Sunderland’s Split Festival axed amid spiralling costs

John Lydon at Split
John Lydon at Split
  • Costs of acts exceeding £140,000
  • Festival team invested own money to keep event going
  • Other North East festivals struggling
Have your say

ORGANISERS of a music festival which brought big names like Johnny Rotten, Dizzee Rascal and The Charlatans to Sunderland have had to pull the plug on the event.

The Echo can reveal that Split Festival will not take place again after spiralling costs meant the home-grown festival was no longer financially viable, costing as much as £140,000 a year just to book the acts.

Since its inception in 2009, the festival had become an annual highlight of the music calendar on Wearside and was famed for nurturing North East talent, while also bringing big names to the area to headline the spectacular.

The brainchild of The Futureheads, musician Richard Amundsen and former Ashbrooke Sports Club chairman Rob Deverson, the festival started as a Futureheads gig at the sports club and snowballed into a weekend of music featuring 50 acts with crowds of around 3,000 to 4,000 a day.

But though many music fans took the event to their hearts, organisers say it was becoming increasingly difficult to fund such a large-scale event.

Rob said: “We are so proud of what we have achieved, but ultimately the economics of live music events has left us unable to see how the event can continue. Each one of the team has invested personal cash into the festival to keep the business alive over the years, but sadly, we simply can’t keep it going.”

Last year’s Split, which saw the event move from its birthplace at Ashbrooke Sports Ground to Mowbray Park in the city centre, featured headliners Dizzee Rascal, The Cribs, Simon and Oscar from Ocean Colour Scene and Maximo Park.

The Split team say they are saddened to say goodbye to the event, but say that their decision is reflective of a difficult market, which has led to Evolution Festival in Newcastle also not holding an event this year.

Martyn McFadden, who headed up the marketing of the event, added: “Since 2009 we’ve brought the likes of Dizzee Rascal, The Charlatans, Ocean Colour Scene, PiL, The Cribs, The Futureheads and Maximo Park to Sunderland and we’ve had financial support from Sunderland Council and The Arts Council.

“The Split team have worked tirelessly and without financial reward to put on a quality event for Sunderland, so it’s a real shame we haven’t been able to sustain it. However, to show how hard it is to make this kind of event viable, Evolution Festival will not be taking place this year and that’s a real shame for music lovers in the North East.”

Crowds at the Split Music Festival.

Crowds at the Split Music Festival.

Musician Ross Millard, of Futureheads and Frankie & the Heartstrings, was responsible for curating the music line-up for the event.

He said: “In the past 10 years the music industry has changed and with the rise of the internet record sales have fallen, to cover this loss of revenue artists’ agents are asking for significantly higher fees for live performances and many festivals are finding this unsustainable. We have spent as much as £140k per year on booking the bands, but we haven’t been able to recoup those artists’ fees in ticket sales and other revenue.”

In many ways, last year’s Split festival, which featured a wide range of genres over two days, was its most successful, but wasn’t anywhere near profitable enough to justify staging the event again.

Futureheads frontman Barry Hyde said: “It is a sad day announcing the end of Split, but at the same time I have an immense sense of pride, not only in the Split team that worked hard to make it happen since 2009, but also the punters.

It is a sad day announcing the end of Split, but at the same time I have an immense sense of pride, not only in the Split team that worked hard to make it happen since 2009, but also the punters.

Barry Hyde, The Futureheads

“We have not had a single arrest, or incident and the crowds treated the bands that played with love, respect and heartfelt hospitality. The event last year in Mowbray Park was, in my opinion, an historical event for Sunderland and I feel happy that it was our farewell.”

Hearing about the news, Coun John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for health, wellness and culture, said: “I’m very sorry to hear about the cancellation. A lot of people, indeed thousands of people from across Sunderland, and all the visitors that came into the city for the festival, will have some great memories of the acts that they’d have seen either in Mowbray Park last year or in Ashbrooke.”

Remembering Split

SPLIT Festival began life as a one- day event at Ashbrooke Sports Ground featuring headliners and founders The Futureheads in 2009.

It attracted 1,000 people, way more than anyone expected and planted the seed for an annual festival.

It was one of the first big gigs for then newcomers Frankie & the Heartstrings, who went on to have a Top 40 debut album.

HEADLINERS: The Futureheads play final set at the Split Festival 2010.

HEADLINERS: The Futureheads play final set at the Split Festival 2010.

In autumn 2010, it returned with Maximo Park and The Futureheads headlining the event which now spread to two days.

In 2011, Split was becoming bigger and began incorporating a host of entertainment including circus acts and a food tent. Headliners were indie icons The Charlatans and The Drums.

The following year saw one of the biggest headliners yet when punk hero John Lydon took to the stage with his band PiL. Additional entertainment included a comedy tent and a vintage fair.

2013 was a fallow year for the festival while organisers took a break.

It returned last year after securing funding from the Arts Council and, thanks to the support of Sunderland City Council, the event was moved to Mowbray Park in a bid to make it more accessible to everyone with better transport links for people who were coming from outside of the area.

As well as big name acts, the festival has always shone the spotlight onto local talent and has provided a platform for acts such as The Lake Poets, B>E>A>K, Little Comets, Field Music, This Ain’t Vegas, The Unthanks, Detroit Social Club, Hyde & Beast, School of Language and more.

PiL at Split

PiL at Split