Not many local DIY events have the muscle to attract big national names. Wakefield’s Long Division is an exception to this rule. Held across the city, this three-day multi-venue music event brings together local talent and well-known established acts. Over the past five years the festival has played host to the likes of The Cribs, Gruff Rhys, The Wedding Present, The Fall and Toy and this year’s line up is no exception.
The centrepiece of Long Division is Saturday’s main wrist-banded event – 65 acts playing in six different venues (two of which, The Hop and Unity Works, each boast two individual stages) – but the festival proper begins on Friday evening with Wakefield’s The Grand (whose debut album Incapacitated, Ill Fated, and In Love was reviewed here) supporting the mighty British Sea Power.
British Sea Power’s elegiac anthems, bristling with enigmatic references and hints of something altogether more wicked and dangerous, have brought them uncomfortably close to reaching the status of national treasures. Currently doing a run of anniversary dates for their debut The Decline of British Sea Power, they play Long Division’s opening show at the Unity Works. Although not part of the official celebratory album tour, their set contains enough early material to give it a special flavour. What’s more, BSP’s original keyboard player and marching drummer Eamon is in attendance. He makes a boldly demented entrance to the cheers of fans and immediately descends into the crowd marching through the audience with a manic grin and determined energy.
The band whizz through their back catalogue but even a long headline set is barely enough to cover the highlights of their musical adventures. They finish with an encore that brings it all back to the start of their career. ‘Lately’ sounds as poignantly beautiful as it did all those years ago, and their cover of Julian Cope’s ‘Out of my Mind on Dope and Speed’ is another testament that not many bands can master such frenetic energy concocting a curious mixture of sublime, unhinged, saucy and high-minded. Unique and inspiring, this is definitely another one for Long Division’s pantheon of the all-time great performances.
Saturday’s grey skies cannot dampen the excitement for what lies ahead and CryBabyCry – the first of many local bands to grace the festival’s eight stages – punch a great big hole in the weather with their very own electrical storm of R&B and rock’n’roll. Quite how the trio of Jonny Firth, Rosie Doonan and Nici Todd have not attained greater recognition outside of their home town is one of life’s bigger mysteries.
Another local band, Allusondrugs – from the neighbouring town of Castleford – are next up on the Unity Works’ main stage and, as their name suggests, their persona seems inseparable from their music. In thirty short minutes they accurately convey the untrammelled joy and abandon associated with hedonism and primal rock music.
The Yorkshire connection continues with The Horn The Hunt, though the musical cloth from which the duo of Clare Carter and Joe Osborne are cut is something altogether more cerebral and reflective. The faded history and glorious serenity afforded by the Theatre Royal’s beautiful Victorian auditorium is the most perfect of settings in which to enjoy The Horn The Hunt. Their cover of ‘Sycamore Trees’ – the Angelo Badalamenti composition featured in the series finale of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – is deeply moving, evoking strong memories of Billie Holiday‘s ‘Strange Fruit’ in its meditative interpretation. This performance may well prove to be their last for some considerable time. It is added an even greater poignancy when they dedicate their closing song, ‘My Face In Your Eyes’ to their bass player Ian Smart who very sadly passed away only a few weeks ago. A celebrated musician and teacher at Wakefield College, the entire festival is being held in his memory.
A very short walk down the road takes you to the Westgate Unitarian Chapel. Tucked away off the main drag, its unobtrusive presence masks more than 350 noble years of history. Performing in such serene, celestial surroundings before an intimate audience brings out the very best in Sam Airey and Tom Williams. In much the same way that Paul Simon, Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen did before them, the two young singer songwriters reveal a remarkable maturity, insight and authority in both their words and music. Airey’s cover of ‘No Surrender’ is totally compelling – capturing all of the battered resilience and plaintive sadness of Springsteen’s original – whilst Williams’ own ‘She’s Everything’ is a perfect example of how to write a love song without descending into mawkish sentimentality.
To varying degrees, Brawlers, Menace Beach and Fat White Family – who appear one after the other on the Unity Work’s main stage – are all connected by brutality, bedlam and a seemingly limitless capacity to blast out their message at increasingly ear-shredding volumes. They also seem to share a deep love for The Cramps, Iggy & the Stooges and in the case of Fat White Family’s frontman Lias Saoudi, more than a passing interest in the exploits of Jim Morrison in Miami, Florida in 1969. Spinning deliriously on an axis that vacillates between the overwhelming and the exhilarating, the entire experience is a complete onslaught on the senses; one that may destroy your hearing but will probably end up correcting your vision.
One of the many beauties of Long Division is that you can step out of one venue into the next – all six locations are within a couple of hundred yards of each other in the city centre – and in so doing quickly enter another musical world. Back in the Theatre Royal, Her Name Is Calla provide such a difference. Listening to them is like getting into a car and pointing it towards some distant vanishing point. Without realising, you have suddenly driven miles and miles over some huge desolate landscape; a journey of quite unfathomable depth, this is music for the serious listener.
And while the evening still promises the festival headliners Pulled Apart By Horses and Ash back in Unity Works, it feels equally apposite to remain in the more tranquil surroundings of the Theatre Royal to enjoy Emma Pollock. Returning to Long Division after having played its inaugural year in 2011, the former Delgado, singer and songwriter is accompanied tonight by her long-term collaborator and friend Graham Smiley. They play a delightful set, including some new material which will feature on her third solo album due out later this year. The concluding ‘Old Ghosts’ – featuring Pollock’s first public appearance on bass guitar – provides a stunning finale to the day’s events.
The festival wraps up on Sunday afternoon, with a special live album recording from locals The Ainsley Band. The whole experience proves that Long Division Festival is going from strength to strength, attracting more attention and taking the city of Wakefield even further out of the shadows of its bigger, more metropolitan Yorkshire neighbours, Leeds and Sheffield. The festival’s growing success stems from the excellent balance it achieves between promoting local and more established, national acts; the wide range of musical styles that it covers; the close proximity of its six venues; and the collective vision of, and carefully choreographed planning by its organisers.
Additional reporting from Anastasia Connor, who provides the review of British Sea Power.
Photo credit (British Sea Power): Graham Coburn
Rest of photos: Simon Godley
More photos of Long Division Festival 2015 can be found here.
Read our Q&A with Long Division’s Director Dean Freeman here.