Monday, April 09, 2007

The Great Escape Festival

With its laid back vibe, interesting venue and host of alternative attractions, The Great Escape falls into the same category as England’s Latitude Festival and, while the organisers need to perhaps try and lure a few more big name acts next year, there was plenty to see and do over three days of changeable weather.

Friday started with a performance in the VIP area from my dear friends, Angus and Julia Stone (above). After the show I was delighted to hang out with them, catching up with their tales from their time in my homeland, and accompanying them on a photo shoot with the aforementioned Daniel. As the day grew older, it became apparent that I wasn’t really going to see many bands at all. This was largely due to the fact that I simply had no inclination to. It would appear that I am turning into one of those despicable industry people who get free tickets to festivals and then neglect the array of live music on offer. In my defence, I wasn’t reviewing for any publication, and simply enjoyed the freedom of sitting in the sunshine with some friends.

However, in spite of my blasé attitude towards the music, I made sure I caught the acts that I really wanted to see. After enjoying a typically fun show from a sore-throated Ben Kweller, I headed to The Tin Shed to watch Iain Archer. His tunes nicely showcased his songwriting ability, while retaining plenty of charm.

After Archer, it seemed that half of the festival crowd headed to The Terrace to watch Angus and Julia (above, playing the trumpet). Anyone who has ever seen them knows that they are simply wonderful, and on this occasion they were as lovely as ever. The amazing thing about the gig though was the crowd's reaction, which was simply unbelievable. Angus would sing a line, then step back and just watch the crowd sing the words for them. Neither he nor his sister could hide their astonished delight. It was clearly a seminal moment for them, and left me with a genuine sense of emotion that I haven't felt since Morrissey had me in tears at the Reading Festival a few years back. Seriously, seeing their beaming faces utterly awestruck at the reaction they were receiving was truly affecting.
There was no way to suitably follow this rather emotional occasion, certainly not by watching Wolfmother huff and puff their way through a histrionic set on the Village Green Stage (below), and so I headed home for the night.

The following day was ruined by the weather before I had even arrived on site. I met up with some of my friends at Central Station and we jumped on a train to Olympic Park. After reaching the park, one must then catch a shuttle bus to the venue. While we were waiting for the bus, the heavens opened and we all got absolutely soaked to the skin. My imitation Converse were like sodden cardboard and my entirely impractical felt jacket acted as a sponge.

The sun came out and dried me off nicely while I watched Little Birdy, who were everything I hate about music - ugly songs fronted by a tryhard lead singer. To be honest though, I was merely killing time before The Magic Numbers, who were the only band I wanted to see on this day. As they were about to start, the rain lashed down again, meaning that, having been dry for approximately 4 minutes, I was completely soaked once more. Lacking an umbrella, raincoat or change of clothes, I was set to be stuck in wet threads for the rest of the day. To be honest, The Magic Numbers were so excellent that I didn't mind the inclement weather. Since I last saw them two years ago, they have improved their stage presence immeasurably, and rocked the Riverside Stage to within an inch of its life. It was a joyous hour of lovingly crafted music, and worth getting drenched for.

A couple of hours’ aimless wandering followed the second magical brother-and-sister show of the weekend. I took in a show by the barking mad Lee Scratch Perry (whose set ended with a Cribs style mass stage invasion). The impressive Children Collide showed plenty of energy but not enough to stop me thinking about my wet feet, and so I made my way home again, in the hope that the decent weather would return for the final day's fun.

To my relief, the sun blazed down as I made my way back to the festival for the last day, and upon arriving I immediately went to admire the beautiful folk music that Lou Rhodes was purveying down by the river. After spending a few minutes gawping at the statuesque Sarah Blasko, it was time to take in Bridezilla (above). It was another very impressive performance, played out to a packed Tin Shed, and saw the second mass stage invasion of the festival during singalong set-closer Saint Francine.

After the quintet had spent forty minutes wowing me, I took in the end of The Lemonheads’ show, saw some stuff on the cabaret stage, made a fool of myself at Swingball, and hung out with old and new friends, all while I really should have been watching Gomez.

Finally, The Temper Trap (above) rocked my socks off with a familiar-looking string section, and a show that was infectiously energetic and exciting. They really are great to watch live. Then, as others went to check out The Roots, and then made an impact on the booze at the afterparty, it was time for me to bid The Great Escape a fond farewell.

So, while the line-up hardly blew the V Festival out of the water, the atmosphere of The Great Escape was rather lovely and laid-back. It had an old-fashioned feel to it that is sadly lacking with the current crop of corporately branded uber-festivals. Sometimes, all you really need is a field, some likeminded people and for the festival organisers to pay attention to the little things (ping pong tables, beanbags, pretty lighting, free bbq). Now, if they can just encourage just a few more big name foreigners to come along next year, we’ll have a mind-blowingly fun festival to look forward to.

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