REVIEW: SplitMas, Sunderland Minster

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MUSIC festivals are a brilliant place to discover new bands as well as seeing established artists.

Over the past few years Sunderland’s Split Festival has provided a platform for some of the best local artists who have performed alongside big names like The Charlatans, Public Image Limited and Saint Etienne.

Not content with providing the musical highlight of the summer, festival bosses came up with a winter treat in the form of the first Splitmas gig in the city’s minster.

Headlining were Little Comets, made up of former Biddick Comprehensive pupil Matt Hall and Jarrow brothers Rob and Michael Coles.

The band, which has gained a devout live following, recently released second album Life Is Elsewhere to good reviews.

The pretty church was full early on with people getting into the festive mood courtesy of mince pies and mulled wine from Barnes-based deli Juniper’s Pantry and a makeshift bar.

It took a little while to get used to boozing and listening to rock and roll in a church but once the bands started it clicked into place.

First up were Sons of Bido Lito, a relatively new band.

They started with a bang carried on in the same vein. As reference points, 60s-inspired The Coral and Erland and the Carnival are the closest bands I can think of - the songs are all foot-stompingly upbeat with swirling organ and bouncy bass lines.

There are also hints of the Shadows and Joe Meek-produced bands which takes things a little further back to the 1950s.

In short, they are a band right up my street and thoroughly entertained during their 30-minute set.

A couple of songs were maybe a little overlong - especially the closing jam, but they offer something different to most of the other bands around Sunderland at the minute.

Symphonic Pictures were up next, all dressed in white and looking cherubic they were like a polite version of Clockwork Orange’s Droogs.

The band was less immediate than the openers and the songs were more soundscapes than catchy pop numbers.

I’d like to hear them again though and reckon they’d sound great on record.

By the time Little Comets arrived on stage the minster was in full swing, partly down to a brilliant Dj set from Frankie and the Heartstrings’ Dave Harper.

I was a big fan of the band’s first album, In Search Of, which is full of danceable indie songs, but I have to admit I’ve not got the new one yet.

Thankfully that didn’t stop me enjoying the gig - the new songs picked up where the older ones left off.

Sounding a little like New York’s African-influenced Vampire Weekend, the band rattle through their hits, including Joanna, Adultery and One Night in October.

The band are tight and the chemistry between singer Rob and guitarist Michael is plain to see.

The night was a roaring success and carried on the good work of the Split Festival organisers to promote Sunderland as a home of a varied, independent music scene.

I hope there are more spin-offs from the main event to come, but in the meantime I’ll be getting that new Little Comets album.

Paul Clifford