Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Long Division Festival - Wakefield

The weekend saw the return of Wakefield's hugely popular Long Division festival. Over 115 performances stretched over three days and marked the event as the biggest and best to date. Our writer Angi Strafford was at the heart of the event on Saturday....

With it fast becoming the top slice to a summer festival sandwich that starts way back in May with Live at Leeds, this weekend we made the surprisingly short journey to Wakefield for the fourth annual Long Division festival. Comparisons to Live at Leeds, with multiple venues, garish maps and wristband arrangements are easy to draw, but it was time to see how the reputedly more raucous relation of West Yorkshire likes to do things.

The festivities had begun the night before with not one but two shows from hometown heroes The Cribs, but it was the intriguing Saturday line up that had caught our eye, promising us a curious mix of more than eighty bands spread across nine stages around the city. Picking up our passes from the breathtakingly restored Unity Hall, we set off into the crowds spilling along Westgate.

First up was Wakefield own CryBabyCry. Battling admirably with a multitude of sound issues, they kept us entertained with unplugged Johnny Cash covers until finally they were able to begin. Never has a band been so unexpectedly worth the wait. Fresh from Leeds fest and coming on with a stomp that was Black Keys by way of T-Rex, I felt I’d accidentally stumbled into a smoky off-Beale Street bar. Even the faux-Americana references didn’t grate; this was definitely an exercise in inspiration rather than tribute. Rosie Doonan’s vocals have the richness and resonance of early Chrissie Hynde delivered with the soul and swagger of Brittany Howard. The trio are prodigiously talented musicians, but were having so much fun on stage it was easy not to notice. An EP lands in October.

Next we headed over to Warehouse 23 for Mazes and a surprisingly sparse crowd given their recent heavy 6 music exposure. No matter, they easily filled the gaps. Leaning in a lay-by on Interstate-5, half way between Seattle and Portland, Mazes remind me of better executed 90s sixth form band. Their bittersweet, introspective earnestness is strangely likeable, treading a path part Pavement, part Girls, all intricately vast seas of melody tightly held together with Joy Division style minimalist percussion. Universal Me was a high point of a set that didn’t really dip in quality throughout.

Following on from that was always going to be a tough job, and Melodic Records protegées Patterns were unfortunately not the men for the job. Sold as (new) shoegaze, they’re more Delays than Drop Nineteens. What on record is dreamy layers of guitars and samples seemed to lose something in the live performance. The stage a hive of activty, the members too perky for the soundtrack, it was uninspiring and instantly forgettable.

Events like this are made for the serendipity of a surprise stumble upon; enter Casual Sex. Hailed by the Guardian as “the best Scottish indie band since Franz Ferdinand”, they certainly share an arch wit and coy sexuality with the Glasgow four-piece. A tumbling, sleazy mess reminiscant of Pink Glove era Pulp; like that band they weren’t afraid sprinkle a little politics on their disco, be it subtly or overtly. Dedicating track Bastard Beat to Cameron, Clegg, Miliband “and all those other bastards” and the bassist wielding an instrument decked out like a Palestinian flag, it was refreshing to see a band not hiding from their beliefs behind anodyne press releases. Sam Smith comes over all latter day Captain Sensible, but musically it’s filthy hooks not unlike Roxy Music with the bite of Edwyn Collins. Perfection.

After that tryst it was time for a change of pace in the shape of Flowers in the minor hall over at Unity Works. With their debut album Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do released on Kanine this week, the band were in good spirits. They make an incredible amount of noise for a trio with only a guitar, pared down drum kit and a one stringed bass between them, but fullness of it reverbrates around the room, creating a canvas onto which they paint delicate lines with Rachel Kenedy’s voice. It’s emo for indie kids, heavy with a mosaic of emotion that manages to avoid claustrophobia with the precision of its execution. If I Tell You was magnificent, just vocals and the suggestion of an underlying guitar yet it packed the room. Astonishing. Catch them at the Brudenell Games Room on September 27.

The Unity Works Major Hall was a fitting setting for Leeds stalwarts I Like Trains. As always, their musicianship was faultless, with David Martin’s baritone tying the outfit together with admirable assistance from Simon on drums. Their three guitars are almost uncomfortably stifling, but it that feels like the point. The set is as considered and thought provoking as the first time I saw them, but it’s no longer evident where they fit. More than ten years since their inception, there’s a sense about them that perhaps their time has passed, there’s no longer enough space for their brand of intelligent post rock, or at least in the commercially successful sense that they have so many times seemed just on the cusp of.

It was over then to Slow Club to put a full stop on proceedings. The Sheffield act’s blend of classic rock ‘n’ roll wrapped in slickly sugary melody is without true contemporaries; they don’t exist as part of any scene yet have managed to carve a devoted following. With the release of their latest album, their set is now a mix of their previous nu-folk tweeness and faux-town melodies. Without the strings arrangement they use on record, the sound wasn’t as soulful as it could have been. Rebecca’s belting vocal compensated a little, but fresh from a break, it seemed they were still in holiday mode; only half present with a non-commitment that showed. Still, the enthusiasm of the crowd lifted it to a suitably rousing finisher.

It’s unfair to keep comparing Wakefield with Leeds, but it bears a mention. Speaking as someone from a somewhat neglected smaller town; the beauty of these events in places that don’t have the luxury of being a stop on everyone’s touring schedule or the backing of corporate juggernauts, is that when a collective like Rhubarb Bomb makes the painstaking effort to create something as wonderful as this, it has an effect on the place entire. The simple joy of music floating on the air that shines a light on a place. It makes you fall in love with your home town, even if just for the day; and the importance of not taking it for granted, that’s a lesson we spoilt LS postcode district residents could do well to remember.

Early bird tickets for 2015 Here