The Great Escape never seems to fall kindly for me in the calendar and this year was no exception. A day visit (from Southampton) ought to be achievable but with the last direct train home at 8.30, even a day-ticket needs to be considered carefully. So this year I opted for a Thursday visit but decided to do it on the cheap and take advantage of the multiple free events on offer under the banner of The Alternative Escape. Proved to be an excellent strategy.

First stop was the Bella Union Record Shop to enjoy the beautiful voice of Taiwah.  A great vibe in the shop as the rain fell outside, the highly respectful audience staying silent for her stripped back tunes.  Next up was Keaton Henson,  his unique voice touching our souls and had us holding our breath.  Again, pin-drop silence throughout his brief set, even while the complimentary Bella Union beers (courtesy of Abyss Brewery, Lewes) and wraps were being handed round.

Great Escape is in large part an industry event, and even in the Bella Union shop there was a feel that the majority of the assembled were music-industry folk.  Amongst that number it was great to have the opportunity to chat to Lilly (Penelope Isles) and Fyfe Dangerfield; the latter conversation revealing that Fyfe was due to play his set at 4pm.  So there I was at a low-key festival event and still having the agony of a set clash.  From Wales, Slate are one of my favourite bands of the moment, also scheduled to play in the Black Lion at 4 o’clock.

 An early  afternoon move to The Black Lion enabled me to catch Brighton freak-psych outfit Porchlight.  Best frontman I saw today.  A great set, featuring a few songs from 2023 EP Wives Tales & Hymns Of The Earth.

Next, across the road to The Mesmerist for Néomi - “We’re from Holland; really excited to play Great Escape for the first time. We’re in a very happy bar playing sad songs”. Néomi fronts this 3 piece - with skuzzy guitar in one number and exquisite 3-piece harmonies  throughout, not least in “If I Wasn’t Made For Love” 

The Meat Sweaters in The Black Lion were the craziest band of the day. Banging guitars with frontman spending most of the set in the audience wielding an opened umbrella (with lyric sheets taped to the inside), taping audience members’ arms together with gaffer tape. Their Spotify profile describes them as ‘The Meat Sweaters are disgusting and should be banned’.  Hard to argue with that on today’s evidence!  And so it was time for me to decide on my 4pm dilemma …… I opted for Fyfe Dangerfield, not least as he (and his band Guillemots) is in my Top10 all time artists. (I refute the suggestion that the lure was more free Bella Union beer………..).  En route back to Bella Union I had time to pop into the Hope & Ruin for The Belair Lip Bombs - 4 piece guitars with female vocalist. 

Fyfe Dangerfield  was his usual brilliant self. A totally understated performer, but a superb musician and voice. Fyfe has a huge catalogue of songs to call on released under his own name, but he always finds time to play Guillemots numbers too.  And today he added in My Love introducing it humorously as “Wings….. the band the Beatles could’ve been” followed by a dip into Lionel Ritchie’s world with  All Night Long.  Brought the set to a close with a couple of audience requests, including mine: If The World Ends. There will undoubtedly be plenty of opportunities to pick up Slate again very soon; but today was Fyfe’s afternoon. Wonderful moments.

So, full of melancholy and free beer I headed back to The Mesmerist to meet with Rock Club friends and enjoy Daisy Chute, keyboard & violin-  country/acoustic vibes with an edge.  Then time for another hero of mine: Emily Barker airing songs from recent LP Fragile As Humans, including Feathered Thing, a truly outstanding track

The day’s proceedings rounded off with Make Friends, a 4 piece, all with good trousers and haircuts.  This Bristol-based band have connections with Bombay Bicycle Club and create chilled indie vibes. Debut LP is in the pipeline – one to look out for. 

The buzz around Brighton for the four days of The Great Escape is palpable, and this is portrayed well by 6Music’s coverage; so dipping my toe in as I did gave me a memorable day of music on the fringe of this event.