Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Long Division Festival 2012: a diary

9:00 94 miles up the M1, on the Saturday of a four day bank holiday? Even though I don't have to be there until midday at the earliest, better to be safe than sorry...

10:45 Oh.

12:00 It does feel like there's quite a few of these multi-venue events cropping up at the start of the festival season these days, but there's little sense of major label push or corporatisation about Long Division, merely a local independent promoter (Rhubarb Bomb) and some accomplices putting on some of their favourite bands in a variety of unique rooms and hoping those who care turn up in numbers, rather than those who want to be seen. Under leaden skies that fortunately refrain from unleashing their load all day, and indeed allow some warmth through later on, the ease of use of the festival becomes clear - five of the nine venues are on the same road, two are just off it and two more are in the same building four or so minutes' walk away.

12:15 Having a normal ticket rather than press pass this year does at least mean not having to wear a lanyard all day telling everyone we got in for free.

12:30 So we start upstairs at Wakefield scene central The Hop for Piskie Sits. There's six of them, and there's clearly well worn copies of Daydream Nation and Goo in their collections, but the way they ally these to not-quite-melodies more recalls Urusei Yatsura's glitter bombs, college rock with a devil-eyed British toilet circuit overdrive slant. Plus, they seem to be pissed already, though they claim not as pissed as some of their local counterparts.

13:00 The Town Hall - and it actually is the town hall, with opaque design and display cases - is home to most of the loudest bands of the day, starting with Advances In Mathematics. Mancunians who've released a single through the label of the estimable indiepop fanzine/promoters Pull Yourself Together, and featuring Help Stamp Out Loneliness drummer Ben Ambridge up front, the intricacies and delay echoes with a degree of warmth and not too much bludgeon recall not so much the Mogwai/EITS party line as I Like Trains' more post-rock moments to the power of Maybeshewill becalmed. We do nip away before the end...

13:30 pop into the Theatre Royal, an actual former opera house with seating still installed, which on first visit in the dark seems precarious. Mi Mye, a local trio three albums deep, have literate ability refracted through the personal and a depth of indiepop-influenced sound that suggests knowledge of Flying Nun Records' back catalogue. Then Jamie Lockhart pulls out an acoustic guitar for a completely unamplified solo song before switching to fiddle for the closer. Nothing if not surprising.

13:45 Which unfortunately isn't quite true of Fever Dream at the Orangery, given they span off from the same source band (Esiotrot) as Tigercats. The big blocky bass sound impresses, the well thumbed wall of effects pedal guitar noise playbook in a Yuck style less so.

14:15 Mammal Club back in the Theatre Royal are very much in the spirit of Everything Everything - overwordy lyrics, falsetto bits, dynamic shifts, tricky guitar parts - if they were more willing to explore their electronic avenues, swelling into wilder shores while keeping some semblance of melody intact somewhere underneath. Wilson Astley's crazy legged dancing behind his set-up deserves some sort of attention too.

14:45 Down a corridor in the town hall building, the Old Courtroom is indeed an old courtroom with most fixtures still intact, a fitting location for the acoustic end of the bill. Sam Airey fits it neatly, his poetic imagery and yearning, full bodied vocal drawing in the attentive and aided by the natural acoustics. To think they nearly didn't use this room. Although they were originally going to use a chapel, so who knows.

15:15 The tiny Henry Boons is full for Kid Canaveral. Scrap all plans to catch Withered Hand in an hour's time.

16:00 Leeds' Hookworms have been garnering fans for a rocket propelled live show that deals in droning noise-psychedelia, Spacemen 3 meets Mudhoney. Ears set up nice and tinnitus-y for the... month, probably.

16:29 Big celeb spot! Erm, in our world anyway, as Fortuna Pop! leader and general indiepop ubergrupenfuehrer Sean Price wanders towards the Hop ahead of the next band.

16:30 In glaring contrast to Hookworms, Richard from This Many Boyfriends is visibly (and, on speaking to him later, audibly) astonished at how many have turned up to see his band. Ryan Jarman produced their current single and they sound like the Cribs would if they actually better reflected all those K and Postcard Records bands they go on about. Young Lovers Go Pop! is of course the one that sends people nuts but before then is a compact set of excitable nuggets of indiepop hook enthrallment.

17:00 There's a tiny stage downstairs at the Hop and for some reason the mighty Standard Fare are playing halfway through the day there when common consensus is they'd be much better suited to a bigger room. No matter, despite Emma dropping her water bottle and soaking the stage beforehand their ordinary magic shines through the two songs we catch before literally running off towards...

17:10 ...a packed Town Hall for Wakefield breakout band in waiting Runaround Kids, whose T-shirt Richard Boyfriend had been sporting in note of the awkward clash. Of course their Johnny Foreigner-by-way-of-Tubelord-but-with-more-outright-thrash mix slays all with utmost confidence that if they persevere they'll get through past these town walls eventually.

17:30 Napoleon IIIrd played the infamous western bar Mustangs last year in a set notable for the absolute inaudibility of his vocals. The Theatre Royal, which should after all be good at it, have got that sorted this year, though James does have to gesticulate towards his monitors a bit. A set drawn largely from Christiania, no bad thing but there's a new album pending, sees him switch tirelessly between multi-functional keyboard and effects boxes, conjuring thumping beats out of formless noise, before giving a guitar plenty, culminating in chucking it back over his shoulder.

18:00 Must have done something around this time. Chatted to a couple of people, saw bits of two not that interesting bands. Ate, probably.

19:00 Due to a stage time clash which means Young British Artists are unfortunately right out of the picture a couple of songs in the Town Hall from Evans The Death is the plan, but Dan's lead guitar is next to inaudible so it's something of a washout before dashing off...

19:10 Mustangs, which with its bunting and England flags up next to the stencilled pin-up girls in cowboy gear and plastic cacti looks even less welcoming to pale indie kids like us. We're here to touch the hem of Eddie Argos' garment. Inevitably Art Brut are better mixed than their leader but he still commands a room, even if constantly fearful that he's about to crash through the stage extension in front of the monitors he spends the whole set on. Whole set, that is, apart from his customary wander around the audience improvising around a Van Gogh Museum thread mid-Modern Art. Not too many from the most recent album, a request for Emily Kane fulfilled, the knowledge gained that Eddie's little brother is a teacher and it's just himself that his parents now worry about, the sight of Argos attempting to skip using the mike lead as a rope and a full audience energised and amused. Top of the pops indeed.

19:46 A ringer for Charles Slow Club passes me.

19:47 Outside the Hop courtyard stands a ringer for Rebecca Slow Club. Hmm. (Though, seeing her later, she has a punter's wristband on and there's no secret sets or anything, and no clues on her Twitter feed)

20:45 Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells are in the theatre, by all accounts packed out and wonderful, but we saw them at Swn and can't imagine the set is much different. Back in court, then, for White Town, Jyoti, acoustic and pre-recorded backing. His open-hearted songs with twists are being watched by, at quick reckoning, eleven other people but he seems happy enough with it, offering money off his albums for stories he can reuse. And yes, he does do that one.

21:40 The Vaselines playing between England flags? Someone didn't think this through. Watching the now three guitar lineup vibrate the flag stretched over part of the PA reverberate with every chord is a fun sideshow, but the set is great enough without that as they pile through the compact fuzzbombs, dealing out Molly's Lips and Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam early on just because they can. That's where we call it a night, after a second excellent Long Division out of two, excellently organised with knowledge of just how to pitch it.

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