The fourth year of Sunderland’s very own Split Festival brings local heroes and further afield legends to Ashbrooke for a weekend of music, decease cinema, comedy, and food, to remember.
Shamefully, I arrived so late to Split that I missed 90% of the brilliant Mr. Dawson’s set, but the few minutes I heard whilst scrambling into the back of the tent sounded as beautiful as ever.
If you were as foolish as I and missed this, you can see him play the Star & Shadow Cinema’s fundraiser for its English Language Conversation Group on the 10th of November.
Despite a few technical problems (and forgetting her own song a few minutes in, which she laughs off), Haws is, as usual, superb, and, also as usual, succeeds in causing a near-reverent hush in the Tunstall Hill Tent from the off. Highlights included The Lake Poets’ Martin Longstaff joining her onstage for a haunting rendition of ‘Happiness’, and Haws, solo once again, closing the set her brilliant forthcoming single ‘Stranger’. Watch this lass.
All female folk-pop quartet The Cornshed Sisters sing up a storm, filling the tent with the aid of only their own four voices and a few acoustic instruments. The best thing about this – leaving aside the lush, stirring harmonies and tightly-executed instrumentation – is that not one of them is coasting. Everyone in this band is working together, working hard, and working with a smile on her face.
Proper North East folk, heard as it should be.
THE LAKE POETS
The Lake Poets are the first act to pack out, and damn near take the roof off, the Tunstall Hill Tent. Those familiar only with Martin Longstaff’s solo shows were in for a surprise – The Lake Poets plural are an altogether different beast. The Sunderland six-piece bring the house – and the tears of any present Nanas – down with every song. The highlight, of course – we are in Sunderland – is City By The Sea, which sees both band and crowd soar with delight. That harmonica player’s class and all.
The best I’ve ever seen them, and that’s saying something.
LET’S BUY HAPPINESS
Imagine, just for a little while, that the emo revival had actually been good. Alternatively, go and see Let’s Buy Happiness, today playing a main stage of which they’re assuredly worthy. As a band, they’re excellent, but it’s frontwoman Sarah Hall’s hypnotic stage presence that seals it, singing with her whole body, and in the space of 25 minutes, dispelling that old ‘twee’ tag for good. The band as a whole shine particularly on new single ‘Works Better On Paper’, a crushing epic with shades of Depreciation Guild’s ‘Nautilus’. Spellbinding.
An inauspicious location, perhaps, for a true Scottish legend, as King Creosote and friends takes the stage, second billing in the Tunstall Hill tent. Within a few minutes, however, the crowd are drawn in by KC’s simple but beautiful lyricism, easy stage presence, and offhand banter. Simplicity is the key in his performance today, and it works a treat, that single hand drum packing a surprising punch throughout. One to be savoured.
A cavernous sound erupts from this two piece (and it should be, they’ve got about seven amps up there) and their impassioned delivery, landing them the ‘honour’ of being the weekend’s second band to earn my ‘if-emo-were-good’ tag. They’re also a good deal more honest and gritty – like a closer to home Thursday. Expect big things from these guys – if only they’d been around when I was fourteen. Cathartic.
Well, they already look and sound successful – perhaps even worryingly slick – which is probably half the battle. ‘Reptile’ already sounds like a hit, and they’re sure to get The Next Generation swooning in the aisles. Singer Tom Burke may have some dodgy secondhand dance moves on the go, but he has got a hell of a voice, and his androgynous vocals fit well with the band’s mixture of nu-indie guitar and big disco beats – it’s not a surprise to learn that their debut album has been produced by Franz Ferdinand mainman Alex Kapranos. The overall impression can be summarised thus: very technical, very Topman.
THE CHAPMAN FAMILY
The first thing you’re likely to notice about Teesiders The Chapman Family – other than their clutch of faithful, ‘…Is Not A Cult’ t-shirt wearing fans – is that they’re F***ING LOUD, and even more fond of swearing than me after a few too many. Their show is high on atmospherics – a strobe- lit, flashing, crashing stage full of dry ice, a whirling dervish of a guitarist, and nosebleed-inducing volume – but it’s not a facade. This band are wrenching it from their guts, and loving it all the same.
The acceptable face of post-hardcore?
THAT F***ING TANK
The film these in-yer-face instrumentalists could soundtrack hasn’t been written yet, but here’s hoping. Everything whacked up to 11, punchy rhythm, heavy, heavy sludge-coated guitars, and plenty of ear-covering children dashing out of the tent – that’s what we like to see!
THIS AIN’T VEGAS
It’s a warm welcome back for Sunderland aces This Ain’t Vegas; fans have been waiting a long time – four years, to be exact – for this, and if they do still sound very much like a band of their heyday, this is one nostalgia trip worth taking. Vying with The Chapman Family and That F***ing Tank for Loudest Band At Split, the four piece sound tight, taut, and ready for battle.
Mind your eardrums – they’re back.
‘It’s okay to change’, sing Sunderland’s own Mercury nominees Field Music. And change they do, about once every few bars. It’s unnerving for the uninitiated, perhaps expecting your standard indie fare, but as the band hit full swing, so do the crowd. If any band here has earned their stripes – and the North East music scene is legendarily hard-working – it’s Field Music. One thing that’s marked this year’s Split Festival has been the abundance of truly great singers, and Field Music are no exception – a real class act, and, if there’s any justice, one that will be filling an arena near you soon enough.
The Futureheads were always going to kill this one, and they certainly don’t disappoint. Beginning with a rousing a cappella rendition of Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’ and hurtling through a selection of hits from every album under their belts, from beginning to end, they hold the crowd in the palms of their hands. There as so many great moments in this set, but the best are when the audience gets a chance to air it’s pipes – Hounds Of Love, and a brilliant a cappella ‘The Old Dun Cow’ bring the packed house down. As the last notes of ‘Decent Days And Nights’ – the second outing of the set for this one, now fully and bone-shakingly electric – die away from the ‘heads, and the throats of their followers, it’s fair to say that Sunderland has proved it can host a world-class event, and pull it off in style.
Rachel James Brown