Celebrating its eleventh year, Long Division once again sees the clubs, pubs and even chapels of Wakefield open to host live music from both the local area and beyond. With an opening speaking engagement from Poet Laureate Simon Armitage at the Town Hall on Friday night - he will return the following evening at the same venue with his band LYR - the festival fully kicks off on Saturday afternoon. Leeds-based alt-pop outfit Little Planets are one of the first to take to the stage, kickstarting the event with pep at the Mechanics’ Theatre through youthful giddiness and a handful of summery, funk-pop tunes. This early eagerness is also felt a stone’s throw away in the top room of The Counting House, The Strangerz showcasing a set of snappy, punchy punk cuts with a charismatic lead performance from frontwoman Martha Kelly.
City festivals provide unique experiences and challenges due to their setting, with a variety of host venues being one. Seeing familiar haunts repurposed for exciting live music is a welcome attribute and, in some cases, elevates the artists themselves, such as Elkyn, whose softly-sung folk stuns the pew-seated audience in the atmospheric setting of Westgate Chapel, or the somewhat surreal sight of riotous Leeds punks Venus Grrrls on the paradoxically formal Town Hall stage. This only leads to their set being one of great character, a strong crowd down the front belting out the words to ‘Hate Me’ right back at the band.
The challenges mainly come in the latter half of the day, as the collision of festival revellers and the usual Saturday night Wakefield crowd begins to tighten. All in good spirits thankfully, but venues such as the aforementioned Counting House becomes a bustling maze of hen parties and lads with pints atop their heads, and thus proves difficult to navigate through when it comes time to catch Leeds outfit Team Picture.
The headline stage Venue 23 mostly operates as space for tribute acts and nostalgia themed DJ sets these days, so having rousing performances from a pair of Hull natives - Low Hummer and LIFE - is a real treat. The latter commanded the stage with a compelling and confident performance of garagey post-punk, while the former draws one of the strongest crowds of the day, especially considering their earlier billing. Nobody would argue Low Hummer are doing anything particularly revolutionary on the surface, but the duality of Dan Mawer and Aimee Duncan provides a pleasing contrast: Dan’s restless, manic and declarative performance, and Aimee’s captivating stillness.
Bored At My Grandmas House is one of the buzzier newcomers on show today, and Amber Strawbridge and band wow a crammed Vortex with a set of nostalgia-tinged dream pop, including new number ‘Friendship Bracelets’. Relative veterans Field Music are similarly impressive, the outfit’s disco-infused indie giving revellers a bit of groove as the evening beings to draw in.
One of the day’s more unexpected highlights - coming via a rogue artist elsewhere’s apparent decision not to turn up - is Yusuf Yellow. Energetic, skilful rap with a jazzy backing of breezy horns, tight rhythms and soulful backing vocals courtesy of his Energy Collective, there’s smiles all round.
The day - with all its familar kinks (sound gremlins; delayed stage times) - is capped off by Cumbrian outfit Sea Power. 20-odd years in the game now means the group are teetering towards elder statesman label, and their set is one of quiet confidence and skill, pulling in a committed crowd, despite some revellers having long dispersed into the wider Wakefield nightlife. With a set curated from across their now considerable discography, from classics ‘It Ended on an Oily Stage’ to new cuts like ‘Two Fingers’, the band’s swelling, esoteric indie rock makes for a celebratory end to festivities.
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