LIVE: The Great Escape 2018 @ Brighton

By Mark Johnson

When the snow was still falling at the start of April, the British summer season seemed a very long way off, but we’re now in the middle of May and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to get the festival season off with a bang, courtesy of The Great Escape’s annual takeover of Brighton.

With over 500 bands performing in over 40 venues across the city, there’s plenty to get involved in, and that’s just within the official programme. Buskers, street performers, food vendors, markets and a whole host of other treats await around every corner through the festival’s three day window, making it a feast of culture and diversity from start to finish.


We kick off our coverage of the festival with Tim Chadwick, the first act of the Ireland showcase at the Prince Albert. Singer/songwriter Chadwick usually performs solo with either an acoustic guitar or keyboard, but he brings a full band with him to The Great Escape for the first time. As such, it’s no surprise that he appears slightly awkward on stage for the first couple of songs but as the set progresses he grows in confidence and warms to the occasion. What doesn’t take long to warm is his voice which is soulfully rich and inviting from start to finish. The performance is capped off with latest single ‘Weakness’ which is a huge pop triumph and shows the potential that Chadwick has, whether with a band or on his own.

Representing one of the many Australian acts on this year’s line-up is acoustic musician Riley Pearce and his heartfelt, well-written pop songs do his country proud. Pearce interacts brilliantly with the crowd, explaining the meaning behind each song and pulling the room into the narrative. When Pearce requests everyone to be seated for his final song, the entire room willingly obliges, proving just how well he manages to engage a crowd in such a small space of time. With the guitar across his lap, he drums on the body of the guitar to create percussion, while utilising a tapping technique on the strings to produce the notes, creating the highlight of his set and leaving the room with an early, treasured memory for the rest of the festival.

Catherine McGrath completes a strong day for Irish acts with a heart-warming set of infectious, country-tinged acoustic tracks. Playing alongside her touring guitarist and backing vocalist, the two harmonise wonderfully throughout the set and with an album due out in July, this won’t be the last we hear of this promising act.


With so many venues and artists performing at any one time across the city, The Great Escape provides unrivalled opportunities to stumble across fresh new talent. One moment you can be relaxing in the Bau Wow bar, contemplating the day ahead, and the next you can be drawn into an intriguing wave of sound from the adjoining room. The sounds belong to Veronica Fusaro, a Swiss musician who produces one of the unexpectedly outstanding sets of the weekend. After starting with a couple of gentle acoustic pop songs, Fusaro ups the ante and begins layering percussion and harmonies through a loop pedal, beatboxing rhythms and building vocal layers to create a rich, textured sound. It’s a fantastic display of creativity, backed up by a stunningly expressive voice and stage presence and highlights The Great Escape’s unrivalled ability to create unique moments of discovery.

Every year the Green Door Store plays host to the Canadian Blast, which has had impressive pedigree in previous years. Devarrrow continue to keep the level high with a Manchester Orchestra-esque feast of foot-stomping country-tinged alternative rock. It’s just the thing for a sunny day and leaves the crowd with broad smiles on their faces.

This year The Great Escape has a new presence on the sea front with a trio of venues situated right on the beach. The YouTube sponsored Beach Club stage kicks off with Dermot Kennedy and the Irish sensation produces a massive set that puts him right at the top of the festival’s highlights for the entire weekend. Kennedy’s soulful, flawlessly executed vocals hold the entire crowd in suspense, everyone subdued by the brilliant expression of his voice. The juxtaposition of contemporary electronics with age-old acoustic folk is an absolute delight and execution of this standard should be enough to thrust Kennedy’s name into the big time. Don’t be surprised to hear sound bites of his fantastically written songs appearing on adverts and TV shows everywhere in the future.

Something this festival excels at is producing “you had to be there” moments and this year Freya Ridings’ set joins this prestigious list. St. Mary’s Church provides a stunning setting for any show; the beautiful architecture creates a unique occasion and the high ceiling is just about enough to contain the atmosphere inside. Ridings’ powerful vocals and luscious piano melodies are a breath taking combination, and so captivating that between songs you can hear the gentle creaking of the strings as Ridings’ backing musicians tune their guitar and violin. The set ends with the enormous ‘Lost Without You’, which caps off an extraordinary performance that will live long in the memory.


After a couple of days rife with diversity and unexpected pleasures, the final day offers us a chance to get back to our comfort zone, with Volks hosting the first Download Festival stage at The Great Escape. The masked collective known only as Sleep Token kick things off with a sublimely ridiculous set. Being by the beach, in daylight, at the middle of the day, isn’t quite the atmosphere for their black, cloaked garments and face masks, but while their garb might seem worthy of ridicule, their musical performance certainly does not. The R&B tinged vocals are flawless throughout and the movement from sombre, electronic instrumentals to heavy, djent rhythms is an unexpectedly brilliant combination that comes alive even more on stage than on record. Whatever your opinion on the band’s disguise and cult-like back-story, it does create intrigue, so a real shame to see the band stripping off their disguises in plain sight after the set, as it ruins the mystique behind their onstage personas and makes you wonder whether it’s all worth it. Regardless, it’s a superb set that should intrigue and enthral the Download Festival crowd in a few weeks’ time.

We’ve spoken about the potential of Manchester’s Parting Gift several times and on the basis of this performance, it can’t be long until word catches on. In a similar vein to Holding Absence, the band’s ambient post-hardcore is spearheaded by emotionally-engaging vocals, punctuated by driving instrumentals and uplifting guitars. When we saw them support COVE in Nottingham a few weeks ago, their performance was restricted by the tiny stage, but with more room to manoeuvre at Volks, the band’s energy levels soar and their performances comes into its own. It’s another flawlessly executed set that proves they’re on a strong trajectory and when it’s eventually time for a record to drop we’ll be waiting in line to hear it.

We end another fantastic festival experience with Scottish singer/songwriter Lewis Capaldi, who claims that “if you don’t like chubby guys singing sad songs, you’re in the wrong place.” If however, you’re into brilliantly written songs sung flawlessly by a vocalist capable of the kind of raw emotion that gives you goose bumps, Capaldi’s show is definitely the right place to be. In one instance, his voice is like a gentle campfire, warm, soothing and crackling, but he’s able to pour fuel on the flames at any moment, erupting with power that lights up the whole room. Capaldi’s plucky, hilarious banter in between songs shows a completely different side to his character than his majestic songs, but it’s one that shows a depth of personality and creates a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere throughout the show.

Once again The Great Escape has proven itself to be one of the highlights of the festival calendar. With limitless potential thanks to its huge number of acts from a wide range of countries and genres, it’s impossible to come away from this event without hearing something new and exciting and when combined with a superb level of organisation and sound engineering, it’s the perfect place to start the summer season. We can’t wait to do it all again next year!