Split Festival 2011, Ashbrooke Sports Club, Sunderland, 17th – 18th September

So there we have it. After all the preparation, promotion, parades and perspiration, Split Festival finally descended upon us all like a giant blanket of musical brilliance and put the full stop on an emotional summer for the North-East music scene.

From This Little Bird unfurling melodies on a cold, wet and windy Fringe stage on the Saturday, to The Charlatans milking the applause as hundreds of inebriated raised their plastic glasses and begged them to stay Sunday’s finale by at least another song, history will show that the festival’s third incarnation was a huge success.

We were promised wonderful scran, we had a whole tent curated by Masterchef finalist Stacie Stewart; we were promised a family atmosphere, we had the kids having their faces painted bygiant cats; we were promised an audio extravaganza the likes of which Sunderland had never seen, we had… well, let me tell you what we had.

We had a Fringe tent that was, at times, bursting at the seams with local talent. The Lake Poets in particular pushing the limits of how many people can reasonably fit inside a single marquee. We had vintage rock supremos Leatherface summon the energy to push back Sunday’s rainclouds and kick things off again. We had We Beat The System drop jaws at the sound teenagers are capable of producing as well as Hyde & Beast turning a crushed crowd almost into a line dance of foot-tapping enthusiasm.

We had Nev Clay humbled at a crowd coercing a stage manager into letting him play two more songs. We had the Mystery Jets enter the stage on crutches to get everyone in a joyous Saturday night party mood. We had Beth Orton shush a pack of arseflutes who decided the best place to start a raucous conversation was five foot from an acoustic performance. Oh, and we had B>E>A>K who, with brightest and glittery showpiece ever to appear on a cricket pitch, were the festival highlight for virtually everyone who saw them.

Things didn’t go completely according to plan though. Frankie & The Heartstrings, who since their last Split performance 12 months ago have gone almost stratospheric, were the victims of an unfortunate power outage near the end of their set. Naturally, wave after wave of rumour washed over those in attendance but the official line from the organisers is, as it was at the time, that the generator packed in.

Given though, that barely a week went by this summer without some festival or another having its plug pulled completely, to get through the entire weekend with only a minor technical fault to blotch the report is an astounding feat in itself.

If you came within spitting distance of our Twitter feed over the weekend, you might have heard us banging on about some sleazy action we’d been getting the back of a van. Don’t worry mam, it’s nothing like that, we were just roped in to record The Split Sessions. Bundling various stars into the back of a Toyota Something, which despite numerous requests didn’t actually work, we managed to get a few impromptu serenades from the likes of Ajimal, The Din, Chased By Wolves, Split Festival organiser and Futurehead Barry Hyde as well as the aforementioned Frankie & The Heartstrings. So stay tuned for those over the coming weeks.

Back to the festival itself though and, all in all, there was so much to be proud of. Aside from a few tribal knackers who looked at the whole thing as an exercise in inner-city point scoring, it was incredible to see so many people out in force to support the region’s radiant and balooning music scene. Bands from all over the North-East, of all styles and reputations, stood shoulder to shoulder with indie legends and swanky foreign imports to finally end any doubts that we’re not living in a golden age at the moment.

All we need is local headliner for 2012. The countdown starts now.

Image courtesy of Kathryn Robertson


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