Simon Price on Brighton's The Great Escape festival: So when did young people get so old?
The boys are wet wet wet down in Brighton. Fortunately, girl power raises the roof
Saturday 18 May 2013
The queue of paying Great Escape ticket-holders waiting to get into The Warren – a church hall tucked away behind Brighton's hellish Booze Britain battleground West Street – could fill the venue five times over.
In the much smaller, fast-tracked queue of industry delegates, all the talk, naturally, is of business. Specifically, how difficult it is nowadays to screw a few pennies from the civilians lined up across the alley. "Have you thought of hotel lobbies?" asks one. "It's the future ..."
The terrifying truth is that he may be right. The act we're waiting an hour and a quarter to see is Tom Odell, winner of the critic's choice gong at this year's Brit Awards. And Odell does indeed make music that's precision-engineered for the Malmaison reception area.
Put simply, if Odell was any wetter we'd all need kayaks. The baby-faced, Hanson-haired 23-year-old, raised in Chichester, is a singer-pianist who plays gigs sponsored by Burberry, and whose single biggest influence is Elton John. When did young people get so old?
When we're eventually admitted, it's clear that the extravagant light show is the likely cause of the delay. The quiet bits in Odell's songs are repeatedly drowned out by a lighting engineer having a dispute with an unheard interlocutor. "I told you this was going to happen. As long as you know it's going to go white at the end of the song ..."
There are lots of quiet bits in Tom Odell songs. But there are just as many bits, in his Coldplay-lite oeuvre (imagine!), where his lower lip wobbles, he slaps the lid of his Roland upright, and appears on the brink of bursting into tears. On what basis? Examine his winsome nursery-rhyme lyrics for any justification for such emotionally overwrought delivery and the page, like the lights, goes white.
Fortunately, there's far more to The Great Escape than Tom O'Dull, so I dash over to the Blind Tiger bar just in time to catch Findlay, a seriously impressive 21-year-old Mancunian with a gingham outfit, teardrop-bodied guitar and a voice that, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, seems to arrive from somewhere beyond her mortal, coltish frame. Her garage rock with a groove carries echoes of P J Harvey, Patti Smith and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, tough-girl lyrics ("Don't touch what you'll never replace ...") and an ability to break into a Vaudevillian cane-twirl and throw you off balance.
It's one-nil to the girls so far because Kodaline – supporting festival headliners Everything Everything at The Dome – are cut from the same damp cloth as Odell. Chart-toppers in their native Ireland, they deal in woe-is-me, four-plinks-to-the-bar piano pop, over which Stephen Garrigan whines lines such as "I know I've only got myself to blame ..."
Down in the basement of Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, a pebble's throw from the seafront, the wonderful Night Engine once again prove themselves the British band it's worth getting excited about this year, their elegantly assured funk-pop channelling Bowie's Station To Station, Associates' Sulk and early Franz Ferdinand. But I reviewed them a few weeks ago, so duty drags me back to The Warren, where I'm still in time for Deap Vally.
Who turn out to be a revelation. If two members of The Runaways were still on the run, had raided LaBelle's dressing-up box (raven-feather epaulettes, glitter bra, velvet hotpants) and scalped Bette Midler and Stevie Nicks to use their hair as wigs, it would be something like Deap Vally. As a badass blues-rock duo comprising a drummer and a singer wielding a stringed instrument, they invite comparisons with The White Stripes, Death From Above 1979 and Royal Trux, and are so loud they blow the venue's power out. "Someone must have flushed the toilet backstage," says Lindsey Troy, the Stevie Nicks one. "There's a sign about that."
This humour is almost as enjoyable as the San Fernando Valley girls' music. "We're wearing purple because our hotel is shrouded in it," says Julie Edwards, the Bette Midler one. "In the States, that would never fly, because purple is associated with homosexuality." There's an intake of breath from the gay capital of the UK, until she delivers the pay-off. "That's why we love it here."
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