Split starting to take shape

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After months of planning meetings, The Split Festival line-up is taking shape.

TheGuide met up with Split programmer Ross Millard, from The Futureheads, to find out what’s been going on behind the scenes at Split.

TheGuide: The Futureheads have been involved with Split from the start and headlined a day at Split 2009 and 2010, but this year you’ll be programming the bands instead of playing.

Is it exciting to be on the other side of the fence?

Ross Millard: “Oh yeah! That’s the wonderful thing for The Futureheads, that Split Festival has come off and it’s a part of the calendar now, we can get excited every year at having this amazing, creative outlet.

“It doesn’t stop us writing songs and playing gigs as The Futureheads, but now we’ve got this great thing in Sunderland that we can contribute towards with other means of creativity.

“Programming the line-up is about as flattering as it gets for me because you can influence what rolls through Sunderland that day, you can see what the crowd’s like for Split Festival.

“Bearing in mind what kind of people we are in Sunderland and what we’ve turned Split Festival into, you can programme a line-up that reinforces that and makes the day totally spot-on.

“I always loved the idea of those Royal Festival Hall gigs in London, the idea of that Meltdown thing or Tomorrow’s Parties, where you’ve got this artist that swoops in and gets this wild array of stuff that has inspired them or continues to inspire them and in a way it’s a more moderate sense of that, because it’s still a summer-time festival.

“It’s not an indulgence on our part, we’ve got the crowd in mind, we’ve got Sunderland in mind, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity for two days to make Sunderland a vital part of the national music calendar.”

TheGuide: Is it not tempting just to make a list of all your favourite bands?

Ross Millard: “I’VE done that and then I’ve thought ‘okay, take that hat off and put the sensible hat on.’

“You have to think about what would work, what fits in and what would this crowd want to see, which still fits in with the ethos of the festival and the background of it.

“It’s not just a hastily thrown together hotchpotch of hot bands.

“When we’ve spoken about it at planning meetings, who to book and why to book them. There’s good reason behind everything and I think it’s something that’s quite important at a festival, but it’s something that not many festivals seem to pay attention to surprisingly.”

TheGuide: One of the great things about Split is that it gives new bands coming through a great opportunity to play.

Frankie and the Heartstrings played Split 2009 early on the bill and this year they will be the second headliners on the Sunday.

Is bringing that next generation of bands through one of the most important things about Split?

Ross Millard: “IT’S an absolutely huge factor and I think that the performance of Frankie and the Heartstrings is totally symbolic of that.

“What a homecoming for them, the fact that they’re going to play Sunderland after their album has come out, after they’ve toured all over Europe and been to Japan and had all these TV performance experiences, they’re going to come back to Sunderland and they’re going to play the biggest show they’ve played so far here.

“I think that’s got to be emotional for them and for everyone there who’s a fan of theirs, because when a band plays their home town there is a partisan element to the crowd, they see them as being their own, there’s a loyalty there that doesn’t exist in other towns.

“It’s always been the same with The Futureheads, the Sunderland shows have always been different, they’ve always been quite emotional performances because you either know most of the crowd or you’re treated as part of the family by them.

“I think that the bands who play slightly lower down the bill will all have that experience as well.

“Split Festival is a legitimate music festival for Sunderland and their band are on stage playing it, what more validation do you need that you’re a band and you have the potential to go places.

TheGuide: On the other side of the coin, we have The Drums headlining on the Saturday. Great band …

Ross Millard: “Yes. We’re incredibly excited about The Drums because we know they’re not playing much in the UK this year really and especially not on the festival circuit.

“It’s pretty exclusive and for Split and Sunderland to boast that is pretty amazing.

“It was really important that on the Saturday night we got a new band that has an immense level of excitement around them.

“They’re a band that not many people will have seen yet. They’re on the brink of doing that massive national tour that will inevitably come very soon. But they’ve already got some bona fide hits and that huge level of excitement and it’s as though they’re the zeitgeist if you like, they are the band that is summing up the modern element of Split Festival this year.

“The other side of the coin being Sunday night’s headliners, The Charlatans, who have innumerable anthems, everybody knows the words to most of their songs, they’ve enjoyed huge success, especially in the last year from doing their debut album and early material on tour.

“I think they’re going to be the perfect end to the festival because they’ve got that old school familiarity about them where it’s not like people are going to watch The Charlatans and not know the songs.

“There’s that instant familiarity there, and at the end of the day when everyone is getting a little bit emotional and a little bit carried away with themselves, on come the Charlatans to play you through a greatest hits set basically, and it couldn’t really be better.

l Split Festival takes place at Ashbrooke Sports Ground on September 17 and 18. Visit www.splitfestival.com for tickets.