Thursday at The Great Escape, 2017: surely one the wettest days at a music festival since the infamous Arkstock 2348 BC, when the audience were mostly animals anyway. Thursday is also this particular correspondent’s sole day at the epic annual bandathon, so there’s no time for hunkering in toasty pubs waiting for a hint of a shaft of daylight: there are damp queues to stand in and outdoor gigs to support and lots of running between gigs in inadequate outerwear. Time to get sodden.
And those gigs start well, as arguably the day’s best two acts are the first ones we see, which is probably understandable as they’ve been chosen to show off the freakishly fertile pool of talent that plops out of Montreal every year. First up, it’s an act that represents that multi-cultural city and the wide musical expanses of The Great Escape rather wonderfully.
Pierre Kwenders is a Congolese/French Canadian who’s bewilderingly energetic for a lunchtime kick-off, and launches such an admirable array of sounds into the mix that this dark room near Brighton station’s glamorous car park could be an underground club in Kinsasha. Although Pierre gives much of the credit to an onstage cohort (“he’s the talent here!”) who persuades his guitar to make every sound under the sun, somehow, including sax. Yikes.
Also dancing in the noon-light is Mozart’s Sister. Imagine if Drew Barrymore had taken a whole different career direction after kicking the teenage crack, ditched acting, started making banging bedroom beats then turned it into a sizzlin’ stage act – that is exactly Mozart’s Sister. No doubt there’ve been comparisons to another one-woman Montreal techno-popper, but she’s a whole different kettle, and quite marvellous. Very marvellous.
Actually, chatting to Amadeus’ sibling afterwards, aka Caila Thompson-Hannant, it crops up that she has roots in Northern Ireland, which turns out to be one of today’s themes. Or perhaps we’re just drawn to acts from that x region because of the rain, the way you’d gravitate towards a funk/soul band in the sun.
County Wicklow’s Wyvern Lingo, for example, attract a decent crowd to the outdoor stage despite the conditions, and an awkward delay. In truth, yours truly only put a ring on them in the guide because a wyvern (it’s a dragony thing) is the mascot for the once majestic Leyton Orient - the edgy indie-band of football clubs – and such randomness is often a decent TGE strategy, as they turn out to be both accessible and surprisingly fresh, mixing indie-pop with US r‘n’b. The post-Solange solution. It brightens the day considerably.
Meanwhile the swoon-inducing singer-songwriter Rosborough, from Derry, plays upstairs at Patterns, which is a sensible destination if you’re soaking: their lights are so hot that groups of bedraggled punters standing underneath practically steam. Although that’s possibly what caused the electrical fault that caused an awkward delay beforehand, and left us all lengthily queueing in a horrible downpour for Duncan Dare downstairs. The scene inside when the venue finally opens is like the post-flood bit from Noah, with Dare as Russell Crowe. “Are you cold? Wet?” he enquires. “Well, now I’m going to sing you some sad songs.”
And rather wonderful they are too, even above the hubbub from the bar as half the people here huddle together for warmth.
It would’ve been interesting seeing the synth-wielding Dare try an acoustic set – “anyone got a harpsichord handy?” - although we did catch something similar earlier on. If you’ve heard the terrific album ‘Fast or Feast’ by LA’s Gothic Tropic, you’ll know that it’s an entertainingly effects-peppered electro-pop affair. Downstairs at the intimate Blue Man, however, she just straps on a guitar and, yep, it still works.
That show is at one of the many launches/receptions that TGE is awash with during the day, which are a mixed bag. Stumble into one without music and you can find yourself loitering with nibbles in a hotel lobby like a pop-conference Alan Partridge (“would it be terribly rude to stop listening to you and go and talk to somebody else?”). Plus, for the one-day Great Escaper, you’re losing valuable gig time.
That early-evening pit-stop turns out to be the start of a fallow hour for this day-tripper. It’s followed by a pointless trek up the pier to Horatio’s, where because you need a special ticket to see Slaves later, you can’t get into any of the earlier bands either. Then there’s a lengthy wait in another soaking queue forlornly hoping to catch Marika Hackman at the Paganini Ballroom, which is already packed, primarily because Ibibio Sound Machine are on afterwards. Damn you, pre-comers!
Back for a session under the hot-lights at Patterns, then, where the 17 year-old Carys Selvey is playing perfectly pleasant singalong songs that would sound much more appropriate on a sunny afternoon, in truth. Then an aborted splash downstairs for two minutes of a band so painful that name-checking them here won’t do any of us any good. The latter part of this trip is turning into a literal damp squib – whatever a squib may be – but thankfully there’s an unexpected ray of sunshine on the gloomy trudge back to the station. Metaphorical sunshine, obviously.
Whatever tech issues caused Wyvern Lingo to be delayed on the outdoor stage earlier now allow Clash to catch a good snatch of Lakuta (“top, top player” – Harry Redknapp), who’d have been long-finished otherwise. They’re a horn-heavy collective who just about all squeeze onto the stage and attract a lot of umbrella-heads out to the increasingly puddle-heavy streets. Those infectious grooves really get the waterproofs moving, so much so that there’s a real and present danger of lightning in the nylons, all of which greatly lifts the serotonin-depleted sprits.
So, yes, a funk-soul band in the rain does actually work, it turns out.
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Words: Si Hawkins