A long drive, rain, a Prisoner Cell Block H style hotel room, discovering the camera was still at home… the initial omens for The Great Escape were not great.
Thankfully first impressions can be deceptive as Brighton is a sparky town full of quirky shops and streets, trendy young things and youthful counter-culture swagger (“I smoked 35 bongs once” being my favourite bit of eavesdropping of the night), and of course the smell of the sea.
The festival itself welcomed us with an opening set from anthemic folkies Port Isla who delivered a satisfyingly crunchy set with the driving Sinking Ship and new single Steamroller standing out for an appreciative early evening crowd.
It was on to the NME/Radar introducing showcase at the Haunt, an old-school sticky beer venue that revealed the charms of Neon Waltz’s hypnotic blend of psych-rock and subdued shoegaze that recalled Bobby Gillespie on downers, and an occasionally overly self-indulgent set of indie rock from The Districts that was distinguished by standout tracks Funeral Beds and Long Distance.
By now the venue was at capacity for Courtney Barnett who showed exactly why her star has been rising with a rapturously received set that mixed Dylan like lyrical stream of consciousness with a deadpan style and an intoxicating mix of grungey guitars, garage rock and slacker indie. From the glam-rock stomp of David to the brilliant Are You Looking After Yourself, a thrilling Avant Gardener and rollicking set closer History Eraser she fully deserved the protestations of love that came from the swaying, heaving mass at the front.
A packed Hope pub and long queue meant no chance of catching the Traams, and it was a case by now of finding a venue to get into. It turned out that was the nearby Dome Studio to join Chris T Popper and catch the end of an earnest set of traditional folk-rock from The Rails that was polished, if lacking a little in vitality, and a set of gently fragile torch songs from Alice Boman.
Finally the venue’s headliners (and Barry-Sean favourites) The Hold Steady delivered a bombastic set of blue collar rock with frontman Craig Finn coming across like a slightly demented Science teacher with a bad case of histrionics. To be honest, for those of us not overly familiar with the band, it all seemed a bit one-paced (as in frenetic), but the crowd were thoroughly enjoying it, mouthing lyrics and indulging in some half-hearted moshing.
Set over, we headed home to our hotel cells, sharing the neon streets with a mix of frazzled festival goers, drunks, celebrating Derby County fans, and weary musicians lugging their equipment into vans…roll on Friday.