FESTIVAL REPORT: Long Division 2016 1

FESTIVAL REPORT: Long Division 2016

It is Saturday afternoon at Long Division and the Festival Director, Dean Freeman is in conversation with Chris Madden, the self-described bloke from Chinwag. “I’m not a sensible business man”, says Freeman. But as Long Division – the music and cultural festival that takes place annually across numerous venues in Wakefield’s city centre – is now into its sixth year, the genial 33 year old must be doing something right.

This year’s event, though, had earlier been in severe doubt but on the back of a hugely successful Crowdfunding Campaign in which more than 100 supporters had pledged over £7500 towards the festival and no little effort on the part of Freeman and his team it is going ahead. Dean Freeman’s enthusiasm energy, drive, and commitment towards independence and DIY culture in general and Long Division in particular is infectious.

Dean Freeman feels that the key to Long Division’s evolution and continuation lies in “doing new things rather than (seeing it as) a career or business plan”. The Q&A sessions – of which Freeman’s interview with Madden is but one of three on Saturday afternoon – is a new initiative for this year as is the decision to allow 16 and 17 year olds free entry into the event, and only charge those aged between 18 to 21 years the reduced price of £15.

In marked contrast to other similar wrist-banded events – take near neighbours Live at Leeds and Tramlines, for example – and in an effort to keep itself fresh, Long Division has also changed a number of the venues that it uses. This year sees the introduction of the 1000 capacity Warehouse 23 and The Art House where the Q&A sessions are taking place.

Long Division 2016
Dean Freeman – Long Division Festival Director

With a background in media production, Freeman speaks knowledgeably, passionately and amusingly about Long Division. He feels that “having had a crappy job (beforehand) is a great motivator” for such work – his was in the Highways Agency – and he recognizes the difficulties that live entertainment faces in this day and age. In this Netfilx era the concept of actually leaving the house and socialising has suddenly become alien to many. Freeman is also aware that this year’s Long Division clashes with Download, Field Day, the 2016 UEFA European Championship and, for some, the Queen’s birthday celebrations. Nearer to home, Long Division has also to compete with the Wakefield Beer Festival and the Fake Festival in nearby Ossett.

Dean Freeman acknowledges that without the great goodwill of reps, the sound people, countless volunteers and the artists themselves, Long Division would certainly struggle to survive. However, his vision places the festival in the context of the more recent and wider emergence of Wakefield as a city of culture – think of the Hepworth Gallery (the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside of London) and Wakefield Lit Fest – and you find yourself getting swept along with Freeman’s engaging warmth and optimistic spirit.

John Robb, journalist and bassist and singer with The Membranes and a man who is no stranger to this format himself is another of the afternoon Q&A interviewees. As is the former guitarist with The Fall, author, TV presenter, stylist, and self-confessed animal lover, Brix Smith Start. Either side of some questions from Chris Madden she reads excerpts from her recent book The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise. The first of these relates to her life and times at college in Vermont, the second to her first meeting with Mark E. Smith.

Brix Smith Start
Brix Smith Start

Describing her biological father like “an off-duty Dan Draper (from the Mad Men series) who walked with a cane made out of a bull’s penis”, Brix Smith Start speaks candidly of the difficulties they experienced in their relationship. To try and compensate for the absence of love she felt from her father, she admits to having looked for complicated, charismatic men who existed in his image. Enter Mark E. Smith. She recalls how they first met in Chicago (at a Fall show) and her then driving Smith in her car to a nearby party. Having listened to a demo tape of Brix’s in the car – at Mark E. Smith’s request – he described her as “a fucking genius”. Smith Start is still unsure if it was a genuine compliment on his behalf or merely The Fall frontman wanting to fuck her.

Brix Smith Start goes on to describe in detail the house that the couple shared in Prestwich, Manchester. She tells us of the property’s vile bathroom suite, of her bulimia and her vomiting in that room. She speaks of slugs in the kitchen, an ugly, unloved garden and her learning “how to keep schtum”.  Smith Start is open, warm, engaging and very funny.

Later in Warehouse 23, Brix & the Extricated deliver a thrilling, visceral set. The Extricated feature the former Fall bassist, the indomitable Steve Hanley, his brother Paul on drums and guitarists Steve Trafford and Jason Brown. Their collective guiding principle dictates that the Fall pool from which they draw is almost exclusively from the years between 1983 and 1989 when Smith Start was first with the band. They kick off with a blistering ‘U.S. 80’s-90’s’ (taken from the 1986 album Bend Sinister) and despite veering dangerously off the setlist piste in the interim, Smith Start guides them back on track to finish with an equally coruscating Bombast (from the previous year’s The Nation’s Saving Grace). In the seven months that have elapsed since first seeing them, they have become a taut, lean heavyweight live music machine.

Earlier in the day it had seemed like the Scots had taken over Wakefield city centre. In the beautiful surrounding of the 18th century Unitarian Westgate Chapel, Pictish Trail – featuring the alter-ego of Lost Maps records supremo Johnny Lynch, accompanied here by Suze Bear from labelmates Tuff Love – play some highly inappropriate popular music given the hallowed location. Having warmly welcomed us to his congregation, Lynch goes on to use what he refers to as “the natural reverb of Christ” to maximum effect. He foresees Scottish independence on the back of any UK withdrawal from the European Union and speculates as to how this would fulfil his dream of Scotland being able to enter the Eurovision Song Contest in its own, independent right. New single ‘Far Gone (Don’t Leave)’ would probably end up winning the competition.

Pictish Trail
Pictish Trail

Lynch and Bear are back on duty a couple of hours later at the equally splendid Theatre Royal as along with Scott Simpson on drums they provide musical support to the former Arab Strap alumnus Malcolm Middleton. Those who regularly think of Middleton as man consumed by feelings of isolation and sadness would perhaps be very surprised by the lighter emotional texture of his current more popular sound. Featuring songs from his latest album Summer of ’13, Middleton is a man for whom it would seem a great psychological burden has been lifted. These tunes are big, powerful and with an innate sense of urgency.

A man who knows much about emotional burden is fellow Scot, RM Hubbert. During his performance in the Westgate Chapel he talks openly about the crippling chronic depression from which he suffers and how it is moments like this – playing live music – that offer him some welcome, albeit temporary relief from this sombre curse.  A supremely gifted guitarist, his shows walk the tightrope between beauty and despair. Songs informed by mental illness, death, loss and grief are framed in the sublime eloquence of his playing and interspersed by his dark, sardonic humour.

RM Hubbert is acutely aware of the presence of the large Scots’ musical contingent that is in town today. Reassured that the local late-night pie shop is still in business, and conforming to the national stereotype with his tongue firmly in his cheek, Hubbert tells us that he will be up there at one in the morning with his top off fighting someone to the death. And with that “the big overweight Glaswegian Batman fucks off into the night”.

To prove that Long Division does attract nationalities other than the Scots, My Name Is Calla mark their last live appearance of 2016 with a typically charged performance. Their concluding song ‘The Union’ – from their 2010 album The Quiet Lamb – was surely created with the word epic in mind. It is heroic, majestic and inflated by diametric feelings of deep portent and hope.

In one of those unfortunate and unavoidable clashes that are inevitable on such occasions, Brix & the Extricated are on at the exact same time as fellow Saturday headliners Field Music. But with Gang of Four having followed in the footsteps of bands such as local legends The Cribs and British Sea Power by playing the festival’s opening night on Friday, the calibre of bands that Long Division continues to attract is there for all to see.  And for as long as Dean Freeman remains at the helm the future of Long Division must be viewed with the greatest of hope and confidence.

Long Division festival took place in Wakefield, West Yorkshire from 10th to 12th June 2016.

Photo credit: Simon Godley

More photos from this event can be found HERE

Read GIITTV’s 2015 interview with Dean Freeman HERE.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.