REVIEW: Split Festival
By Adam Clery on October 2, 2012 in Music
With performance areas spread over an entire cricket club and woven in with countless stalls, markets, rides and other generic outdoor fun-tivities (inadvertently invented this word over the weekend and I’m trying to make it stick) we’ve collated not one, not two, but three reviews of last weekend’s Split Festival.
Brought to you by the terrifically observant Mark Corcoran-Lettice, Lauren Stafford, and Tom Nicholson, digest Sunderland’s jewel in its musical crown in all its wordy glory. Oh, and feel free to check out our galleries of Saturday and Sunday’s action when you’re done.
Words: Mark Corcoran-Lettice
Now that Evolution seems to have shat its pants and dedicated itself entirely to an audience of underage idiots, the importance of Split Festival as a hub for, and celebration of, North East music has grown ever more significant. Thankfully then, the fourth edition proved that the Split vision is going from strength to strength.
Saturday was, unsurprisingly, somewhat dominated by the fairly remarkable booking of Public Image Limited – bringing Mr. Lydon to Sunderland is no small feat, and given the number of middle-aged men in PiL shirts flooding the site, a warm welcome was never in doubt. While the set-list would have been no surprise to anyone in attendance at their Newcastle gig this summer, they still put in an intense, commanding performance that made even their oldest material like First Issue’s caustic diatribe Religion sound fresh and vital.
But the real focus of Split has always been on supporting local artists and musicians, and the Saturday certainly delivered on the main stage, with the weighty instrumental rock of Young Liar and the stunning vocals and post-dubstep beats of Lulu James both commanding the main stage. Over at the second stage, the first day was largely dedicated to the numerous brilliant songwriters and folk artists in the region, with the psychedelic pop of Lilliput, the fragility of Natasha Haws’ stark songwriting and the remarkable vocals of The Cornshed Sisters all pulling in deservedly sizeable crowds for their sets.
However, the story of the second stage wasn’t all positive: Richard Dawson put in a typically magnificent performance, but to perhaps the smallest crowd of the weekend, and almost every act endured major sound problems, hitting an unfortunate climax when the headlining set by The Unthanks was shortened and ultimately stymied by constant sound checks, feedback and a bafflingly quiet, almost vocal-less mix. It’s a testament to everyone who played that stage that they powered through a clearly unsatisfactory situation, and a true shame that an act as powerful as The Unthanks had their performance derailed despite their best efforts.
Come Sunday, and it’s safe to say a lot of the crowd is feeling somewhat fragile after the previous day’s festivities. In a bit of brilliant lateral thinking then, the second stage becomes the de-facto rock stage for the day, with the likes of returning heroes This Ain’t Vegas (who, on the basis of their energetic display, simply have to keep their summer re-union going) Leeds two-piece That Fucking Tank and the ever-scabrous headliners Future of the Left jolting the audience out of their hangovers – can we start the campaign in install Future of the Left’s furious, hilarious frontman Andy Faulkous as the next Poet Laureate yet?
The real highlight of the stage on Sunday though was the astonishing maelstrom of The Unit Ama’s performance: lurching from Shellac math-rock to crazed John Zorn free-jazz explosions, they put on a thrillingly unpredictable display where cliché was shot on sight and where chaos reigned. Certainly this writer’s discover of the weekend at any rate.
On the main stage however, once the horrible, vacuous landfill indie of Citizens was out of the way, we got a line-up that sent out Split 2012 in fine style. With the shifting head-dance of Warm Digits as warm-up, Field Music put on an emphatic set to a jubilant response, proving that the only real surprise of their richly-deserved Mercury nomination was that they somehow hadn’t been nominated before. Saint Etienne delighted with a set that delivered pop stunner after pop stunner – any hour that features Sarah Cracknell singing Nothing Can Stop Us Now, You’re In A Bad Way, Like A Motorway and He’s On The Phone is, it’s safe to say, always going to be magnificent.
Finally then, event organisers and returning headliners The Futureheads wrapped up proceedings with a typically brilliant set that mixed in enough surprises – a stunning Richard Thompson cover as set-opener alongside other Rant material, and a rare airing of the title track to their perpetually under-rated second album News & Tributes – alongside the classic Futureheads live stomp to cap off another great Split festival. See you back at Ashbrooke Cricket Club in 2013, everyone?
Words: Lauren Stafford
Split Festival took place in the grounds of a cricket club in Sunderland. It was cold but it didn’t matter because there was real ale and bloody good music. We did get lost but managed to arrive just in time to catch a busy-shirted member of Athletes in Paris pulling out some impressive dance moves.
There was a significant change in tone during Natasha Haws’ set over in the Tunstall Hill Tent. She appeared small, slight and nervous on stage. There were some technical difficulties and at one point she forgot her own song but it didn’t matter because she’d already won over her audience. Her lyrics were original and poignant. ‘Constant Fairytale’, dedicated to her little brother, left us all reeling as we stared humbly into our pints of Swedish Blonde.
I had been waiting to see Let’s Buy Happiness after hearing their new single ‘Works Better on Paper’. There’s a lot to be said for a song that manages to successfully compare a turbulent relationship to aspects of the postal service without seeming twee. They have a hypnotic sound and a stage presence to match. Their performance amounted to a woozy experience that was fuelled by excessive use of the smoke machine and singer Sarah Hall’s strangely alluring arm movements.
On Sunday night, the crowd responded with gusto to The Futureheads’ a capella material. During ‘Old Dun Cow’ there was lots of enthusiastic upper-body swaying, dubious harmonising and accidental pint spilling. The merriment continued on the journey home as cheery shouts of ‘MACTINYRE!’ rattled around the metro carriage. Yet perhaps the weekend was best summed up by a tent full of dedicated fans singing back to The Lake Poets. ‘There is life in my city by the sea’ they belted out.
Words: Tom Nicolson
Early on in the Saturday afternoon, Natasha Haws conquered a slightly unhelpful PA system with panache, heaps of dry wit and a clutch of beautifully poised and delicate ballads. “I’m glad the bit of that song you didn’t enjoy wasn’t my fault”, she deadpans after a screech of feedback tramples over the end of her first song. From there, though, she was assured. A duet with Lake Poets’ Martin Longstaff proved a particular highlight.
Lake Poets themselves packed out the second stage during their mid-afternoon slot, though given the reverence of the crowd between bursts of rapturous applause one could be forgiven for thinking one was the only person present. Martin Longstaff looks a slight presence on stage, but held all present absolutely rapt.
Lulu James confused and entertained in roughly equal measure, wandering around the stage wearing an enormous white gossamer cape. Her ambient Balearic beats made late-September Sunderland feel rather distant – until, that is, she dropped her patois in favour of her South Shields brogue to chat to the audience.
Onto Sunday then, and The punk-funk-flavoured krautrock of Warm Digits certainly went down well with the the six-year-old in front of me who was sat on his dad’s shoulders. He started fist-pumping at the beginning of ‘Weapons Destruction’ and spent the rest of their set with his arms locked above his head, fists clenched. Had I not been concerned for my street cred, I would have adopted the same position. Warm Digits’ recent collaborators and Mercury Prize-botherers Field Music followed. They made good on their promise as one of the draws of the weekend, delivering a confident, upbeat and wirily funky set.
Future of the Left were so loud they cracked my ribs, and I was four rows back. Those at the front resembled large bags of suet, such was the sonic assault. They were ferocious, abrupt, and fantastic.
A home town gig for the Futureheads are about as close to a dead cert as it’s possible to get, even when they began their set with an unexpected but rather lovely acapella version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’. It’s a mark of how much affection the crowd has for the band when the four-part harmonies on ‘Old Dun Cow’ are as raucously received as full-band renditions of ‘Heartbeat Song’ and ‘Hounds of Love’. They even had patience with a folkish reworking of ‘Decent Days and Nights’ which featured a cello, and were rewarded when it blossomed into a thing of skiffle-y beauty. One more thrash through ‘Decent Days and Nights’, and they were gone.
- Video: Split Festival Line-Up Announced