Long Division Festival 2014 Review

Known as the ‘Merrie City’ in the Middle Ages, Wakefield hasn’t had things quite so rosy in recent times with the decline of the British coal and manufacturing industries in the 1980s. With new investment in infrastructure coming into the city over the last decade, could Long Division help the city be ‘Merrie’ again?

Arriving in the city, there’s clearly a lot of potential with many striking but run-down buildings in the centre. In fact, the first stop of the day was at one of these success stories, Unity Works, a Grade-II listed building dating back to 1867, recently restored into a multi-purpose event venue by a co-operative of investors. In fact the restorations to the main 700 capacity main hall are so recently completed, there still a faint whiff of paint in the air.

With Candy Says pulling out of the festival due to a broken down car, Tuff Love was an alternative in the Unity Works Minor Hall, billed by festival organisers as music for driving. Starting at a slow tempo, introspective plod, the Glaswegian trio were unpolished, but progressed into a more jaunty sound as the set progressed, with the vocal harmonies of the guitarist and bassist mixing well over the fuzzy bass. They deserved some sympathy for the sound issues they experienced, including repeated feedback, amp problems, then a broken string which necessitated finishing the set on a borrowed guitar.

After a few tours of the surrounding blocks trying to find the venue, Juffage took to the stage at Westgate Chapel. When he asked, “Are you guys ready for some pop songs?” this was assumed to be sarcasm, considering his proclivity towards complex, layered math rock, however his set was definitely accessible. It felt as though Juffage was delivering his own feverish sermon at the chapel; with his voice soaring and intensity building up in each song, the set was absolutely captivating and technically excellent. Juffage clearly takes his music seriously, lamenting throughout his set that the sound set-up lost the top end of his vocals, but his perfectionist tendencies paid dividends as his slot was one of the highlights of the day.

Back to a packed Unity Hall, Post War Glamour Girls got underway with ‘Sestra’, the brooding album opener from ‘Pink Fur’, clocking in at over six minutes long. The Leeds quartet showcased new material, ‘Pseudo Macho’, ‘Felonious Punk’, ‘Wax Origins’ and ‘Count Your Blessings’, with ‘Felonious Punk’ and ‘Wax Origins’ standing out as potential highlights from their next album. Final track ‘Gustave’, from their latest EP perhaps demonstrates the best qualities of PWGG, with James’ harsh, growling vocals countered by Alice’s serene tones and ending in a frantic jam with both vocalists kicking over mic stands.

“Just play the tunes Gruff and do that voodoo you do”, shouted a member of the crowd during the delay to the start of Gruff Rhys. The Super Furry Animals lead singer’s solo set was halted for about 15 minutes with problems getting the accompanying background video presentation to work. Eventually, Gruff nonchalantly strolled on stage with a faux-wolf-head hat and a muppet-style puppet of the Welsh explorer John Evans, whose story of sailing to America to discover a tribe of Welsh Indians was recounted. Gruff’s acoustic strums combined with his soaring, echoing vocals were entrancing and backed up the grandeur of the storytelling.

Next up at Players Bar were The Sunbeams, although upon entering, seeing the drummer playing topless almost resulted in seeing what else was on nearby! The Sunbeams are a young, loud and in-your-face Leeds trio, and when a member of the crowd shouted “you’re like the Cribs”, although this displeased the band, they weren’t too off the mark. With catchy riffs and heavy drums backed up by boundless energy, the band really clicked in the songs which involved backing vocals from the guitarist. The young but small crowd were delighted by their high tempo, angular guitar riffs and screaming vocals.

Under an absolutely huge spinning disco ball in the trendy Havana bar, Chorley’s Then Thickens took to a makeshift stage on a dance floor. A project started by Kong’s Jon Lee Martin, the band pumps out a vibrant, foot-tapping sound and deserve their recent plaudits. The band’s sound didn’t suffer appreciably from the absence of co-vocalist Helen Thorpe, with their snarling guitars and funky riffs making their tracks sound even better live than on the album.

Next door in Mulberry, Salvage My Dream’s bassist quipped “This is the furthest north I’ve ever been in my life” to the small crowd. Travelling from London on the National Express early the same morning, the band had quite a trip, but their usage of violin differentiates them and works well with their jangly guitar hooks.

“This is our first ever daytime gig in a graveyard with no alcohol” declared Too Many T's at the outdoor stage in the Orangery. The lack of alcohol available at the Grade II listed Orangery did affect crowd numbers throughout the day but Too Many T's energetic raps harking back to the early 90s 'golden age hip hop' was a festival hi light. With fun rhymes over funky beats, there's definitely a nod to Beastie Boys and Jurassic 5. Free stickers too!

Back to the Unity Works Major Hall, I Like Trains came into full swing, entrancing the crowd with a setlist mainly from their back catalogue but also showcasing a new track. Their fantastic instrumentals were displayed in ‘A Rook House for Bobby’, building into an epic finale. Introspective and contemplative, the band made the grand seem effortless, barely breaking into a sweat over their 45 minute set.

A peculiar fusion of Math-rock with American Punk-rock influences, Wot Gorilla? played one of the most energetic sets of the day back at Havana. With complex, mathy guitar strokes and shrieking vocals overlaying heavy drums, Wot Gorilla? aren’t for everyone’s taste, but their vigour is captivating. They’re well worth watching just to see if your eyes can track the speed of the guitarist’s chord changes – it’s exhausting even just watching!

After giving up on a Slow Club set three tracks in due to poor sound quality at Warehouse 23, it was over to see Islet at the Unity Works Minor Hall. With an intriguing description in the show programme describing them as “a band without rules, where everything is possible”, they were definitely worth a look. Islet are characterised by fluidity, both in terms of swapping instruments between each other and also for not staying on stage. It’s clear that the band sees themselves not only as musicians, but as entertainers, as they’re constantly popping into the crowd, walking, hopping, running and even crawling between the audience members. Most of their tracks are discordant at first, with each member appearing to do their own thing in a disconnected, jarring way, then connecting together into a vibrant, catchy sound. Some of the tracks did miss the mark though, but the band deserves full marks for effort and showmanship and were a memorable and fitting end to the day.

So did the festival make Wakefield “Merrie” again? There was a friendly buzz around the city centre during the daytime and the overall organisation of the festival was fantastic, with the few cancellations communicated well by social media and most venues running close to time.

Unless you’ve a penchant for fast food, options for eating were limited. Sunday's fringe festival which we unfortunately were unable to attend promised craft and food stalls. It's a shame that apart from a lone baked potato van at the Orangery, there were no such stalls available on the Saturday. More options for eating near Unity Works would have been very welcome, created a central focal point for the festival and added to the atmosphere.

Amongst a backdrop of festivals which will do anything to wring extra money out of attendees, Long Division feels like it is trying to give back to the public rather than take, with the availability of free festival programmes, free badges and outrageously cheap £5 t-shirts.

Perhaps the jewel in Long Division’s crown is the accessibility of the venues. Many other festivals, whether city centre or field based, planning the logistics of your day taking into account band clashes, the walk between venues, long queues for toilets and bars can be a headache inducing. With most remote venue Players Bar, just a couple of minutes walk from main venue Unity Works planning your day just isn’t a problem with Long Division. For the indecisive, it’s even practical to see two band half-sets within a 30 minute time period.

As a whole, Long Division represents outstanding value for money and draws in some household name artists such as The Cribs, Slow Club, The Wedding Present, and Gruff Rhys. As the festival organisers point out, when the first festival took place in 2011, Unity Works, Warehouse 23 and Players Bar didn’t even exist; Wakefield is a growing city and Long Division is a growing festival – and I can’t wait to see what it has in store for us next year!


Photos by Katie McGuinness


Long Division Festival Review, Wakefield

You’re going to Wakefield? Why? This was the reaction of several people when I mentioned we’d be spending the uncharicteristically hot, sunny day, not outside enjoying the weather in a festival field, but inside watching as many bands as possible in 7 of Wakefield’s venues.  As Post War Glamour Girl’s frontman proclaimed later on in the day, Wakefield has a thriving music scene at present, and boasts a printed fanzine Rhubarb Bomb and record label Philophobia.  Knowing this makes it a not so surprising locatioin for a multi venue city centre festival after all.
It was a return visit to Long Division Festival for me after being there in 2011, but a first visit for photographer Katie.  I was looking forward to how things had developed and to seeing the new venues.  Straight after arriving we popped upstairs at The Hop to catch a bit of The Dissolutions. Their rock was solid enough but not particularly original so we decided to make our way to another venue. The Orangery was almost ideally suited to the vocal talents of Jasmine Kennedy who kept the attentive crowd totally captivated, especially when she performed a song acapella. Her guitar strap also sported an impressive collection of Brownie Badges.  Next it was over to another new venue for me, the Drury Lane Library, for St Gregory Orange who I’d caught last time at the Cathedral. Unfortunately we only caught the last song with singer going out into the crowd as far as his mic lead would allow but it was enough to remind me not to miss them next time.
Downstairs at The Hop was the next port of call for a bit of Humanfly. I was initially intrigued by the metal stylings of the first song we caught but this was followed by a more straight forward rock so we decided to move on only to find them reprising their metal influences as we were leaving so maybe that was a hasty move. We were determined to visit all the venues so continued on our way to Velvet intending to catch Harry George Johns. Unfortunately the venue was running late and had an ammended schedule.  After a bit of a wait we caught Halifax’s punk, skiffle/country group Spirit of John who were initially meant to play two hours earlier.
I then made it over to the Theatre Royal for what turned out to be my highlight of the afternoon. This Is The Kit were definitely the right band in the right place with the beautiful pure folk voice of Kate Stables allowed to shine through. Yet it was the guitar effects that moved them up another level for me and made we want to investigate more.
Katie (photographer) headed over to Warehouse 23 to catch Wakefield band The Spills, their indie-rock has more of a nod to America than Yorkshire, but the changing time signatures and dual vocals from Rob and Chad set them apart from others.  Definitely a band to catch again.
In need of a little rest I remained at the Theatre Royal for first experience Post War Glamour Girls who were Katie’s hi light of the day.  They were preceded by Skint & Demoralised aptly doing one John Cooper Clarke poem (albeit Kung Fu International and not band’s namesake) and a well placed poem highlighting the contradictions in the tenets of EDL and BNP policy. Initial assumptions about the band themselves being moody and distant were dispelled by singer Andy’s inter-song chat. Their material was firmly grounded on the darker side of things and sounded great in the acoustics of the Theatre.
Taking a food break back at The Orangery we (and possibly the rest of Wakefield) could hear the call of Eagulls through Library’s open windows so we popped in for a couple of songs. After an initial assault of noise I was enjoying a darker and moodier song but a decision had be made and that was to go back to The Hop for Sky Larkin. However Ed Tudor Pole who I didn’t expect to see, was still performing downstairs and as he’d just started Who Killed Bambi it would have been rude to walk past. At the end of his boisterous set he was joined on stage by a few invited friends and later by a few who quite possiby weren’t for final song Swords Of A Thousand Men.
Next it was time to head over to the main venue of Warehouse 23. I had seen That Fucking Tank before and the guitar and drum duo can’t be simply pigeonholed asmath-rock so it’s very handy that they have such self-descriptive tunes as Acid Jam. The sizeable crowd of waiting Fall fans (easy to spot as they were all sporting Fall Fall T shirts and badges) seemed to enjoy their set too.
The Fall had had originally been the reason for me wanting to return to Long Division but a recent gig in Clitheroe had been a bit of a testing experience that made consider giving it a miss. However I shouldn’t have worried and even though Mark E Smith spent several songs seated on a dining chair, he and was on great form from the off. It was great to have a lot more new material in the set. Other highlights were Strychnine with Mark showing real attitude, Sparta FC and Reformation. It has to be mentioned the packed Warehouse was one of the hottest gigs I’ve ever attended, with many in the crowd having to use their programmes as fans but MES, ever the contrary bugger, was wearing a full lenght coat for much of their gig!
All that would have been enough for me, but Katie enjoyed Middleman’s set so much at last month’s Live at Leeds, she had to catch them again.  Initially, the crowd was a little sparse, probably people outside grabbing some needed fresh air after the stifiling gig, but the venue soon re-filled. Middleman’s energetic rap, rock has shades of The Prodigy and single Can’t Hold me Down and gets several fans joining singer Andy in crowdsurfing.
Overall another great Long Division.  Long may it continue especially with the promise of the Unity Hall being developed into another venue.  The variety of bands playing to help make this one of the best and importantly most compact city festivals there is.
Check out more Long Division Festival photos here