The Alternative Escape in Brighton was part of the Great Escape Festival. In some ways it is better as it is free, for unsigned bands, and showcases some under-recognised talent. The main festival helps would-be promoters to put on a show by providing venues, PA systems and engineers as described in more detail by Huck . Nick Williams from the Marwood Café and his own band, Night House, is experienced in presenting showcases and so needed no such help. He selected the line-up for the 3 day festival and hosted it with his usual grace and style.
The event was held in the upstairs room of the quirky Marwoord Cafe which is decorated in the style of someone’s nightmare. Graffitied walls meet traditional landscape paintings, mounted deer heads meet fairy lights and when I turned to leave I ended up shaking someone’s hand. The door handle had been replaced by the cold rubbery touch of a dummy’s hand. That Thursday, there were 13 acts playing throughout the day and I managed to catch 3 of them.
The first was Della Lupa created and fronted by the mesmerising Steph Brown. She is the one sustaining note of this band whose line-up alternates between various guest musicians. That day, cellist Amy Squirell provided a velvet backdrop to Steph’s rolling rhythmic piano. Steph is a skilled performer and there were times, especially during ‘Phoebes Song’ where I got lost in the beauty of the imagery and melody. Her songs were mainly themed around the trials and tribulations of love with the exception of ‘Genius’. Here she went all ‘meta’ and sang about the trials and tribulations of song writing itself. Lines like ‘are we a genius or are we a mess’ showed that she had no difficulty in effectively using poetic devices like consonance in the process. With her sophisticated lyrics and sense of drama, Steph has been compared to Kate Bush. Steph still has the full complement of sandwiches in her picnic though, and the mellow, rounded tone of her voice is much easier on the ear.
Next came the mighty Warsaw Radio. They were a folk-rock four-piece and fronted by Irishman Brian McNamara, owner of the voice that inspired the modifier ‘mighty’. When he roars, the air pressure in the room changes and it can get breezy in a good way. At some point, ‘lyricism’ and ‘Cynicism’ were left unsupervised, fancied the look of each other and nine months later, one of Warsaw Radio’s newest tracks, ‘Give it all to Fear’ , was born. This attempt at contempt was upstaged by the beautiful melodies, violin accompaniment and of course, that voice. Defeated by unrequited hate, Brian then turned his hand to unrequited love in the song ‘Confession of Mr Yeats’.
Some drums, a cello and a couple of microphones were set up for the final act. By themselves, they were a riddle. Is this a two piece? Where are the other instruments? Why is there another microphone on the drum kit? Which led to foreboding: ‘Oh no! A singing drummer!’. I was not in the mood for Levin Helm. So imagine my surprise when Rotait turned out to be awesome. Jareth Tait provided the quality beats and clean vocals while Rosanna Schwarzacher provided the harmonies and the dirtiest bass I’ve ever heard on a cello or anywhere else. Just as you thought it couldn’t get any filthier, she got even more distorted and bassy on ‘Come on Home’. They had more than enough musicality between them to create a rich sound from minimal and simple elements. I’ve still got the cello riff from their song ‘Addicted to You’ buzzing around in my head. I think it was put there by the same sort of voodoo magic that enabled them to create a full band from just two people.