The Heavy Heavy feel both familiar and fresh at TGE First Fifty Launch

The buzzy Brighton band topped the evening at Oslo Hackney

For over a decade and a half Brighton’s Great Escape Festival has been a prime music hunting ground — a place for new acts to impress important players in the industry and, most importantly, a place for everyone to discover international talent on the up.

For those too determined (or impatient) to wait until May, the festival’s #FIRSTFIFTY campaign offers a snippet of what’s to come. It’s 2023 launch at Oslo, Hackney on Tuesday was a night of psych-tinged, folk-rock Americana with Brighton’s own The Heavy Heavy topping the bill.

Melin Melyn set the tone nicely for their peers with some jubilant, surf rock jams, with the likes of ‘Hold the Line’ practically begging for some 60s freak outs and go-go dancers. Instead, the Welsh band brought their own eccentricities to the stage in the form of Dr. Sausage — a fake-bearded artist painting the six-piece in happy colours — and some sort of green pigeon that’s haunting enough to be taken straight from some folk horror. They’re the kind of antics that might be a risk, but works well with the Welsh folklore-inspired ‘Nefoedd yr Adar’ and the endearing humour of front man Gruff Glyn. During a cover of Glen Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, which he comments is an “original,” Glyn stops before the final chorus to feign a call from his mum, reminding him to push their merch on sale, before he reminds her “I’m a rhinestone cowboy” as the rest of the band kick in.

Londoner Artemas brings us back 2022 with some grunge-inspired bedroom pop, which although sits a little out of place among the Americana theme of the rest of the evening, nevertheless piques the attention of several in the room and will no doubt be a favourite of many in May.

But the room quite clearly belongs to The Heavy Heavy tonight, filling with anticipation as these fresh-faced friend set-up on stage. Formed by friends Will Turner and Georgie Fuller, the band seemed to have inverted the typical trajectory by breaking the US first, having just returned from a two month tour stateside and impressively even an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. Spotify lists their top listeners from Denver and Chicago.

Photos by Nici Eberl

As we see tonight, this is maybe not all too much of a surprise, as they wear their Woodstock-era blues and folk rock proudly on their sleeves. But amped up and drowned in harmonies, these nostalgic sounds feel joyous and fresh. The Kevin Morby-esque ‘Go Down River’ is lead by slowly drifting melody bittersweet and familiar enough to feel like an existing classic, while ‘Man Of The Hills’ balances scratchy rock riffs with full-band harmonic explosions that recall the likes of early Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin vividly enough without veering to close to pure pastiche.

Kudos to the sound crew for bringing the analogue warmth of the 60s sound with clarity and brightness to match, but at the centre of The Heavy Heavy’s growing appeal is clearly a timeless songwriting understanding you just can’t teach.

The Great Escape takes places across Brighton venues from 11–13 May 2023. Tickets available here.