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Various Artists live at Split Festival, Sunderland (Saturday)
Split Festival took a year off in 2013 but thankfully it's back this year, and back with a bang, in a new location and with a superb lineup. The gathering has been painstakingly organised by The Futureheads and other dedicated souls, trying to give something back to their native Sunderland. Within minutes of entering the site David Hyde (Futureheads drummer/Hyde & Beast frontman) waves hello to our now seasoned festival going daughter of 11 months. This might not quite be in the same league as last month's Flavor Flav shenanigans (you can read the rest of my Stockton Weekender review here) but it seemed to sum up what a friendly community spirited festival Split is. To be honest its hard to go anywhere in Tyne and Wear without bumping into a Head (future), a Field (music) or a Park (maximo), and this festival is no exception, they're all milling around the site. And what beautiful site it is, getting one up on its local rivals and ex rivals (Evolution, Stockton Weekender, Boro Live) by being set in an actual leafy 1830s municipal Park.
The first band of the day that I stumble across are Schultz, a Newcastle band who seem impossibly young and play precise gloomy math rock with great aplomb. I notice that their singer is sporting a Chapman Family t-shirt, perhaps proving that the embers of that particular cult are still burning amongst a new breed of North East talent. They're tight and, technically, in excellent shape already even if their song-writing hasn't quite have peaked yet. Promising.
Nearby, on the main stage, Lisbon are playing some euphoric pop. Heroic Daniel Ross from Gallery Circus has literally just finished his set on the second stage before sprinting over as a last minute fill-in on bass. If there was a hurried nature to this makeshift band, it doesn't show and the audience seem game, dancing in the sunshine even at this early hour. Many of the songs sound quite similar but as a result they all have that same danceable rhythm.
Back on Stage 3, Goy Boy McIlroy totally and utterly blow me away. Based down the road in Darlington they have an pulsing and intense rhythm section and a singer (David Saunders) who's an absolute revelation/nutcase. I'd say he has a great stage presence but he spends more time in the audience, under the stage, outside the tent, stealing flags, stealing ice cream, kissing uncomfortable middle aged audience members and being generally OFF the stage. He also has some knowingly pathetic stage antics such as failed mic swings and (not very) high jumps. But the non stop energy of their front-man only works because it's backed up by such a workmanlike band, I could only compare this sort of show to something like Les Savy Fav or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in particularly cheeky mood. It's things like this that make you re-evaluate live performance entirely.
The Lake Poets are the complete opposite, which is probably quite welcome under the circumstances. Their main man Martin Longstaff is a likeable self professed misery merchant and it's not hard to see why they are getting so much attention. Today they boast an excellent slide guitarist in a set which definitely improves in-line with the number of people they have on stage. It's alt-country all the way which seems to suit this sun drenched audience down to the ground. In fact, the weather seems the perfect fit for most of the bands on Saturday's main stage, non more so than the Northern funk of Smooth and Turrell who have the audience in the palm of their hands throughout their smooth and soulful set.
Simon and Oscar from Ocean Colour Scene seem to be a staple at small festivals these days. I went to see OCS back in about 1997, it seems laughable now but I remember it was the first gig where I heard girls screaming with excitement (granted most of my previous outings were to metal gigs and girls were rather ambivalent towards Tom Araya and Phil Anselmo). In 2014 their stage banter seems is ridiculously old fashioned, but there's no pretension here and that's what was always a bit different about OCS I suppose: a mod band who couldn't care less about image, they just wrote a load of catchy pop songs and sold a load of records. "It's My Shadow" and "I Wanna Stay Alive With You" are the highlights for me and I notice some teenagers in the audience sarcastic mimicking Simon Fowler which makes me feel very old indeed.
To make me feel hip again I wonder off to see Tom Vek who's playing some tunes from his latest album Luck. It's kind of distant and cool but it works really well in the darkened tent of Stage 2, "Trying To Do Better" goes down particularly well in its live format.
Due to an unfortunate scheduling conflict I make the short dash across the park to see the tail end of Hyde & Beast. The tent is unsurprisingly bursting at the seams with punters wanting their dose of summertime glam, served up by David Hyde (looking rather similar to a 70's Carl Wilson), Neil Bassett (ex- of felow local heroes Golden Virgins) and a host of helping hands. This band keep getting bigger, better and more accomplished each time I see them. It's a proper feel-good experience and wider success surely awaits them.
Dizzee Rascal is a big coup for Split and he reels off a greatest hits set which never skimps on glitz and glamour. There are numerous pyrotechnics, confetti and an awesome lazer which seems far too big for the relatively "intimate" surroundings. "Fix Up Look Sharp" and "Dance With Me" sound fabulous and a gold star should go to the techy mixing desk people on the main stage because the sound is immaculate: huge throbbing bass notes which are central but never overpower Rascal's speedy, witty rhymes. "Bonkers" is a predictable and rousing finale to a marvelous Saturday at Split.