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Great Escape 2018 Interview: Knightstown (Part 2)

By on Friday, 15th June 2018 at 11:00 am

Missed part 1 of this interview with Michael Aston, aka Knightstown? No worries, catch up through here.

A part of Michael Aston’s Knightstown project that can be polarising to some is his choice of using falsetto. Those familiar with and that are fans of James Blake, Jamie Woon and Wild Beasts won’t have any problem with this, but I wondered why there seems to be this tidal wave of male falsetto voices all of a sudden and how hard it can be to sing in such a higher, unnatural register for men. Aston explains there’s a mechanical method to the madness. “It can be [hard]. Actually, sometimes there’s a weird range, and there’s more than one segment to that range of the falsetto. My chest voice is up to C natural, middle C. And then there’s like a set of about six tones from there, which is the first part of the falsetto, which is my most comfortable range. It’s easier to control than the chest voice. Then when you get past G, it gets hard again, it’s gets more erratic. It’s sandwiched in between. There’s this sweet spot. You’re also needing to transition between three different registers, it can be quite challenging if you’re doing scaling.” That’s probably more than you need to know if you’ve never been a music student, but I eat all this geeky sort of music knowledge up.

Going back to his work with his cousin Tom, it turns out Aston wasn’t immediately keen on James Blake. He can look back at his time in the studio as a different kind of education, so that now he can look at Blake’s work rather intellectually. “I knew when we were making the album that my cousin Tom was a James Blake fanatic. It’s been interesting to see how long it took him (Blake) to gain currency. Mercury Prize, working with Kendrick Lamar, that kind of stuff. Personally, James Blake has been a real slow burner for me, I started out thinking, ‘this is too weird, even for me’. But I think it’s the latest album, ‘The Colour of Anything’, the more I listen to it, the more I think, ‘oh gosh, this guy knows what he’s doing’. This guy is always doing something new and doesn’t sell out at all.

“He always does something interesting. The textures of his songs are so transparent, you can pick out the different elements. You can focus on the beauty he’s created in the lines. It’s like going back to the rock counterpoint. My appreciation for him has increased exponentially, and now I’m at the point where I think he’s just an incredible musician. He’s definitely a touchstone, or a comparison for the route we were going down. At the same time, we wanted to be a bit more melodic and accessible. Melody and harmony are the two most important things to me.”

I ask Aston if he’s had a big ‘a-ha!’ moment while writing as Knightstown. “Yes, that was when I got the first draft back for a song [to be] on the album, called ‘Catcher’. That was the first time where my vision of it, when I gave all the material over to Tom, he came back [with the draft] and I remembering listening to it and going, ‘Oh! He’s on to something here. This is it!’ I’ve remained fond of that song.” He also lets me in on his favourite chord in another of his favourite songs he’s written, ‘Eyes Open Wide’, probably because it’s got layered strings, it’s almost Bjork-like…D major seventh plus nine chord in first inversion…” What’s that? That’s the sound of that bit of knowledge whizzing over my head. “Different chords give different feels.”

Much like his contemporary Chris ‘C’ Duncan who I interviewed in Washington late last year, Aston has a neverending desire to continue his artistic vision. “It’s hard to know exactly what this compulsion to write, to offer people an alternative music experience, is. You want to inject hope. I’m always interested in the artistic sweet spot between self-restraint and emotion…It’s about wanting to lift people’s spirits and find what moves them.”

There’s a lot of new music from Knightstown in the works, which is exciting: Aston tells me to expect two EPs and the debut album soon. He’s also proud of the most recent development of signing a production music contract with EMI, which has led to his first proper collaboration with live bandmate Hodson, as well as two fellow Brightonian producers, on what Aston describes as “ambient dance sort of stuff, it’s really good.” Their EP ‘Electronic Projections’, out on EMI Production Music in conjunction with FatCat, is described on the EMI Production Music as “Cool and captivating downtempo electronic offerings from the FatCat Records roster”. Intriguing. On top of radio play on BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music and Amazing Radio and garnering press with Clash Magazine and DIY, Aston feels good about how things have started for Knightstown “from having been signed from a demo”. Indeed.

The Knightstown EP ‘Keep’ is out now on FatCat Records. Many thanks to Michael for letting me pick his brain on various musical things and answering my questions about his solo project. All the best!


Great Escape 2018 Interview: Knightstown (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 14th June 2018 at 11:00 am

There’s that saying that you can choose your friends but not your family. In Michael Aston’s case, it was a family connection that paid off huge dividends for the direction of his pop music career. His producer cousin Thomas is one of four children “all super talented musicians, but Thomas was the only one who wanted to pursue music as a career.” Good thing, too, because if it hadn’t been for Thomas, there might never have been a Knightstown, or at least the Knightstown that we have come to know. Aston sets the stage for us: “I started playing some of my songs to him years and years ago on the piano when he was down for a family reunion. He said, ‘oh right, cool, we should go into my studio and lay down some tracks.’ I said ‘great, let’s do it!’ And we did, and it just developed from there. That’s how we first got together.”

We’re sat in a pub in the Laines after Aston’s opening set at the FatCat Records showcase Saturday afternoon at The Great Escape 2018 in One Church, amusingly during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle off in the distance in Windsor. He is a friendly giant (hey, I’m little, remember?), an extremely affable sort. “I also tend to get on well with producers. Then tend to be organised, and laid back, and friendly, and they don’t get into a flap about things. They’re meticulous. They bring their own influences to the table. He introduced me to the likes of James Blake and Sampha. Electronica was a mystery to me until I really starting working with Thomas. And then I got steadily more into it. If you scratch below the surface, you realise people are doing incredible things. There was a lot of listening to a lot of stuff and thinking where we want to sit in that world.”

But before we delve deep into that part of his career, it’s worth noting his musical activities before he became a solo artist. Following the completion of his undergraduate degree at Oxford, Aston headed north, to Glasgow and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now known as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It was like night and day for the young, musically-minded Aston. “The Composition Department at the Conservatoire was actually extremely open-minded. It only gradually dawned on me how open-minded it was compared to my undergrad [studies] at Oxford, which was the opposite, with very strict ideology. Pop music is just seen as the scum of the earth.” He chuckles. “Around that time, I started listening to Stevie Wonder, Elton John and the Beach Boys and I went, ‘I like this!’”

During his time studying for his M.A. in Composition in Glasgow, he was surrounded by loads of people doing loads of different, interesting things. “At the Conservatoire, there was a lot of composers doing electro acoustic, a lot of composers who are just acoustic classical, and others like Chris [Duncan, aka C Duncan] that branch off into other areas. There’s a really wide, nebulous spectrum of stuff. It was really encouraging, but that’s only rubbed off on me in retrospect.” He was given the opportunity to compose for his folk harpist friend Haley Hewitt, which we could say is where his freelance composition work first began. “Haley asked me to write a suite for pedal harp of all things, which was a cross between folk and classical. That actually got published in the States (as ‘The Valentia Suite’). It was nice to do that, it was really fun writing, as when she was out, I used to play on her harp, with her permission, of course. All of this made me realise music isn’t just one thing or another. It’s such a diverse discipline.”

Also during this time, he was recruited by fellow student Duncan to join the live band, as keyboardist, for the performance translation of C Duncan’s recorded, one-man-band music. As I often say, things happen for a reason, and nothing is coincidence. Having heard that Duncan had signed to Brighton’s FatCat Records, Aston took the chance and submitted a demo to them. “The record was written as a very studio record…I wrote the album with keys and string arrangements. We recorded them in his [Tom’s] studio, and then he went off and did his stuff. Then we sent it to FatCat. Dave Cawley (co-founder of FatCat Records) signed us and liked it.” And so it began.

Knightstown Saturday the Great Escape 2018

The next practical thing to tackle was to figure how exactly Knightstown, the recording artist was going to be translated to Knightstown, the live experience. Cawley had very specific ideas on how to go about this, and things turned out overwhelming positive for Aston. “When it came to live stuff, he [Cawley] wanted the live experience to be different than from record. He knew Matt [Hodson] because both are based in Brighton. He said, ‘I’ll ask Matt if any of his students were keen’, as Matt is a senior lecturer at BIMM [Brighton] in sound engineering and he really knows his stuff. Matt had a listen and decided he wanted to do it himself, which is such, such a win early on. The biggest worry early on was how we were going to translate these intricate arrangements in a live setting. But then once Matt came on board, he’s the perfect combination of sociable, lovely guy and absolute expert at the technical. And laidback as well, but also super organised. So he ticks all the boxes. I’ll be holding on to him for dear life for many years to come!”

Aston gave Hodson the song stems and “he started adding extra bits and worked on extending the tracks. Some of them had been a bit short. We wanted to make them more spontaneous for live sound.” He commends Hodson’s transformation of what he originally envisioned with his cousin in the confines of the studio. “He beefed them up as well, as most of them were quite minimalistic electronically in that respect, mellow. So in the live context, we also thought about Dave’s advice, as he wanted something more dynamic, beefier. So he (Matt) did that and he did such a great job: some of the tracks didn’t need much treatment, some really need a lot for live.”

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview with Michael Aston of Knightstown, which posts tomorrow.


Great Escape 2018: Day 3 Roundup (Part 2)

By on Friday, 8th June 2018 at 2:00 pm

I slipped out of the Prince Albert, allowed another one of Rebecca Taylor’s fans to scoot in where I’d been, and returned to the Hope and Ruin for music far meatier at the This Feeling showcase. I didn’t plan it like this, but they would be the second of three acts I’d see from Sheffield Saturday night. If you’ve done any reading on Sheffield at all, you’ll know its name comes from the River Sheaf that runs through the city. So I had a hunch even before I opened the biography on hard rockers SHEAFS where they were from. Delivered with a sneer, minor key anthem ‘This is Not a Protest’ is a foot-stomper, while ‘Mind Pollution’, encouraging not a revolt but a bigger revolution, is another laced with ‘tude. Forget the Sherlocks, SHEAFS have just pushed them out of the way.

SHEAFS Saturday the Great Escape 2018

I returned to the Old Ship for Charles Watson gigging at the Moshi Moshi Records evening showcase. Like Rebecca Taylor, he’s trying to carve an identity for himself that’s separate from the one he held in Slow Club. On his debut ‘Now That I’m a River’, Watson’s sound is decidedly more similar to that of his songwriting in his previous band, sounding at times like a throwback to ‘70s Americana, complete with the echoes. Imagine Burt Bacharach going folk, or the Eagles with less rock. It seems like a lot of artists are reaching backwards in time for inspiration. It begs the question, has the singer/songwriter genre gone has far forward as it possibly can and the only option left to keep things somewhat interesting is to go backward?

Charles Watson Saturday the Great Escape 2018

To get some air and to see some more music, I walked a short distance down Ship Street to the Walrus to check out a band far from home. ShadowParty are a group that formed in Boston and includes members of New Order and Devo. I’m embarrassed to say I had no clue who they were. Perhaps the knowledge of their existence spread quickly across New Order and Devo’s respective fandoms, filling this basement venue? I wasn’t terribly impressed by the part of their performance I caught (equipment overload for one, but that might not have been their fault but the festival’s for putting them in such a small place), but I’m guessing from the news posts from early May that they’re still in very early days of performing live together. Feel good first single ‘Celebrate’ was unveiled on the 1st of May, the first taster ahead of the release of their debut album on the 27th of May on Mute Records.

Shadowparty Saturday the Great Escape 2018

It was back to the Old Ship for the piece de resistance in my Great Escape 2018. Going through my reports from past editions of this festival, I had completely forgotten, or possibly blocked out my getting shut out of Teleman’s set at the Green Door Store 5 years ago. I know at the moment was I was mad as a wet hen and probably wanting to cry. They’re unequivocally one of my favourite bands of all time. As that old chestnut goes, “Patience, grasshopper.” The following year, I got to see them play songs from ‘Breakfast’ at two shows, one in New York Midtown and one in Brooklyn (RIP, Glasslands). Now, 4 years on from there, I’d get to see them at the Paginini Ballroom. The only way their performance could have been any better: if they’d been allowed to play both ‘Breakfast’ and ‘Brilliant Sanity’ in their entirety.

Teleman Saturday the Great Escape 2018 1

On this trip, I had to fill in some of my less knowledgeable British musician friends that three-fourths of Teleman used to be in another amazing band called Pete and the Pirates. That conversion took place quite a long time ago now, and with two whole albums under their belt, I kind of expected more of those songs to be in their set. Fair do’s that they’d want to put older material to bed and play the songs they’re currently most excited about, but also massively courageous to fill their performance with songs unlikely to be firm favourites except to maybe their most ardent social media followers.

Single ‘Cactus’, which will appear on their upcoming third studio album ‘Family of Aliens’, is plenty catchy, but I think it’ll take some growing on me before it joins the heady ranks of my favourites from ‘Breakfast’ and ‘Brilliant Sanity’. For those of us who have memorised the latter, we were rewarded with ‘Fall in Time’ and ‘Dusseldorf’, the latter capping off a plenty bouncy and enjoyable set building anticipation towards the new album’s release and their upcoming tour to take place in the autumn. I’ve been invited to a curry dinner and to jump on a boat with them (long story for another time); we’ll see if I make it back to dear old blighty for that then. Cross your fingers and toes for me.

TGTF’s Great Escape 2018 coverage, that’s a wrap! All my photos from Saturday at the Great Escape 2018 are here.


Great Escape 2018: Day 3 Roundup (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 7th June 2018 at 2:00 pm

Before I’d even set foot in the country, I had already received loads of band recommendations from friends and industry folk alike on who to see at The Great Escape 2018. Many of them named artists I’d already seen, in Australia at BIGSOUND 2017, past SXSWs or elsewhere. I reminded them that the whole point of me coming out all the way from America was music discovery and finding new talent to spread the word on. My Saturday at The Great Escape 2018 ended up being a mix of new and old favourites, in some cases showing me that something familiar to me in a previous form could be made new, or at least different to what I had been accustomed to. In case you’ve forgotten already, the 19th of May 2018 was also the day of Prince Harry’s wedding to American actress Meghan Markle. Being in Brighton to focus on music discovery while all that faff was going on at Windsor Castle was actually a godsend. (And no, cousins, I didn’t buy you a commemorative plate when I was in London, stop asking.)

Like Friday, I began my day again on Saturday at the decent hour of noon. Having studied classical piano at a young age, I can appreciate the value of a classical music education. Michael Aston was formerly the keyboardist of C Duncan’s live band; the two of them had met when they were studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. The Brighton-based Aston has his own solo project now, Knightstown, which Aston described to me is driven by his desire to create and to write songs.

Knightstown Saturday the Great Escape 2018 3

Live, Aston is joined by Matthew Hodson on beats and electronics, who looked awfully familiar to me. How’s this for spooky: 3 years ago when I was in Brighton last, I was sat in St. George’s Church for the Erased Tapes showcase and I struck up a geeky conversation about Rival Consoles with the bloke next to me. Yup, you guessed it, the guy was Hodson. Everything happens for a reason and when it’s supposed to. While the rest of the non-music-caring country were watching the wedding, Aston and Hodson were hard at work, opening the FatCat Records showcase at One Church. With Aston’s floaty falsetto and piano representing the old garde and synths and beats for the new, Knightstown is the beautiful symbiosis between the two. The music is equal parts reverential and inventive, exemplified by singles ‘First Cry’ and ‘Charlatan’. I’m looking forward to hearing a debut album in the future.

Of the many suggestions I received from BBC Scotland’s Vic Galloway that turned into a tip of my own, I still had Vistas left to see in Brighton. The big crowd at the Hope and Ruin was proof I wasn’t the only one eager to hear the group from Edinburgh play. The guys themselves were very excited, ready to launch their newest single ‘Tigerblood’ the following Friday. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into their music, their guitars sounding tinny and lacklustre. Maybe I was standing in the wrong place? I’ll give them another chance somewhere else in the future, hopefully in a place where I can actually breathe. I’d like to see if they sound better in Scotland…

Indoor Pets Saturday the Great Escape 2018 2

A last-minute addition to the Alternative Escape line-up were indie rockers Indoor Pets (formerly Get Inuit) at a teeny, boiling upstairs room. (Starting to notice a trend here?) They were special guests on the echochamp and DICE showcase at the Western pub. This was my first chance to see them after the announcement that they’d signed to Wichita Recordings. I haven’t gotten around to tagging all my old articles here on TGTF on them with their new name, so you’re going to have to bear with me a bit longer on that. With the triumphant confidence that comes with after signing with a label (maybe I just imagined that?), the band were in fine form, blasting out ‘Barbituates’ and ‘Pro Procrastinator’ with a fury I don’t think I’ve seen from them before. Is that the triumphant confidence that comes with after signing with a label, or did I just imagine that?

I try to avoid the Prince Albert venue space like the plague because every time I’ve been there during The Great Escape, it’s been sardine city. The only real place I feel comfortable is by the entrance to the room, which turned out to be a good location. I’ve seen Slow Club a few times live and feeling like that act may have run its artistic course, I thought I’d see Rebecca Taylor as Self Esteem. Why not, right? Right before her set, she’s standing next to me by the door, moaning aloud that she’s worried about how she’s going to get back onstage. She’s a polite Northerner, after all. Bless. I told her to “get in there, honey” and push people out of the way if she has to if they don’t recognise her. Add “moral support to acts” under “guitar minder” in the festivals skills section of my CV.

Self Esteem Rebecca Taylor Saturday the Great Escape 2018

Taylor finally got back onstage with her female “staff”, all resplendent in their ‘squirt not pee’ red t-shirts. Her newer, electronically and rhythmically reliant music is so different than what I consider ‘classic’ Slow Club, it’s jarring. I guess it’s been too long since I’ve seen Slow Club, I totally forgot she was a drummer. Her debut single as Self Esteem, ‘Your Wife’, has been described as a I don’t enjoy the sound as much, but I will say that regardless of how you feel about Self Esteem’s songs, you can’t deny they provide a showcase for Rebecca Taylor’s voice, which has been and will always be beautiful. I might come around on her newest project yet.


Great Escape 2018 Interview: ONR.

By on Thursday, 7th June 2018 at 11:00 am

The Paginini Ballroom of the Old Ship Hotel in Brighton is one of the more atmospheric places to play during The Great Escape Festival. This is where I find myself sat next to Robert Shields, the Scottish mastermind behind the electropop act ONR. (pronounced “honour”). “I can’t remember having played a ballroom before”, he says. “My ballroom dancing days were a long time ago, so…” he quips with a grin. Shields and his band have just come offstage following their set at the BBC Introducing showcase Friday night during The Great Escape 2018. I ask him how it felt to be so high up on the stage, far above the crowd. “I loved it! I absolutely love being so high up, it brings out your inner rock star!”

It’s good to be Shields at this very moment. Things with ONR. have moved rapidly, and even Shields himself acknowledges the flight path for him and his band has been highly unusual. “It was so bizarre because I was literally signed off the back of a couple of demos. It was the weirdest thing. There was no live show at that point, no production, no nothing. I hadn’t played a show, I didn’t have a Facebook page, it was so embryonic. Everyone really believed in these two tracks. It just went from there.

“The beauty of doing it that way is that you can give yourself time: there’s no pressure to fulfill anything, so you can take your time to cultivate the music and [ensure] the production is on spec and strategise what’s going where. So I’ve been really lucky to be able to do that as well. A lot of artists are out there chasing the next single or are on tour, so to be allowed that time has been amazing.”

ONR. at Paginini Ballroom, Great Escape 2018

How Shields describes it explains well why, at least over the last year, there’s been a minimalistic approach with ONR.’s social media channels. Everything has been monochrome. As mentioned in this SXSW 2018 Bands to Watch piece, his face wasn’t even revealed until this past February. “For us, we wanted to keep it small to begin with and very Joy Division-like, nondescript and mysterious. So hopefully, when the bigger songs start to come out and the bigger production start to evolve, then that look will evolve with it as well, and you’ll start to see colour behind it. That’s the idea, at least. I’m a big fan of the image of everything matching an artist’s evolution.” It’s a fascinating idea and something to look forward to.

Hearing the irrepressible, electronic bombast of the ONR. songs released so far – including first single ‘Jericho’, ‘Five Years Time’ and the more recent ‘American Gods’ – it comes as a major surprise that electronic was not Shields’ favoured genre until relatively recently. “It’s odd, because I’m a keys player. It’s like my thing. I’ve always used synthesisers and been into them. But I think almost because of that, I rebelled against myself for a while and got into ‘New New Wave’, like Interpol and that kind of stuff. So I came back to electronica through David Bowie’s ‘Scary Monsters’ and Gary Numan.” Bowie, he says, is his biggest musical influence, with quite the legacy to look up to.

One of the most daunting things for an electronic act to sort out is making sure the live show provides the kind of experience worthy of the music on record. Given that I felt their live performance this evening was even more powerful than the songs as they are presented and available now on streaming services, I wanted to know his philosophy towards delivering a live experience. “I like of the idea of it [of ONR.’s sound as] as being as big as a rock band. That’s the kind of upwards scale that I want to be able to have, and that totally works for that [gigs]. With the production and the recordings, you have more freedom to ebb and flow there. For a half-hour set, you really want to go in and hit people between the eyes. We’re still building it, and that will evolve again and again, and we’ll never stop evolving.” The massive stage at the Paginini Ballroom allowed for Shields as frontman to roam across its wide expanse and play to the audience, and you could tell he was massively enjoying himself the entire time.

So how did this priceless BBC Introducing slot come about? “It was great, I really didn’t expect it to be honest. It was a real bolt from the blue. We’ve been lucky to put things out. Then I heard [Vic] Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland played one of my tracks, which is amazing. From that, it just really snowballed.” To elaborate, ONR., along with acts Alacai Hartley, Mahalia and Ten Tonnes, were asked not only to appear in Brighton but in a series of shows advertised as the UK-wide tour for the Biggest Weekend UK Fringe that took place days before the second May bank holiday, culminating in key appearances bank holiday weekend. “Then a couple weeks later there was talk about this show, and this little BBC [Introducing] tour that came after, and finally we got the call that we were playing Biggest Weekend in Perth as well, so it’s five BBC Introducing shows back to back.” Shields is so humble, he’s quick to point out his luck. “I know so many incredible artists from BBC Introducing, the uploading is so insane, to have made the cut, it’s great.”

ONR. at Paginini Ballroom, Great Escape 2018

Electronic music is one of the more detail-minded of today’s genres, but Robert is well-equipped in personality to handle this. “I think people would call me a perfectionist. I would call myself a control freak, absolutely. I absolutely love being in control!” How does this go over with his bandmates, who all hail from his current hometown of Dumfries? He’s eager to give them kudos. “My band are the most patient people in the world because I am not the easy taskmaster. It’s little things. It’s not like I never turn off. I just like things to be right. With electronica, you have to be careful, it’s all triggers and timings, so you have to be on it.”

I finish our interview asking Robert what’s the biggest aspiration for success he has with ONR. “It’s hard. When I was a kid, I would have said absolute superstardom. No questions asked. All the time, like the Flintstones, it’s always playing somewhere. A few years ago, I probably would have said that, too.” He laughs, probably at the folly of youth, then turns to a slightly more serious tone. “But to be honest, we want to get it [their music] to people who love it. See crowd reactions, and see people really connect to the music. It does mean a hell of a lot, it really does. You can see it. So to take it out to different places is a massive ambition of mine, to bring it to different countries, and hopefully it connects the same way there as it does elsewhere. That would be the big thing.”

What’s eminently clear is Shields’ eye on the prize and his willingness to work hard to get where every musician dreams of. “I have no lack of ambition, I totally want to push it as far as I can. I’ve been doing this for a while. I feel like I’ve served the apprenticeship, I’m ready to go. It feels good.” We here at TGTF are right behind him.

Robert Shields and ONR. begin their string of North American appearances tomorrow night, the 8th of June, with a headline show at San Francisco PopScene. The next ONR. single ‘Love in Suburbia’ will be out on the 15th of June, the same day they’ll be in Washington, DC at DC9 (yes!).


Great Escape 2018: Day 2 Roundup (Part 2)

By on Wednesday, 6th June 2018 at 2:00 pm

It was good to take a breather with my friends the Orielles because I was about to embark on the hardest walking period lined up in my Great Escape 2018 schedule. Thanks to Google Maps, the walks I took were more picturesque and slightly less bad than I had expected. Discovering a leafy, pedestrian-only lane on the way to the Green Door Store made walking up and back down down to the sea a total of four times made me forgot how much my feet were burning. Almost.

I was eager to see Declan Welsh and the Decadent West in action. While there’s been a proliferation of politically-minded punk bands in England, if the same thing is happening in Scotland, I’ve clearly missed it. Like my good friend Matt Abbott, East Kilbride’s Welsh is a poet at heart, having taken up the causes of socialism and supporting Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Just as one might expect, he began their set alone with a poem dripping with emotion and vitriol. Welsh later made the audience laugh with his best attempts in Spanish language delivered with a Scottish accent before he and his band launched into ‘No Pasaran’. Introducing the LGBT and sexual liberation anthem ‘Do What You Want’ as “a sex-positive song”, Welsh sent the audience into a bit of an amusing tizzy, the tune beginning slowly before becoming a wailing guitar number.

Declan Welsh and the Decadent West Friday the Great Escape 2018 2

Coincidentally, the next act I would see was also Scottish. I noticed this year’s Great Escape Festival was largely devoid of electronic acts. If this trend continues, it makes me less likely to attend in the future. ONR. (pronounced “honour”), Robert Shields with this band, was on the top of my list of acts to see at SXSW 2018 (see preview here), so when he cancelled his band’s appearances last minute, disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover it. When I saw ONR. added to the BBC Introducing bill Friday night, it felt like a reprieve. Back down at the Old Ship Hotel, a mass exodus from its upstairs Paginini Ballroom followed the set by the showcase opener Leicestershire soul singer Mahalia, spilling out onto Ship Street. Yes, I arrived too early. No way was I going to miss this.

The disappointment of ONR.’s absence in Austin was wiped away, evaporated by the powerful spectacle of this very performance Friday night. Having seen The 1975 here in 2013, right before they hit it big, it’s an important venue to me, a place where British acts play before they become musical giants. You’re inside the Old Ship Hotel, a Grade II-listed building built in 1559, watching a band perform on what is probably a centuries-old stage but with 21st century equipment and lighting. For the bands, it must be like performing in an old church, history speaking from its walls and feeling history being made while onstage. Perhaps I’m being dramatic, but it does feel extraordinarily different to see a band here than any other place in Brighton.

ONR Friday the Great Escape 2018 2

Under a dizzying light display, Shields followed his bandmates out on stage to deliver a commanding performance worthy of the bombastic pop hits he’s written under the ONR. name. The power of the beats and synth-driven instrumentation matched Shields’ booming vocals. 2017 debut single ‘Jericho’ is a masterclass in how to write a pop song: slow burn them with a verse, then knock ‘em up over with the muscle of the chorus. The ONR. set closed out with ‘Five Years Time’, with its anthemic, thunderous choruses. BBC Introducing describes them playing their newest single ‘American Gods’ at the recent Biggest Weekend as “stadium-ready rock”: whatever you want to call it, this is massive stuff. ONR. are currently in America, due to play shows supporting Mondo Cozmo and their own headline shows on both of our coasts over the next fortnight: all the details are through here.

Sticking with the Scottish theme and buoyed by the energy of the ONR. set, your intrepid music editor went back up the hill and back to the Green Door Store for Rascalton, another one of my festival tips. Their style of high-octane, melodic guitar punk was just the ticket, ‘Lust’ being an example of a less than 3-minute long tour de force. Seeing three Scottish acts calling Glasgow (or close) home back to back, it’s heartening to see that there’s no Glasgow ‘scene’ or specific sound, but rather musicians who are committed to writing music their way and aren’t bound by what the often clueless pundits back down in London think is hip now. I’m going to guess one of the band member’s mams was down front, wailing, dancing and waving her arms about and, well, if you can’t get excited about your son’s band doing well, you’re clearly doing it wrong.

Rascalton Friday the Great Escape 2018 2

I didn’t have the luxury of pogoing on my sore feet like her, so it was time to go back down again to the Old Ship, finally getting to see Ten Tonnes. I’d run into him earlier and he’d remembered me earlier from when I interviewed him at the Twix showcase at SXSW 2017. His recent songwriting collaboration with ex-Kaiser Chiefs Nick J. Hodgson on single ‘Lay It On Me’ left me less than enthused on what looks like a more poppy direction.

However, after seeing it live, I think I’m having a change of heart. I watched his fans go absolutely mental, dancing to this very song at the Paginini Ballroom. What do I know, eh? As he and his band performed ‘Silver Heat’ at a frenetic pace, I was transported back to that outdoor stage at Lustre Pearl on the day before the single was released when he performed it alone. The set ended up with the winsome ‘Lucy’ and its “Luc-EE! Oh oh oh oh!”s ringing in my ears. I think I’ll always prefer the more bluesy, rockabilly version of Ethan Barnett, but I will take him and his music however it comes packaged to me,

Ten Tonnes Friday the Great Escape 2018 1

At this point, I’ve been reduced to crawling up the hills of Brighton, this time to make my way to the Hope and Ruin, previously known to me as the Hope. Following queueing outside and watching a belligerent smoker almost get into a fight with one of the bouncers, I’m finally let in. The downstairs area has been turned into a tropical-looking DJ room for the Great Escape, a partly dismantled piano greeting you presumably supposed to pass for high art. Upstairs, I arrived for the last few songs by South Wales post-hardcore (what does that even mean?) band Dream State.

This would be a time when having the knowledge of by either former TGTF rock writers John Fernandez (now at the BBC) or Luke Morton (now at Metal Hammer) would have come in handy. I was reminded reading one time on TWLOHA about how despite the aggro look of the bands and their fans, the hard rock community is, surprisingly, one of inclusion and support. Packed in the room like sardines, you could feel the crowd shift, everyone craning their necks to watch female lead singer CJ roam across the long stage, engaging with fans. While I sincerely wondered how CJ wasn’t ripping her vocal cords as she screamed, her emotion, backed by her bandmantes’ blistering rock was palpable, fans shouting for more. I fully admit screamo and emo et al. aren’t specialties of mine, but any good music critic worth his/her salt knows when they’ve witnessed heart and passion.

Braden and I were reunited when he joined up with me to watch Cassia (see my tip on them prior to Live at Leeds 2018 through here). As mentioned previously, there were PA issues at the Killing Moon and LAB Records showcase at the Hub that day. The Macclesfield band with huge hype already behind them were due to open that showcase. As you might expect, this show at the Hope and Ruin, their only other appearance they had scheduled in Brighton during the Great Escape, was rammed with their fans disappointed in the earlier set.

Cassia Friday the Great Escape 2018

I’m going to guess that if you’ve heard of Macclesfield, it’s probably because of Joy Division or Peter Crouch. Cassia seem poised to change that. I don’t think anyone would associate the North of England with tropical music, so their brand of trop-pop sets them apart from virtually everyone else, save perhaps London’s Kawala, who were also in town for the Great Escape. With no windows to prove we were actually in Brighton, Cassia’s sunny, guitar-driven tunes brought us to an island paradise we didn’t know we needed. Easy to consume light fare ‘Out of Her Mind’ was perfect to end a long day of walking and bands.

For more of my photos from Friday at the Great Escape 2018, go here.


About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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