REVIEW: Sunderland’s Split Festival achieves ‘northern awesomeness’

SPLIT 2011: Frankie and the Heartstrings
SPLIT 2011: Frankie and the Heartstrings
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SUNDERLAND’S answer to Glastonbury saw thousands flock to Ashbrooke Sports Ground to see a celebration of local sounds blended with international headliners.

The Charlatans closed the weekend’s festival in typical laid-back style as they worked their way through a lengthy set of their back catalogue including Just When You’re Thinking Things Over, Mystery Ride, The Only One I Know and North Country Boy.

SPLIT 2011: Frankie and the heart strings

SPLIT 2011: Frankie and the heart strings

Lead singer Tim Burgess praised the festival as “Northern awesomeness” on Twitter after taking to the stage, minus his trademark dark bowl cut in favour of a Kurt Cobain-esque mane.

The indie icons, who stormed the charts in the 90s, followed local favourites Frankie & The Heartstrings who’ve played the festival every year since its inception in 2009.

Lead singer Frankie, from Houghton, said: “I think it’s brilliant that this has happened in Sunderland. It shows that everyone is pulling together in the right direction.”

Since they began playing Split, the five-piece have released their debut album, Hunger, which charted at number 32; toured with Florence and the Machine and fellow hometown heroes The Futureheads; and have been getting regular airtime on Radio One.

Last night’s set, which saw Frankie perform with his trademark Morrissey meets Jarvis Cocker swagger, was the band’s 30th festival appearance this year.

Frankie, who today flies to Australia with the band for a two-week tour, said: “We’ve been to some places this year whose name we can’t even pronounce, but it’s been really emotional to finish the festivals in Sunderland.”

Drummer Dave Harper, from Murton, said: “Musically we really punch our above our weight in Sunderland. People always ask about the scene here, but it’s not a scene because that is competitive, it’s a community who support each other.”

The band’s set, though, was brought to an abrupt halt when the power went out on their final song, sparking a heated row at the side of the stage.

Frankie said: “It’s a shame because your last song is often your best. If we can make it happen we’d love to put a gig on in Sunderland again before Christmas to make up for what happened.”

More than 40 acts performed over the two day family-focused festival, which also featured a gourmet tent showcasing delicacies from Sunderland businesses including The Beehive Bakery, Juniper’s Pantry and Borneo Bistro.

Though bands such as The Charlatans, The Drums and Mystery Jets are seen as bigger names nationally, it was the local acts who seemed to create the most buzz at Split.

Feathered instrumental group B>E>A>K, who perform in bird masks, put in a colourful turn which whipped up the crowd in the Main Tent, while fellow Sunderland acts The Lake Poets and Hyde and Beast performed in a standing-room-only Fringe Tent.

Indie folk act The Lake Poets, aka Martin Longstaff, said: “Performing at Split has been absolutely fantastic, it’s something I’m really pleased and proud to be part of.

“It’s definitely a highlight of my calendar and people should spread the word about it. I think this year was a turning point for the festival and next year’s will be even more amazing.

“For me highlights were Nev Clay, Hyde and Beast and Morris Ford. These are people I really respect who work really hard to be the best they can be.”

Saturday’s headliners were New York outfit The Drums who chose Split as one of their few festival performances in the UK this year.

Hailed as the big thing of 2010 by those in the know, the band have already supported major stars like Florence and the Machine and the Kings of Leon.

They treated gig goers to a selection of more stripped-back sounds from their new album Portamento, contrasting with their breezy, surfer-pop inspired debut.

Before stepping on stage, lead singer Jonathan Pierce and synth player Jacob Graham revealed the inspiration for their luscious indie sounds.

Jacob said: “We would hear a band at a show, like a college band and think ‘This sounds great’ and ask them what groups they listen to and this would put us on the scent.

“But we’ve not heard a lot of British music in the last few years.

“I’m not sure if this is the first festival we’ve headlined. It’s the last show of our tour.

“I don’t think we feel a lot of kinship with the British scene, but there are a lot of nice people out there we are friends with.

“We’d love to hear the Charlatans. We saw them at Primavera (festival in Spain), but we’re flying out tomorrow morning.”

Before the gig, frontman Jonny went in search of all things British with a spot of shopping in Sunderland city centre.

He didn’t reveal if he scooped any bargains, but said: “Everyone was really lovely. I did have a little bit of trouble understanding them.” Among Saturday’s opening acts were local lads The Generals, playing a mix of crowd favourites like Want To Be King and Shine, mixed with new sounds from their upcoming album.

Lead singer David Cutherbertson brought us up to speed on what has been happening in the foursome’s world since they played at Split last year.

He said: “We’ve just finished a new album and have got gigs in Manchester, Middlesbrough, Leeds and Liverpool. Our new single’s out on the 2nd or 3rd of December.

“We have a lot happening next year and hopefully we will be back.

“For any festival it’s all about rock and roll and people in a field. I think the festival itself will grow and grow.

“Over the last couple of years the further north that you get, you get bigger and bigger opportunities.

“A lot of big bands are coming out of the North East.”

* For more Split Festival reviews, see Thursday’s Guide