again on tour this year. 8/10

A crowd of Maisie Peters fans were left disappointed last year when the Unitarian Church quickly reached capacity ahead of her set. This year she moves to the much larger Komedia, providing just reward for her ever growing popularity. Armed with an endearing personality, outstanding voice and a series of personable and relatable tracks, it’s easy to understand Peters’ magnetism. Her best moments come via vulnerable, acoustic tracks that are painfully relatable and emotionally sung, but take nothing away from the quality of those driven by keyboards and electronic beats as well. It’s a very well paced and arranged setlist, as quieter moments are traded off with more upbeat songs to keep things varied, demonstrating care and attention for the live set. It’s a shame that people at the back of the room felt the need to talk so loudly during the acoustic songs, but credit must be given to those actively trying to shush them, prompting to Peters to comment with: “I appreciate the shushing. it’s like being in a cool library.” If every library had a Maisie Peters, they’d be the most popular spots in town. 9/10

Written by: Mark Johnson