The Great Escape is unique – as a showcase for new artists from around the world, from all genres, it offers the chance of seeing some of the best performances of the year – and some of the worst. With over 30 venues and 450 bands, no-one’s experience of it will ever be the same. The trick is trying to find the good stuff, whilst retaining a sense of fun and not rushing all over town on the hunt. I try to ask as many knowledgeable friends as possible, and lots of random strangers over the weekend ‘so, what do you recommend?’


 Day 1 Act 1 – coming out of torrential rain into the warmth of a little cellar bar to find Blair Dunlop (son of folk legend Ashley Hutchings) performing new songs like 'Castella' and 'Fox News' to a damp, quiet audience – he dedicates the latter to me, as the only person to respond to its anti-Murdoch intro. Later I stopped a man with a guitar to ask the way and instead he gave me his new cd – very nice lovelorn original Scottish folk. Thanks, Aaron Fyfe!

Slaves – so good live that their madness transcends any notions of cartoon pop-punk.  Sure they tell funny stories, but the tunes are massive, and they have something that so many lack – effortless rapport with their audience. So good I saw them twice, the first time amongst fans, the second with mostly record industry people – each time the effect was the same, within minutes sane people were running amok in total support of the duo – literally, when they walk out onto the outstretched arms of the audience towards the end of each set. While even they describe songs such as 'Feed the Mantaray' and 'Wheres Your Car Debbie' as ‘silly’, that mutual shared energy wins over – and numbers like the 'Hunter' and commuters theme  'Cheer Up London, You’re  Already Dead' (introduced with “if you don’t like your job…change it”) are political punk anthems.

Some great music coming out of South Africa right now, most notably Die Antwoord, so a pleasure to catch fellow rapper Okmalumkoolkat, who has the wooden floor bouncing at a lovely pub venue the Prince Albert. We shout back the lyrics to 'Holy Oxygen' and other slogans in unknown languages. Shaka Zulu would be proud (both the rebel warrior, and the sound system!)

Thurston Moore showed the youth how to do it, trading 10 minute riffs with his excellent band. Totally engrossing and enveloping, like a drug – to such an extent that the audience were dismayed at staff pulling the plug on them, only to discover they had overrun by 25 minutes!

However probably the most exciting experience of the weekend was even older - watching two 70 year old men in a small rammed pub – Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, the original Zombies, doing a 40 minute set spanning 50 years, including Time of the Seasons and She’s Not There, plus songs from their new album as premiered earlier this year at SXSW, with such joy and passion. Let’s hope some of the new guys here will be doing the same in 2065.

And a special mention for

Wand’s Californian psych wig outs, complete with crowd surfers

Zun Zun Egui’s tribal rock chants, face to face with the audience in a hotel living room

Delta Rae’s wild gospel blues, inc a cover of FMac’s the Chain

Lee Bains III and Glory Fires – Skynyrd on speed, watched by their mates Alabama Shakes

Mile Me Deaf – Austrian kraut/noise rock done with panache

Michel’s superb Palestinian falafels at Trafalgar Arches – as eaten by Michael Portillo!

Kevin Hand