I wasn't 100% set on going to The Great Escape this year, what with Fringe Fridays, work, life and a bad ear infection leaving me hearing aid-less. But when you get offered a delegate pass and live in Brighton, you fill your calendar with 45 gigs in 30 different venues and try to get to as many of them as possible in your lunch hour and in the evening, hearing a song from each. In the past I've had different focuses: one year I went to lots of artists I'd heard of because I was fully immersed in new music Fridays; the next I went to everything I could at The Alternative Escape. This year, I'm looking for good Irish talent, like...
The Dublin singer debuted in the summer of 2020, and has done a good job of making a name for herself through Soundcloud recordings on the alternative R&B scene. Her lyrics encompass the transition period between adolescence and adulthood; the Lauryn Hill influence is clear, especially in demo 'I Need'. 'One My Ones' reveals her tendency for an Irish goodbye, to need to get away from people to decompress. A criminally short set to a very full room, I cannot wait to hear more from her.
Soulful, melodic Tolü Makay used to work in tech at Google—and what a waste it would have been had she stayed there. The Nigerian-Irish singer's tracks are full of soul and positivity, and has been making waves in Ireland, selling out multiple-night solo shows and being the highest-charting female solo artist since the charts officially opened in Ireland. Her gospel choir background shines through as she sings about the importance of faith; she calls for people to live their life for themselves.
Bedroom pop singer and vocodor-experimenter Efé, real name Anita Ikharo, was interesting, certainly. Her dreamy, wistful sound makes for a slightly distant-feeling set, but still a set full of potential for the 21-year-old. She has an EP coming out this June and I'm looking forward to seeing how her sound has grown since her debut back in October 2020; I'll be keeping an eye on her in the future for sure.
You might be thinking 'where do I know the name'—formerly of Goat Girl, Naima Bock's lingering, alt-rock-indie-folk lyrics show a growth in expression and clear new musical direction compared to her former work. Her voice reminiscent of The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan, particularly on stand-out track '30 Degrees', the soloist is definitely worth seeing live in an intimate venue while you still can.
The Dublin-duo's short, rocky set was evocative of a series of football chants, as if the rock band was a crowd warmer for a game. Their mostly instrumental three-song set featured some vocalisation from the crowd led by Taran Plouzané, a guitarist whose voice and riffs wouldn't be out of place in a 2000s pop punk band. I was personally hoping for 2019 track 'I Don’t Do Drugs, I Just Sweat a Lot', if nothing else for its relatable title. Alas not; only band so far to give out earplugs and to have CDs on offer though, so props to them for that.
I'd heard industry-folk talking about Lucy all day and she did not disappoint. Opening solo on her keyboard with what felt like a coming of age film montage scene (in a very good way), her soulful and heartfelt songs spoke of deeply felt, intense emotions as she sang that 'I don't want anyone but you besides me'. Her smooth, dreamy vocals complemented her lyrical depth, and the 2o-year-old revealed a wisdom beyond her years as she described the heartbreak that comes when you realise it doesn't matter how much you love them, the person you fell in love with doesn't exist in 'Wake Up'. I'm very excited for her as-yet unreleased material to come out; Lucy McWilliams is something special.
'I don't like being corrected by English voices' calls out Charles Hendy, one of the Dundalk brothers that make up the band (alongside Seán McKenna), and thus starts a wonderful thirty minutes of raucous folk. The mix of old Irish ballads and anti-war songs roused the crowd from the start, the harmonies of the band filling the church venue. The variance in their folk songs is astounding; you can tell they've done their research, and it was a delight to hear some rarer songs alongside more well-known ones. I can't wait to see them again!
Yes, actual, 'Friday' singing, Californian, queer icon Rebecca Black played Gay Times' stage Club Revenge on Friday night, her first ever UK festival. Someone had fun with the schedule.
She's fascinating to me because she's like if a child actor turned out to be a well-adjusted adult actor—she leant into 'Friday' to the extent that it now has a hyper-pop remix ft. Dorian Electra, Big Freedia & 3OH!3 but, crucially, she has proven herself to be a popstar and performer and not just the singer of a song people loved to hate. The club was full; people weren't just there for her most famous song, but sang along to all of her other material. She is now firmly in charge of her narrative, having reclaimed the song that would become the most disliked video on YouTube in 2011 and is currently the 24th most disliked video on the site ever.
I compared her set afterwards to Carly Rae Jepsen, the last gig I saw pre-pandemic and so the one that has stuck with me the most: she knows exactly how to work the crowd, how to pose, when the cameras are on her and where they are. But crucially, she looks like she's having the most fun of anyone in the room.
Big thanks to The Great Escape for inviting me along! PS: due to two members of the team having Covid, Fringe Friday will be postponed until next week (hopefully).