Long Division, having returned last year after a fallow year, once again proved Wakefield can punch well above its weight for multi-venue cosmopolitan festivals, and once again, a host of venues have been added to the map (while some, like The Unity Works, have gone and are sadly missed).
Long Division may not offer the sheer number of acts events like Live at Leeds and Camden Rocks (which is running over the same weekend), but in terms of quality and range, it’s hard to fault, and every act I singled out to cover was up against a clash. Spoiled for choice is an understatement, especially with a venue now dedicated to spoken word (for some reason I wasn’t invited to perform, but the bill is outstanding, making me wish I could attend the event twice simultaneously in order to catch at the very least Joe Hakim, Joe Williams, ad Jimmy Andrex).
The new Precinct stage, curated by BBC introducing, is a nice addition, offering free entertainment to passers-by. It not only adds to the community spirit of the event (the activities and charity stalls, not to mention bar selling local ale) in the city centre marquee are very much about inclusivity, but is a great advert for the festival. Admittedly, openers Heir weren’t exactly my bag with their clean white soul-tinged pop which is crisp, clean, and insipid, but for Saturday afternoon in the middle of the high street, they were exactly right.
Since Napoleon III was still setting up his installation in the Cathedral, and it was starting to get warm, it seemed only reasonable to have a swift pint in The Hop, arriving just as Nukedown were wrapping up their set, before catching False Advertising, opening the day’s music at Warehouse 23.
Celebrating the release of their new single, ‘You Won’t Feel Love’, they distribute lollypops during their punchy set that provides a neat balance of tune and driving grungy guitar. They admit they’ve undercatered, and it’s fair to say they’ve drawn a substantial crowd for early doors, and deservedly so. With Jen Hingley and Chris Warr swapping drumming / guitar / lead vocal duties around the set’s mid-point, while bassist Josh Sellars is widely mobile and provides the kinetics, the set had a strong dynamic, and they played hard, working up a proper sweat.
Staying at Warehouse 23 for Hello Cosmos brought the reward of a stellar light show and trippy visuals as a retina-searing accompaniment to the disparate four-piece’s motoric post-punk space rock. They pitch themselves as ‘beamed direct from an alternative universe in which The Fall were produced by DFA Records’ Tim Goldsworthy’, and Ben Robinson’s talk-singing sits well with the thumping basslines and insistent grooves propelled by some busy, tom-heavy drumming. Angela Chan’s electric violin work adds an additional dimension to the tense vibe that makes for an exhilarating set.
Back at the Precinct, Living Body serve up gentle, lilting melodies with chiming, picked guitars which ultimately yield to colossal post-rock crescendos of monumental proportion. There’s instrument-swapping, as Mayshe Rowan switched keyboards for bass, and her vocals in duet with Jeff T. Smith provide compelling harmonic counterpoints, and the minimal drum set-up is no limitation on the variety of their arrangements. Not only is it striking that this is a bold choice for the location, but also just how good the volume and sound quality are.
One Day, After School is the musical vehicle of festival organiser Dean Freeman. The core trio expand to a six-piece for portions of the set, and conjure introspective, brooding post-rock which evokes the spirit of early I Like Trains in places. Freeman has a droll and self-effacing style of between-song chat which contrasts with the layered, textured compositions built around a shifting selection of instruments. The six-minute single/not-single ‘Are You Awake?’ comprises multiple sections, and the theatre’s superior audio setup does justice to their detailed sound as they ultimately bring their set to an uplifting conclusion.
Almost at the opposite end of the spectrum, Imperial Wax – The Fall’s final lineup, joined by Sam Curran on vocals and guitar. As their swiftly-dispatched debut album (they’ve lived with that crank-‘em-out work ethic long enough now for it to be ingrained) demonstrated, they’ve still got that propensity for nagging, cyclical guitar motifs and repetitive chord sequences, and even break out the odd rockabilly groove, but this is most definitely a fresh start that mines a choppy, punky garage rock seam. Bassist Dave Spurr is centre stage and he’s a solid presence. They’re energetic and tight, and much as I loved The Fall and still do, they do sound better when no-one’s dicking about with the backline.
I’ll admit to not having been immediately taken with what I’d heard from Cruel World. Perhaps being such a massive fan off Post War Glamour Girls, I expected something edgier from James Anthony Smith’s latest project. But live, where James shares vocal duties with Harry Ridgway and the drums sound so crisps as to almost sound like a machine, and the between-song banter flows… it all comes together and they showcase what they’re really about. And it’s extremely promising indeed. That they completely pack out the venue in a 4:30 slot indicates that expectations are high, and it’ll be interesting to watch them from here onwards.
Since the moment I set ears on Dead Naked Hippies, I’ve been hooked, and it’s no hyperbole to say they’re one of the most consistent and exciting live acts around right now. But how will they work in daylight? Remarkably well, as it happens. They don’t just play to the (substantial) crowd gathered in the space in front of the Precinct stage, but to the entire town, and really up their game for this performance (which is no small feat for a band that really gives it everything every time). Again, credit’s due to both Long Division and BBC Introducing for putting a spiky, confrontational grunge-goth crossover act on as the stage headliners, especially as Lucy Jowett slips a ‘fucking’ into the preamble for ‘She Goes’. They sound fantastic, they’re blindingly intense, and Lucy concludes the set down amongst the crowd, prowling and lurching up close and scary, and it’s a memorable finale to a blistering set which deserves to launch their career to the next level.
It’s only 5:30 and already I’ve seen more top-notch performances than I could have ever hoped. Where do you go from here? Back to Warehouse 23, of course, to see We Were Promised Jetpacks, one of the many Scottish contingent in presence at Long Division. And my first live encounter with the band is another blistering performance. Twinkling, chiming guitars and rolling drums provide the backdrop t an unashamedly thickly-accented vocal, powering up to some rousing, energetic choruses and truly explosive sustained crescendos that shimmer into monolithic walls of noise.
Sex Cells caught my attention with their new single, ‘Modern Witchcraft’, which features in today’s set. They’re an intriguing proposition, with a sound that’s kinda Human League and Depeche Mode. The pair are packed close together, their bank of four vintage Rolands on a single table. She’s a mermaid and shrill and psychotic, he resembles a young Trent Reznor and is brimming with petulance and angst, and what they lack in slickness they more than make up for in energy and enthusiasm and they bounce and lunge without pause for breath as they crank out thumping beats. They’re not happy with the volume (although it’s pretty loud out front) but they don’t let that stop them giving it everything they’ve got to deliver a compelling performance.
Over at Henry Boons, Cloth are compelling in a completely different way. The Scots trio – two guitars, drums with a synth pad, recreating that classic 80s sound, and no bass play sparse, minimal pop tunes with the volume low and the introspection up to 11. The emotional ache lingers in the vast expanses between echoed notes, and less is so much more in such a context. There are clear parallels with The XX here, but equally, there’s a linage going back to Young Marble Giants, and the execution is magnificent.
From the newest of the new to the old garde, but staying with performers from north of the border, Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert have both enjoyed admirable careers already. I say enjoyed, but actually mean have endured in a curmudgeonly fashion careers defined by bleakness and low self-worth. Their songs are heartaching, heartbreaking, wrist-slittingly sad (even all the ones about shagging), and are interspersed with the blackest, most gallows back-and-forth banter about dead animals and masturbation that somehow manages to be wet-your-pants, laugh-till-you-cry funny. I guess that’s the very definition of catharsis: the emotions are all brought to the surface, and their performance is beautiful, painful, and hilarious in equal measures.
The Theatre Royal isn’t only a magnificent space, but it’s also extremely comfortable, and sitting down during a long day of music is good. And so I stay put for Penguin Café, the current iteration of Penguin Café Orchestra, led by Arthur Jeffes following the death of his former and Orchestra leader Simon Jeffes. Only seven of the ten members are on stage today, but they serve up a set of luscious, sweeping strings courtesy of three violins, a cello, and double bass.
With Art Brut, Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip and Too Many T’s headlining across the city, there’s something for everyone, although Peter Hook and the Light were always going to be the biggest draw bringing the curtain down at Warehouse 23. Needless to say, it’s rammed. They’re 15 minutes late on, but enthusiasm and anticipation mean no-one seems too bothered, and yes, they’re worth the wait. If anyone can do justice to the legacy of Joy Division and New Order, surely it’s Hooky.
Kicking off with ‘No Love Lost’, before moving into a selection from Joy Division’s seminal debut, ‘Unknown Pleasures’, the love in the room is immense, and the numbers bouncing around down the front are substantial, too. A gothy woman to my left starts dancing on my toes: she apologises. I tell her it’s ok, and she caries on for a bit as the band kick out tight renditions of ‘She’s Lost Control’ and a personal favourite, ‘Shadowplay’.
A beefy take on ‘Ceremony’ marks the transition from Joy Division to New Order in both the Hook’s musical career and the set, paving the way for a New Order second half that gets going properly with ‘Regret’. Despite the stylistic contrast, it works. It also probably helps that with a quarter of a decade having passed since its release, the song has its own nostalgia value now.
With the late start compounded by the timing of trains to York, I have to make an exit as they continue to venture through the New Order back catalogue.
It’s a cracking end to a cracking day, and they’ve not only set the bar high for next year, but for other inner-city multi-venue festivals.