Saturday June 1st and I head to Wakefield on what is supposedly going to be the hottest day of the year so far for Long Division 2019. As a festival Long Division began in 2011 and, with the exception of 2017, has been an annual event ever since. Over the years it has played host to The Cribs, Billy Bragg, British Sea Power, The Fall, Gang Of Four and a whole load of other top name bands. Last year many were lucky enough to witness what plenty have since described as the best gig they’ve ever seen – The Membranes in the majestic surroundings of the cathedral. But it’s not just about the well known bands. Spread over five days this year started on Wednesday 29.06 with an Artwalk that unveiled some of Long Division’s ‘Onto The Streets’ commissions that included neon signs – ‘I Formed A Band’ and a new mural from Seanna Doonan. Long Division is so much more than a music festival. Friday saw ‘Mini Movers’ – singing, dancing and listening activities for children under 5, Long Division for Toddlers with craft, stories and silliness as well as theatre and, in the evening, ‘The Big Fat Festival Quiz’.
However, it is Saturday that most people think of when Long Division is mentioned. Saturday is the heart of the festival and this year saw over 100 performances across the city spread between 14 or 15 very different venues. And unlike an event such as Live At Leeds it isn’t miles between them. In fact even with food in one hand and camera bag slung over shoulder I reckon it was a maximum 10-12 minute walk between the two venues furthest apart. Should you so wish you could actually spend the afternoon and evening listening to bands for no cost at all as a number of venues are free access. But why would you when, for less than £30 (MUCH less if you bought an early bird ticket), a wristband allows you to wander at will into any venue. Buying a wristband not only allows you to watch some big name bands but also helps fund next years festival as well as community projects. This year Long division has run it’s first education programme, with support from, Wakefield Community Foundation, – a Silver Arts Award in DIY Events for 15-19 year olds with The Young Team presenting a number of activities on the Sunday.
But back to Saturday and all that music. And what an eclectic mix there is. Whatever your tastes you’ll find it somewhere today. Rap, hip-hop, rock, techno, electronic, punk, indie, rock n roll, soul, sing-a-long pop. Gentle acoustic guitars or thunderous noise – you can hear it. Fancy an afternoon of spoken word – poetry, comedy. You can have it.
I’m not someone who has to see as many bands as possible. I don’t spend festivals watching just one song by 30 different bands. In fact I’m a firm believer that if you haven’t stayed to watch a band for at least 5 or 6 songs you shouldn’t claim to have seen them. So my day was planned and with the exception of one small issue (no one’s fault) and thanks to the fantastic planning by the events organisers it proved to be brilliant.
False Advertising start proceedings in Warehouse 23. Opening with ‘You Said’ Jen Hingley’s vocals together with the ominous bass rumblings from Josh Sellers, and thumping drums courtesy of Chris Warr it’s only about 30 seconds before my faith in young people continuing to produce top class music is restored. Plenty of guitars and hooks that grab your attention. In their four years as a band False Advertsing have released a slew of hard hitting guitar driven grungy punk pop songs. New single ‘You Won’t Feel Love’ seems at first to be much more upbeat but actually deals with being honest rather than claiming everything is Ok when it isn’t. And we get a lolly when they play it. Recently showcased on the Radio 1 Rock Show, work on their new album recently completed and with a number of festivals already under their belt and more to come False Advertising will be a band we hear a lot more about in the very near future.
Hello Cosmos – led by bass player and singer/songwriter Ben Robinson (founder of Kendal Calling and Bluedot Festivals) – hit us with a manic, noise filled set that wouldn’t be unlike Mark E Smith singing for someone like Pigsx7. It’s heavy, hard hitting stuff tempered a little by the keyboards and violin playing of Angela Chan. ‘Fuse’, ‘Raise The Dawn’, ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ and the brilliant recent single ‘Run For President’ are full of anger and sharp, sardonic vocals that never stray into blathering rants all backed with huge sounds. An onslaught of deep bass riffs and drums that could knock you out the door.
It’s good to see Henry Boons hasn’t changed much since it was my local many, many years ago. It’s still my pre-gig pub of choice if I’m in the city to see a band but it’s a long, long time since I was in the back room for live music. By the time Knuckle start their set Boons is rammed and it’s one out one in. It’s hot, sweaty and perfect for the raw, stripped back, garage blues this Huddersfield three piece play. Fuzzy bass, abrasive guitar. Gritty rock n roll that varies from the punk onslaught of ‘Spilt Milk’, the almost funk of ‘Cash And Carry’ to the heavy, late Beatles influenced ‘Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside’ (also the title of recently released album). And then there’s the vocals of Jonny Firth. A seething anti-brexit rant, drugs, drink, “I got a girl she fuckin hates me. She ran away to Cornwall what am I supposed to do? She says I’m nuts she doesn’t need it.” (‘Ejector Seat’). Big on melodies, big riffs, down to earth rock n roll. No wonder Boons is packed and a sizeable group has assembled outside the doors onto the street behind drummer Ben Wallbanks to witness Knuckle.
Back in Warehouse 23 Imperial Wax are the longest serving and last line up of legendary band The Fall. Keiron Melling, Dave Spurr and Pete Greenway spent 11 years as the driving force behind Mark E Smith and have now teamed up with Sam Curran on vocals to deliver a high octane, cavernous noise that’s incredibly powerful. Much to the annoyance of a number of friends I couldn’t stand The Fall. I loved Imperial Wax. Razor sharp guitars from Greenway and Curran, Melling’s unrelenting drums, raw, powerful, solid, noisy post punk rock with one occasional hint of rockabilly. It’s only 17 months since Smith passed away and his presence creeps in on ‘No Man’s Land’ and ‘Plant The Seed’. Imperial Wax are a seriously imposing live force. Dave Spurr stands like a brick shithouse, solid, unmoving, while Curran is full of pent up energy that needs to be released and he jerks and swerves whilst thrashing his guitar and yelling his vocals often with half the mic in his mouth. The crowd love it.
It’s only a few minutes walk to the Precinct Stage (BBC Introducing stage) – one of the free access stages – to see Dead Naked Hippies. So glad they were playing as I missed them when they played a local gig back home. Dead Naked Hippies make no compromises as they knock out a full on assault of ‘art rock’ punk. There’s just the three of them. Lucy Jowett prowls the stage belting out her vocals whilst Joe Clarke on guitar and Jacob Marston on drums knock out some wicked rhythms. In this case less is more. Dead Naked Hippies prove that three is all it takes. There’s a decent crowd to watch them and it’s great to see groups of youngsters breaking their journeys to wherever to spend time watching a band that’s going from strength to strength.
Mechanics Theatre is a new venue for me. Nice pop up bar area downstairs with comfy seats and a very chilled out vibe. Upstairs the venue is a little like an old music hall minus the seats. A really nice setting in which to see Cowtown. It’s hard to believe 12 years have passed since the release of debut album Pine-Cone Express. Spikey, jerky guitar, deep bass synth and wickedly enthusiastic drumming, Cowtown are just Cowtown. They do their own thing so it’s virtually impossible to compare them to anyone except, possibly, Devo and an occasional nod towards Talking Heads. Just a little. They’ve lost none of their DIY ethos over the years as they open with 2016’s ‘Motivational Speaker’ and the utterly superb ‘Tweak’. Any band that can release albums called ‘Dudes Vs Bad Dudes’ and ‘Excellent Domestic Short Hair’ can only be good. There’s not a weak moment in their set that includes ‘Ski School’, the deadpan ‘Monotone Face’ and the rocking, dance inducing set closer ‘Emojicore’.
A quick pint and then it’s Asian Dub Foundation who tear Warehouse 23 apart with their thunderous bass grooves. It’s a wild show fully of heavy guitar sounds, trippy flute, meteoric rapping, sonic drums and a pure punk attitude. The place is bouncing as ADF deliver a non-stop head pounding set that quite literally just makes you think ‘Wow!’. It’s 21 years since ADF’s revolutionary album ‘Rafi’s Revenge’ was released and, whilst tonight is partly a celebration of this fact it also emphasises how relevant Asian Dub Foundation still are.
With a history of break-ups, reformations, hits in Japan, UK chart singles, solo projects, time in other bands and shows with the likes of Foo Fighters and Garbage 2018 once again saw the three members of Bis – Manda Rin, Sci Fi Steven and John Disco – back in the studio to record a new album. ‘Slight Disconnects’ was released earlier this year. Sadly I only get to witness six songs (so I CAN say I saw Bis). Six songs of perfect indie pop that start with ‘Sound Of Heartbreak’, the lead single from their most recent album and go right back to 1996’s ‘Kandy Pop’ and ‘97’s ‘Tell It To The Kids’. Throw in ‘Action and Drama’ from ’96 and then bring things right back up to date with the upbeat, melodic disco punk of ‘There Is No Point (Other Than The Point That There Is No Point)’ and it’s almost a complete history of Bis in just a few songs.
Bis are brilliant, there’s a great crowd enjoying them in Mechanics and I’m loving every second. But here’s that small issue. I was really looking forward to watching their whole set, relaxing for 30 minutes with another drink and then staying in Mechanics for at least the first half of Art Brut. Their power pop indie racket would be perfectly suited to this small, intimate venue. But someone official had hinted that to get into Warehouse23 for Peter Hook would require getting in early. At least an hour early. Still it gave me the opportunity to snap a few pics of We Are Scientists as they blasted through their crowd pleasing set of indie disco numbers. No disrespect to them, the place was rammed and they went down a storm. But the big indie hits of the early 2000’s and We Are Scientists passed me by at the time.
As expected it’s a capacity crowd for Peter Hook & The Light. With such a huge number of massively influential songs in his back catalogue I often wonder how he decides which ones to play at shows like this. Being from Manchester and of a certain age I’m one that can say I saw Joy Division and some of the very first gigs by New Order so both bands have a special place in my musical heart. For others it’ll be those huge hits of the early/late 80’s that mean so much. Tonight Peter Hook manages to please everyone. Opening with ‘No Love Lost’ from Joy Division’s 1978 debut ep ‘An Ideal For Living’ and following this with ‘Isolation’, ‘Digital’, ‘Transmission’ ‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘Shadowplay’ those unmistakeable bass lines, drum beats and guitar riffs have lost none of their urgency and power over the last 40 years and Hook’s gruff vocals are superbly suited to the Joy Division songs . ‘Ceremony’ provides the perfect crossover into New Order and the massive hits ‘Regret’, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Temptation’, ‘True Faith’ and, of course, ‘Blue Monday’. Pretty much the whole place is having a wonderful time. Even security are dancing. Hooky loves it as much as the crowd, strutting round the stage between stops to pose with that huge bass and blast out those unique sounds. He plays to the crowd, poses in perfect positions for those at the front with any sort of camera and despite his complaints about the temperature has clearly had a blast.
And that was it. Long Division Saturday finished. Brilliantly organised by a team of very dedicated people. Fantastic venues with friendly, helpful staff. A huge variety of different musical genres. If you couldn’t find something you liked then you simply don’t like music. Easy transport links, easy parking, easy distances between venues, drink and food at prices that don’t rip you off, great crowds united by a love of music and culture. And it focuses attention on a city that offers a lot if you’re prepared to put the effort in and look for it.
Roll on LD2020.
Words + Pictures by Steve White