Long Division Festival, started 12 years ago in Wakefield and one of the musical highlights of any gig goer’s year, has finally come to an end. Over the years a plethora of well known acts have graced the various venues that have hosted this eclectic event. Bands such as The Cribs, British Sea Power, The Fall, Gang Of Four, Peter Hook, Billy Bragg to name just a few. The festival has also welcomed with open arms, and hence provided a stepping stone and an opportunity, for hundreds of less well known acts (at the time). Sadly Brexit, Covid, the cost of living crisis mean sponsorship and funding has dwindled and hence Long Division 2023 was to be the last.
But let’s not focus on the negative. Instead lets remember the positives – the community work, the education programmes, the never ending support for young people in the City Of Wakefield that Long Division has provided over the years. All of this going on throughout the year. And of course the music. The main event has always been one Saturday in June when Wakefield plays host to a huge variety of musical talent across eight venues, all within a few minutes walk of each other, ranging in capacity from just 40-50 to 900. Three of these venues are free entry but that doesn’t mean less talent. The others require a wristband but at around just £40 for over 60 bands it’s an absolute bargain. And that support for the community – anyone on a low income could access cheaper tickets.
So what about the music? It’s fair to say that whatever your tastes you were guaranteed to find something you like. Folk, acoustic, funk, disco, pop, punk, rock – you name it, it could be found at some point in the day.
Saturday 10th June will also be remembered as an absolute scorcher so with temperatures heading towards to upper 20C’s the first stop was the tiny, but absolutely buzzing, Red Shed to catch Tiger Island belt out a superb set of dark, grubby, garage punk. Fans of PJ Harvey, Pit Pony, Mysterines will love them. Considering it’s only just after one o’clock the place is rammed which bodes well for the rest of the day. A quick dash to The Hop, another of the days free venues, to catch up with some mates allowed us to see Sooner Or Later who deliver a great set of rock covers as well as their own material. Fantastic to see young bands doing what they do with a real passion and skill.
2:30pm and we’re climbing the stairs of the rather splendid Unity Hall (I actually thought this place had closed down. Brilliant to see it hasn’t and it’s still hosting events) in anticipation of seeing Nightbus. Recent single Mirrors/Way Past Three being a perfect slice of dark, electronic, post punk with more than a nod of appreciation to the likes of Joy Division and The Cure (showing my age there). Live they add to these reference points and deliver a fantastic set of dreamy, often eerie and mysterious songs overlaying some real dancey beats. A perfect soundtrack for a night-time wander through city streets that have suddenly turned monochrome.
The majestic surroundings of the Theatre Royal, a building that seems to have stood still for centuries and a place where it’s easy to imagine candles burning as a source of light, seems an unusual choice to place Drahla but actually their minimal, bass driven, jittery sound fits perfectly. Sitting down seems to allow you to focus more on the interwoven soundscapes being played out on the stage. Full of spikey guitars, discordant drumbeats and that driving bass underlying the almost spoken word vocals of Luciel Brown. Drahla were a highlight of Long Division 2018. After a lengthy absence from the live circuit post 2019 it’s good to see them back and, once again, a real highlight of LD23.
A brief gap in the planned schedule for the day allowed a quick drop into Venue 23 to catch the opening few numbers from the jazz, funk and punk fusion of Opus Kink. Pumped full with some sleazy brass it all appears almost improvised and a little chaotic. But impressions can be misleading as everything gels together brilliantly to create a real fun-filled party atmosphere.
Every year I maintain that Long division is the place where you’re going to discover your new favourite band. In the past it’s been Memes, Gad Whip, The Lounge Society. This year it would have been Loose Articles had I not seen them for the first time just 2 weeks ago at Bearded Theory. What this meant was that today they are the ‘do not miss at any cost’ band and they do not disappoint. Packed full of frenetic energy they absolutely own the stage in Venue 23. Full of anger yet packed full of fun they spit venom about the ills of modern life. Politicians, climate change, misogynistic attitudes towards women in sport, buses, keyboard warriors and the gentrification of your favourite local pub. Serious statements delivered with a full on punk attitude and little bit of tongue in cheek humour. Do not miss this band if they play near you.
Long Division 2021 saw us catch the last couple of songs by bdrmm in Mechanics. This time we see their whole set played out to a packed Venue 23. Put simply bdrmm have grown into a band that this time completely blew us away. Embracing everything from the shoegaze sound they’re well known for through electronica, a bit of dance and the occasional huge wall of noise. Absolutely stunning set from this lot. It’s rare you get time to catch whole sets from bands when you’re dashing round grabbing photos and trying to soak up the festival atmosphere from as many bands as possible, even when you’ve got a ‘must see’ list. But bdrmm today just grabbed us, held tight and only relinquished their grip with their final dying notes. Brilliant.
Theatre Royal was so full it was one in one out for The Orielles. The schedule was now incredibly tight so we sneaked in for just two songs before dashing up the stairs of Unity Hall to catch the opening couple from Thank. Nihilistic noise rock, Thank had been recommended by a few here today and within minutes I faced a real dilemma – my gut was screaming “stay for more”, “you need to see this”. I knew they were going to be great but The Membranes were about to step on stage in Venue 23 and I can’t ever remember seeing a bad Membranes gig.
In fact their appearance in the cathedral at Long Division 2018 remains one of my favourite gigs ever. Tonight they do it again. Whether it’s the infectious energy of John Robb pounding round the stage hammering out a huge bass sound, completely unable to stay still unless he’s actually at the microphone, staring at nothing in particular like a man possessed or the slicing, haunting guitar work from Peter Byrchmore, the repetitive, thumping beats from Mike Simkins or the ghostly backing vocals from the veiled, darkly clad Amelia Chain or the way everything blends together to create a sound that is unique to this band. Whatever it is The Membranes tonight are mesmerising. Hard to believe their latest album, the superb ‘What Nature Gives..Nature Takes Away’ is now four years old and the huge ‘Dark Energy, Dark Matter’ eight. But both are timeless and played live songs such as ‘What Nature Gives..’, ‘Snow Monkey’ and ‘Deep In The Forest Where The Memories Linger’ are, quite simply, absolutely stunning. I’ve seen some amazing Membranes gigs over the years and tonight was up there with the very best of them.
Which just leaves The Lovely Eggs. Fiercely independent, no record label, no big promotion company to back them, everything – albums/singles/merch design, packaging and postage is done by this Lancaster duo. They played in The Hop at the first Long Division Festival in 2011 having released just one album, have returned numerous times, even once celebrated their wedding anniversary here, so it seems particularly fitting that, another five albums later and having built up a fiercely loyal following they close this, the final one. Noisy, packed with energy and fun every gig by The Lovely Eggs seems like one big party. This, quite rightly, is encouraged by singer/guitarist Holly Ross who almost demands people have a good time between constantly throwing various rock poses – left leg held high, guitar aloft, headbanging. And whether it’s the full-on break-neck speed and sonic assault of songs such as ‘This Decision’ and ‘I’m With You’, the glorious sing-a-long of ‘You Can Go Now’ or the genius that is ‘Fuck It’ it seems The Lovely Eggs can do no wrong. Add in a crowd that clearly adore them, the fact that this is a band who can not only see the similarities between Wakefield and their hometown of Lancaster and their need for events such as Long Division, but a band who genuinely love playing here and who will really miss it there’s a real feeling of unity – this isn’t band entertaining crowd. This is just a room full of people having a great time. It didn’t matter that the confetti canons didn’t work first time. They worked eventually showering the whole place in glittery strips of paper as Holly stands at the front of the stage, guitar held high with a smile matching those on the faces in the crowd. The Lovely Eggs – what a perfect ending to a perfect festival that has been a real highlight of every year it’s taken place.
Shout out to both Bungalow and Stanley Brinks. We loved the few minutes that we saw but we were dashing around frantically. Regrets? Only that I didn’t get to see Arab Strap but having to make choices is simply the sign of a festival with a really strong line-up.
Brilliantly organised, friendly, eclectic, inclusive and just all out good fun. Long Division, we’re going to miss you.
Words & photos: Steve White
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