You know freshers season has dawned when you get loads of free stuff by accident. A case in point was the Brighton Live festival last week. The 4-day event was an ideal opportunity to sample the pubs and clubs that host regular live music around Brighton – and all completely free of charge.

The relatively small size of central Brighton makes it a perfect showcase for Brighton Live. All the venues are within walking distance, and I exploited this fact via a whistle-stop walking tour of the festival over two evenings.

First stop was the unexpected venue of the Unitarian Church, where the cheeky and bewitching Ashley Slater played a surprise headline set. Slater is “kind of famous”, he told me afterwards with a grin; and his work with Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook supports this claim. He pulled off a fabulous rendition of ‘Spiderman’, underpinned by rumbling Hammond-organ-esque keyboard and interspersed with sublime trombone vamping. Dedicating one song “to his demons”, Slater’s presence filled the tiny stage as he negotiated the deceptively tricky acoustics with flair and smiles.

Buzzing, I stepped across the road to Fitzherbert’s, a shoebox-sized pub with magically expansive capacity, into the bluesy tones of the Ben Poole Band. Poole’s brilliantly gravelly blues singing sits at odds with his late-20s looks. Aside from some slightly noodly guitar, the group’s show was pure classy chilled blues, with a tight rhythm section keeping the night’s beat echoing over the cobbles.

On Friday, 6-piece outfit Son of Robot kicked things off at Audio, with self-described “silly songs about silly situations” executed with happy hyperactivity. A bunch of talented players behind an MC who scooted about mischievously, the group wove songs and small talk together seamlessly. Ace vocal harmonies between keyboardist and front-man worked a treat in the melodic parts, but most of the lyrics were pretty darn skilfully delivered rap. Son of Robot reminded me of Goldie Lookin Chain, but less Welsh and with more melody.

Over at OhSo Social bar down by the pier, Second Time Lucky belted out ska-pop with panache and volume. The young band are clearly talented musicians, with a great balance of sound and a singer in wonderful voice. With time, it’s a safe bet that all the players will become more confident in putting on a show as well as making cracking music together.

Later, back at Audio, our eardrums were embraced by spiky and energetic collective Floors and Walls. The packed-out club was literally jumping to the fresh and original guitar-driven tunes and more supercharged upbeat MC work at the front. With a full gigging schedule for the month ahead, Floors and Walls are worth seeking out.

It’s always unforgettable for freshers to get to know this city and its music scene for the first time. If Brighton Live 2008 was anything to go by, it’s going to be an awesome year – and Brighton’s sumptuous free treats will only keep coming.

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The Badger

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