Rarely does Brighton’s nickname of London-on-Sea seem more apposite than during The Great Escape when the hirsute of Hoxton cram themselves into the city’s clubs and bars over three days to unearth the bands of the future.
Though ostensibly a showcase event in which throngs of industry types go in search of the next big thing, the festival is fast becoming a haven for real-life fans searching for the festival vibe without having to do battle with a tent.
There are drawbacks to having such a concentration of talent in one small place, however, as the wind-whipped punters marooned outside Future Islands, Saturday night’s big draw thanks to a recent Letterman performance, underlined. But for every buzz band missed, there are countless more acts playing nearby.
Wisely rising early for a lunchtime gig, Hollie Cook brought sunshine into a dark basement beneath the promenade with her ska and dub-influenced sounds. Cook, for whom music is in the genes (her father is Sex Pistol Paul Cook while her mother was in Culture Club) is a little bit Beats International, a little bit Lily Allen though without the latter’s lyrical barbs, it’s all too pleasant to make a lasting impact.
Across town, punk-popsters Gnarwolves mocked their sponsors and threatened to break things before politely thanking everyone and declaring they were having the time of their lives. Real-life rebels they aren’t, though with a built-in charm and tailor-made for irritable, black-clad teens, this Brighton trio can’t go far wrong.
In a tiny room above a pub the BBC Sound of 2014 nominee George Ezra revealed a preternaturally old head on young shoulders in an engaging acoustic set culminating in “Budapest”, an ode to choosing love over bricks and mortar. This chisel-jawed 20-year-old who hails from Bristol has a voice that is straight from the Appalachians, which means he couldn’t be less fashionable if he grew a massive quiff and joined Jedward on tour. But if he can retain the rough edges of his heroes he might just stand a chance.
Over the road from Brighton Pier, electronic wizard William Doyle – better known as East India Youth – conjured introspective Eno-esque soundscapes and teeth-rattling techno choruses, proving that an adolescence spent with only a laptop for company needn’t signal the death of humanity. Indeed, humanity is at the very core of Doyle’s sound, making him one of the weekend’s most arresting live acts.
An increasing staple of The Great Escape is the so-called “secret gig” loudly flagged up to ensure the mandatory paparazzi presence. And so it was with Kaiser Chiefs, trying to claw back their credibility after singer Ricky Wilson’s recent stint on The Voice. And, oddly, they pulled it off with a combination of old-fashioned charisma and a combustible set-list that wisely concentrated on the old hits.
And if the sight of a newly anointed TV star sending up Daily Mail values in “The Angry Mob” stuck in the audience’s craw, they were too polite to mention it.