Someone get in touch with the Guinness Book of Records, this might be one of the smallest festivals I’ve seen. Even so, it has a big-time festival feel. With names like Dizzee Rascal, Tom Vek and Ocean Colour Scene on today’s bill, this is definitely not a small time event. In fact, one of the best things about this festival is the size of the site. Each stage is around 30 seconds from one to the other, so you will never miss a song.
Son of Jack kick the weekend off on stage 2, providing an atmospheric start as we get settled into our surroundings of a typical ‘fest’: long queue at the beer tent, the smell of chips, random fairground noises muffled by a sound check in the distance. Over at stage 3 is The Firelight Opera, who seem to get the now full tent swaying to their tunes, the festival’s first surprise hit. Following them is a band called Waste of Space, who sadly for my money certainly live up to their name. Cold Committee serve as a great alternative on Stage 2. Even though Split is all about giving local acts more exposure, it is also event to catch acts from across the UK, such as Cold Committee, who are from Wales. Some pleasant ditties to bring us up to the first act of the main stage.
The main stage introduces us to Big Beat Bronson (pictured below), a colourful cartoon take on the hip hop genre, with influences of ska and ‘70s rock. Definitely entertaining and you would be forgiven if you imagined this band were from the 90s, they remind me a little of Happy Mondays or even Beck. Also, that red three-piece suit but be a bit close on a sunny day like today. Like I mentioned earlier, this festival is a great way to see those acts you always see in gig listing but never get to catch.
The Lake Poets wind down the afternoon at around 5.30, it’s good to see families and groups of friends sit down and chill out to the sounds of the local Sunderland based singer songwriter.
Next up are another great North East act who are gaining momentum and somewhat of a following – Smoove & Turrell. It’s hard to believe these lads are from the North East when we hear such a soulful voice coming from a bearded white man accompanied by flutes, saxophones, retro organs and the like. Best band so far and definitely compliments the sunshine we have today in sunny Sunderland.
Hop over to the second stage and we get something totally different. Bleech, a young grunge band from London. Extremely impressive and heavier than most acts at the festival, which is refreshing. Definitely a band to look out for in the future. Very reminiscent of The Breeders, Sonic Youth and you guessed it…Nirvana.
Back to stage 1 and from Ocean Colour Scene; Simon Fowler and Oscar Harrison (as a duo) come armed only with an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, a bass and their charm. As you can imagine they make their way through a lot of their singles that remind you of those hot summers on the mid-90s. An hour long set also gives them room to play some album tracks. This serves its purpose as the ‘sunset slot’ but maybe 60 minutes is a little too long for an acoustic set, especially on the main stage. After a much anticipated version of ‘The Day We Caught the Train’ the crowd sing along before moving over to Stage 3, which is already packed out to see Hyde & Beast.
It’s not just full for Hyde & Beast, the audience is spilling outside of tent at every exit. They haven’t even started and it’s clear this act should be on the main stage. It could be to do with the band releasing their latest album ‘Keep Moving’ or possibly frontman David Hyde’s other band The Futureheads being involved with the organisation of the festival. Either way they don’t disappoint, starting with ‘Blue’ Hyde & Beast keep the summer alight after the sun has set. Close your eyes and you can imagine you are at a T Rex gig, Hyde’s voice emulates Marc Bolan, joined by Ex-Golden Virgins’ Neil Bassett and multiple young musicians, a perfect way to end a great day.
The show isn’t over yet though, we still have our headline act. In a day that we have explored indie, folk, grunge, glam rock, soul and Britpop – we have Dizzee Rascal. I understand why he is booked to play the event and is the headline act. The talent is there, and Dizzee has the respect of the indie community and has previously played rock dominated festivals like Leeds festival and even Glastonbury. Even so, this choice seems really jarring compared to the rest of the acts. That said, he gives it his all. Making his way through his mountain of hits such as ‘Bonkers’, ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Just a Rascal’ and ‘Sirens’; he proves himself headline material. I still don’t feel he is right for this festival tough.
Sunday and the heavens open on the second day where more upcoming indie acts like So What Robot, Young Liar and Shy Nature keep the crowds warm on a wet afternoon.
Lilliput take the main stage and try to bring some sunshine to this rainy afternoon, but fail to ignite a somewhat lethargic crowd. A decent performance but the audience don’t seem to be feeling it for some reason.
The shelter of Stage 2 welcomes a different kind of warm up: Bad Breeding (pictured below). A pure punk rock inspired performance from the Stevenage lads. At one point the front man makes it past the barriers and gives the crowd a closer performance. Possibly the loudest performance of the weekend.
Compared to that performance the usually ‘heaviest on the bill’ Boy Jumps Ship seem pretty light. The Geordie rockers still put on a great show and will definitely be higher on the bill next time we see them. Plus it’s great to see a variation in style today.
Champions of local music in Sunderland, Frankie and The Heartstrings are next. Flamboyant as ever and great entertainment, I see why they are one of this weekend’s most popular acts, but I don’t see why they were never got the kind of exposure Northern bands like The Futureheads or our headliners Maximo Park have.
Back to stage 2 and Glaswegian shoegaze revivalists The Twilight Sad (main picture at top of page). They fill the tent with a space age soundscape. The holes in the roof of the tent (is it a roof?) could almost be stars shining down on the Scottish lads.
Now if you want to talk about under rated, underappreciated and “how long has it been?” the next band – The Cribs, is all of those things. The Wakefield wonders make a strong start with ‘You’re gonna lose us’ let’s hope not! The rain won’t ruin this. The always fantastic Yorkshire lads stop to tell us it’s almost been 10 years since their last gig in Sunderland. They still feel like a new band, the local indie scene was so jam packed in 2005 they seemed to be a little lost in the shuffle. Moving on to other well-known tunes like ‘I’m a realist’ and ‘Man’s needs’, this is possibly the liveliest set of the festival.
Or that’s what we thought. One thing you can say about the festival’s headliner: Maximo Park is they are entertaining. The sun might be not be out but this is still a bright set. Rocketing in to ‘Our Velocity’ we are reminded why Paul Smith has been called one of the greatest front men of the past decade. The whole of the weekend’s attendance must be at the main stage at this point and I can see why more classics such as ‘Apply Some Pressure’ and ‘Graffiti’ take you way back when the North east scene was just kicking off.
If this year’s return of Split is anything to go back next year can only be bigger and even better.
Reviewer: Neale McGeever
Photographer: Graeme Baty