The Great Escape 2022: as it happened

Rounding up the best artists to hit the beach at Brighton's annual celebration of new music

Day 1

“Welcome to this place of worship” laughed Margo Cilker, playing Brighton’s Union Chapel on the first day of The Great Escape Festival – half referring to the venue, half to the festival itself. The city’s streets, pubs, beaches and churches saw some of the best names in new music gather for the first day of the festival, with Cilker’s set an early highlight. Singing her confessional Americana to an awkwardly seated congregation (“I grew up a church girl… this is just too weird!”), Cilker lost herself so much in the storytelling that she ran out of time to finish her set, ending on her ode to Steve Earle, ‘Brother, Taxman, Preacher’.

Margo Cilker
Margo Cilker at Union Chapel

Earlier on, Mysie took to the Ticketmaster New Music stage at Coalition to weave jazz, Afrobeat and gospel around one of the most distinctive new indie soul voices around. Impossible to pigeonhole, she made the stage her own singing from her Ivor Novello-winning EP Undertones and debut single ‘Rocking Chair’, before closing with the summer vibes of new track, ‘Gin + Juice‘.

For all their classic punk rock visual cues – not least singer Anna Acquroff’s bleach blonde spikes – the buzzy Glasgow band Medicine Cabinet brought a strikingly melodic presence to CHALK, which would later host headliners The Amazons. Driving, head-nodding shoegaze tracks like ‘The Signs’ were given a Cocteau Twins-like glaze thanks to Acquroff’s almost effortless falsetto, though with all the members switching instruments and taking on vocals it’s clearly a shared vision.

Further along the beach, post-punk Windmill alumnae Goat Girl darkened the mood with a driving psych-rock set that drowned out the waves as the festival reached into its first night. Sounding like Warpaint‘s angrier sisters (who are also really into slasher movie soundtracks…), the London quartet harmonised angst over the new synth sounds of recent LP, On All Fours. Ending early on ‘Where Do We Go’ (they were just as bad at clock-watching as Cilker was…), it was hard getting the crowd out the tent.

Back at the Ticketmaster showcase on the seafront, young Brighton local Isabelle Brown impressed with soul-drenched pop, ripe with specks of summer despite the dark, club-night feel of the venue. The timeless sound of ‘In Your Head’ seemed a crowd favourite, whilst the space of ‘To Say Goodbye’ – driven by a Tame Impala-esque beat – helped to spotlight Brown’s special vocal quality.

Kid Brunswick at Coalition

Following Brown’s set, Kid Brunswick did his best to shake the foundations of the seafront arches. Leaning out within spitting distance of his fans, he brought the noise with stomp of goth grunge R&B – digging deep into his own past through hard-fought tracks that everyone in the room already knew the words to, including ‘Stained’, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘Prescription Kid’. Half desperate to connect with his crowd, half lost in his own sound, even Download‘s field-filling stages (where he’s set to play next month) will feel too small.

Day 2

However many people managed to squeeze into the tiny upstairs bar of The Prince Albert for CMAT on Friday morning, there were twice as many lining the stairs and spilling out into the street. If you were stuck outside the door you would have had a hard time hearing her – since technical difficulties forced her to improv an acoustic set without any of her band to back her up. 

Like the best festival accidents, CMAT Unplugged was the weekend highlight that even she didn’t see coming – proving that with a voice like that (sounding like Angel Olsen with a sense of humour; heart-breaking, even while impersonating a saxophone…), she really needs to make an acoustic album. 

CMAT at The Prince Albert

Over at the Canada House strand at Green Door Store, the echoey surf pop of Saskatchewan trio The Garrys proved a perfect accompaniment to the bluebird weather outside, and Naya Ali brought dirty Quebec hip hop to the floor (literally, during ‘Out Of The Dirt’, jumping down into the crowd), punching through Friday morning like it was in her way. Next up, Bad Waitress proved themselves the most Canadian of punks by glancing up at the soundcheck after a raw squall of guitar and saying, “pretty loud, eh?”. Dripping sweat under the station arches after just a couple of songs off their debut, No Taste, the band electrified the stage with riot grrrl grunge, landing hard on 2021’s ‘Bad Habits’. 

It was worth escaping the sun for half an hour to catch Switzerland’s District Five, who melded angular math-rock with jazzy improvs and psych-rock dreaminess. The beach was the place to be for most of the afternoon, though, with six-piece Opus Kink just about fitting onto the MVT Stage — a converted food truck from which the Brighton band offered sleazy post-punk goodness. 

Rachel Chinouriri at the TGE Beach stage

Rachel Chinouriri took the Beach Stage with the sunniest of breakup songs from her new EP, Better Of Without, making indie bedroom-pop sound like it’s always belonged at the seaside. Melting vulnerability into confidence, textured electronica and thick bass-lines swelled into some of the brightest, most exciting sounds of Friday afternoon. 

Opposite, at the same time, Brooklyn’s Been Stellar painted a very different picture. More Strokes than The Strokes have sounded in years, the band filled the TGE Beach tent (and then some) with unstoppable New York indie scuzz. Building up walls of psych-rock noise with three guitars and then knocking them down with Sam Slocum’s wailed vocals, the band stormed The Great Escape like they had something to prove.

The Mucky Duck hosted some of the day’s highlights, too, with successive acts somehow getting better and better throughout the afternoon. Despite it behind her first ever UK show, LA singer-songwriter A.O. Gerber seemed at home with the Brighton crowd, joking in between songs from her debut Another Place To Need. Bristol’s Jemima Coulter carried on Gerber’s emotive power, a striking talent and one of the finds of the weekend. 

As if 400 bands wasn’t enough already, Love Thy Neighbour somehow found the only free space left in the city to fit in a fringe Escape show – squashing Ducks Ltd. Into the downstairs corner of The Hope And Ruin. Chatting to the crowd about how good the town’s record stores were (buying Orange Juice and The Go-Betweens, if you’re interested…), lead singer Tom McGreevy also confessed that ’18 Cigarettes’ was written about an old break-up in Brighton – making that, plus roughed-up jangle-pop ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Sheets Of Grey’ sound even more perfect, even under the pub’s DIY garlands of packing peanuts.

Those quick enough to get a spot at Chalk for Yard Act — the ‘second most popular band in the UK’, as singer James Smith jokingly put it— were not disappointed. Smith goaded and taunted the crowd, spurring them into one of the best atmospheres of the weekend. 

Yard Act at Chalk

Bad Wet Leg comparisons are as rife at this year’s The Great Escape as the seagulls, especially in the buzz around Momma. Far more Pavement and Smashing Pumpkins than any other “two-girls-with-guitars” contrasts, Brooklyn duo Momma deserve all their own hype – bringing loud, smart 90s indie-rock to the sticky floors at the end of the pier at Horatio’s. “This is a song about wanting to get on the cover of Rolling Stone”, says guitarist and vocalist Etta Friedman. “You’re gonna get there!” shouts back someone in the crowd, trying to be funny. “Thanks”, she deadpans, launching into the perfect grunge screech of ‘Rockstar’ to finish Friday night off the right way.

Day 3

The crowds swelled as the sun shone on the last day of The Great Escape – the sleepiest, but busiest day of the festival so far.

Those with sore heads found some gentle folk respite at One Church with Broadside Hacks — a rotating collective of musicians from acts such as Sorry, Naima Bock and Goat Girl, with each member bringing a traditional folk number to the group to perform. Though the church’s lofty acoustics caused a few teething problems — line-checking a nine-piece outfit isn’t a walk in the park even on the best of days — their sparse, slightly free jazz take on folk soon found its sound, The Wickerman’s ‘Gentle Johnny’ feeling appropriately eerie but enticing. 

English Teacher at The Komedia

Over at The Komedia, yesterday’s live session on 6Music helped English Teacher get one of the biggest crowds of the whole weekend.

“Anyone got a pick?” asks a frazzled guitarist Lewis Whiting, watching a dozen hands shoot up (welcome to Great Escape…). Backed up against the wall by their own buzz, English Teacher’s poetic post-punk felt raw and intimate; Lily Fontaine slowing down her ‘Yorkshire Tapas’ reading into such beatnik revery that drummer Douglas Frost forgot to stop playing at the end of the track.

Heavenly Recordings’ top new talent Katy J Pearson is one of Broadside Hacks’ occasional collaborators, but the Bristol singer-songwriter busy was preparing for her own spotlight on the pier at Horatios on Saturday afternoon, where one of the other longest queues of the weekend had already formed. Those stuck in line would have wished for sun cream, but the few lucky enough to teeter in caught Pearson’s earnest charm, saving her hit ‘Take Back The Radio’ until last.

Further along the beach, Australian pub rock punks Pist Idiots were playing the MVT’s chrome food truck – part Byrds, part Buzzcocks, all sunny seaside chaos. Rattling through tracks from 2021’s Idiocracy (plus crowd pleasing ’99 Bottles’ and ‘F**k Off’), frontman Jack Sniff had far more energy than the over-baked crowd – giving Saturday one of the most ferocious and fun blasts of garage rock.

As the shadows started spreading further across the beach, The Great Escape headed into its final night, with the likes of ArrDee, Alex The Astronaut and Crows all competing with Eurovision on pub TVs. There was no better way to finish things off though than catching Canadian dream pop outfit Tallies – seeing those Sundays comparisons and raising them. Making shoegaze feel warm and jangly, tracks from the upcoming Patina rode beautifully alongside the nostalgia of ‘No Dreams Of Fayres’, and even better with the gentle swell of the Brighton seaside.

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