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The Great Escape
Day Two @ Various Venues, Brighton, 19 May 2006
4 stars
Being a punter at the Great Escape means two things. First, you can sleep in longer as you can't attend the convention. Second, it's pot luck whether you get in to anything or have to queue all night. On a night like tonight, with 65mph gales howling along the seafront and shivering wretches shuffling about soaked to the skin the norm rather than the exception, being a delegate certainly had its advantages.

Two of this afternoon's convention events allowed for a spot of relaxation for gigged-out ears in advance of this evening's second pounding. First, New Order and Joy Division legend Peter "Hooky" Hook was interviewed in the Spiegel Tent about everything from Ian Curtis's death through the Hacienda days of Madchester to New Order's current dynamics. He was engaging and entertaining.

As was the man who followed him into the chair - Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis. Interviewed by Bestival founder Rob da Bank, Eavis was full of anecdotes - Thom Yorke using his toilet, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst named as the festival's worst ever guest. Already everybody's favourite adopted uncle, by the end of his session delegates were leaving wondering how to make him Prime Minister. Somehow, a way would need to be devised to part him from his cows...

After a brief stop at ace fish'n'chips institution Harry Ramsden's it was time to brave the howling gales and take refuge at the Zap Club once more, where the perfect combination of brahma beer and Howling Bells (****) transported one away from the hideous weather of Brighton to an American road movie (and this despite the beer being Brazilian and the band being Australian). Juanita Stein, the Bells' front woman, oozed effortless class with her voice, her clothes, her expressions. Just as classy was the guitarist to her right, whose riffs characterised the Bells' short set and made them one of the most oddly timed bands of the festival.

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Sticking with today's Australian theme a while longer it was a quick trip back to the Spiegel Tent to find it decked out with tables and chairs for Adelaide's The Audreys (****), a stylish Aussie outback rockabilly outfit fronted by the charismatic Flintstones-meets-Mary-Quant chanteuse that is Taasha Coates. Fiddle, dobro, miniature guitar, melodica, harmonica and double bass all caught the eye as an impressed audience smiled along to the lonesome, lovesick, countrified tunes. Feelgood music doesn't feel much better than this.

Working out a schedule for where to go next began to get difficult. Tonight, just about everyone was on at the same time. Thus it was that a brief spell of mildly psychedelic post-rock with the uninspiringly-named Keith (**) at the Spiegel Tent had to give way to Canada's Metric (****) at the rather larger Beach. Predictably, the place was packed - and not for the first time queues of punters were held outside in the rain as delegates flounced in. The soaked masses missed a treat. Emily Haines, surely the serial killer sister of Christina Aguilera, alternated between keyboards and growling down a microphone on a stage that looked like it was straight out of a dark industrial complex, with great lighting adding to the sense of occasion. Electronica-tinged noir rock chacterised a lengthy set that busted apart schedules and planning, but nobody was complaining - except for more.

Pity poor Captain, the end of whose set at Audio everyone flocked to after Metric, only to find the place rammed to the rafters - even delegates had trouble getting in. We caught only the tail end - and, worse, had no time to get to the Hanbury Ballroom for the '70s soft rock throwback of Midlake or the '50s crooner throwback of Richard Hawley either. There was nothing else for it - we'd have to make sure we were at venues before sets started, and with that headed off back to the Spiegel Tent for the third time, on this occasion for Brighton's very own The Pipettes (****).

They're a curious band. Behind me, as the polkadotted threesome took to the tiny tent's stage, a debate raged as to whether they were a cleverly marketed girl band - a kind of 1950s Bananarama for the MySpace generation - or a proper collection of musicians. With the exception of one keyboard, the girls leave the musical instruments to their backing band of guitar, bass and drums, preferring instead to formation handjive and sing. Whatever, they have style and the songs - Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me had the front of the tent handjiving en masse - and left their audience with only positive words to say.

What could top such a groovy operation? Appropriately for a seaside location, Guillemots (*****), up the road at Komedia, could. Front man Fyfe Dangerfield, dressed in what seemed to be pyjamas, began so quietly that half the audience hadn't realised the gig had started. His bouncey hair wobbling up from a wooden throne, he twinkled on two keyboards. And then the band arrived. Via the audience, banging percussion, parping brass - was that a tenor sax? Oooo, and a trumpet too - and unveiled a slight girl with a great big yellow double bass and a guitarist/typist. Once the shambolic collective had worked their way around instruments, Dangerfield and various wires, unsurprisingly the volume cranked up and stayed up for the duration.

An enriching mix of classical, indie and rock influences, the Londoners played like they've been doing gigs all their lives. Musicians delved in to a collection of random playschool instruments and percussion at various points, the guitarist furiously typed and Guillemots achieved that rare thing - a gig worth watching as well as hearing, yet without any visual gizmology. They were the only band of the entire festival to come back for an - entirely justified - encore that saw Dangerfield take over bass duties instead of percussion/vocals/keys. When they left, nobody else wanted to.

Alas, the evening for punters was over. For those with theoretical access to after show parties, one event featured Metric (a second gig in one evening!) and the superb Shy Child. Having just seen the former and having seen the latter a couple of weeks earlier, we headed to the soupy sounded Pressure Point for the first time that evening. An extensive queue - of punters and delegates - waited outside the pub but all were to be denied access for an age. Eventually, after much protestation and arm-twisting we bounded upstairs to witness Serena-Maneesh (**) and Ladyfuzz (***).

The Norwegian goth opera that is Serena-Maneesh certainly look the part. The front man has perfected his pouts, but is draped in his granny's woolen shawl and sports more accessories than mere mortals would own. To his left stalks a statuesque lady straight out of a porn film, wielding bass like a weapon, stilt-like legs stabbing the floor as she grooves along to her own rhythms. Early on, granny's shawl gets wrapped around our front man's guitar strings to hilarious effect, and proceeds to drape there for the duration. Obviously having an off night, Serena-Maneesh are in any case worth checking out for their visual display, and the album's a very fine thing indeed. One to catch another time.

Something like 2:30am and on came Ladyfuzz, a band with the strapline "they're not all ladies, there are some boys too". Liz, the personification in pink of a Christmas tree angel tonight/this morning, has the look of a young, delighted Bette Midler. Behind her, Matt and Ben are mere background visuals as their spiky artcore keeps the weary audience on their feet a while longer.

Well after 3am and it's time for bed - Day Three's dawn is mere hours away...


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