Tuesday, 12 June 2012

My Long Division by Andrew Micklethwaite

To say I was looking forward to Long Division 2012 is a grand understatement. Having been part of the event crew at the inaugural festival last year, I volunteered my services as early as I could for this year's model, but it soon became apparent that if I tied myself to one venue for the whole day, I would miss so much good music, and maybe one or two surprises. So, as the days whittled away, and Blacklisters and The Hounds Below pulled their slots at The Hop, I decided to buy a ticket and write about what I had seen instead. This is my account of one of the most satisfying Saturdays I ever had.

Piskie Sits are one of the opening turns of Long Division 2012 that spans nine venues, and they are on familiar territory again, playing the ridiculously-named Guerilla Rooms (that’s ‘upstairs at The Hop’ to regular Wakey gig-goers). It helps that the wristband exchange is a matter of yards away, as the band tear a feedback-shaped hole as an opening salvo, a steady stream of bodies filter into the venue. Two songs into the set and a glance over my shoulder reveals that the Sits finally have the audience they have deserved in their hometown for such a long time. The hardcore is here, but thankfully it is outnumbered by faces not seen before, and they like what they hear. Three songs in, the band offers its newest recording ‘Waiting For the Dance of Death’  – you can find it on the Rhubarb Bomb book/CD combo – and by then the venue is half-full. The band responds to this hitherto unknown ‘upstairs at The Hop’ attention by ripping through five songs in fourteen minutes with nary a pause for breath. And then, sensing that maybe things are moving too fast, frontman Craig greets the crowd, genuinely humbled by the number of nodding heads and tapping feet in front of him. There’s a quiet, collective ‘Aww’ from the front row, and then as a final flurry, the hit that never was, ‘Churp Churp’ is despatched at a furious pace, followed by a deep dip into the back catalogue as the band finishes as it began, with a howl prompted by guitarist Harry’s pedal board and into ‘Big Fat Mouth’. Two and a half minutes later, they are gone. To say they are well-received today is a huge understatement. They thoroughly deserved the attention and the reception.

By 1PM, there are only a handful of venues actually hosting live music – the bigger venues will open up in the middle of the afternoon – so a trip to Henry Boons to see Vinyl Party is your author’s preferred option. In a previous guise (they used to be called Touching Cloth!) they played the midweekers 14+ gigs at The Hop and proved to be one of the more able turns. Age has not dimmed their ability to proffer a fair old smattering of tunes either. Their sound has certainly matured: a couple of years ago, their time machine seemed to be stuck in 1984/85. There was a hint of that Ron Johnson Records sound about them*. Throw in some Nightingales and Stump at a push…that’s what they sounded like then. Today, they remind me of the Sound of Young Scotland circa 1981*, Josef K with a splash of Orange Juice, two (sometimes three) guitars not exactly battling it out to be heard, more weaving their ways around each other. It’s a very impressive performance for a band barely out of their teens.  (*ask your dad. Or uncles).

A short walk to The Orangery is next, and the first of a few revelations for me today in the form of Fever Dream. I have to confess I had not heard of them before the line-up for Long Division was announced, and all I had to go on was the recommendation of a friend who had heard one ‘right good’ track by them. Thanks to Mike from – where else - Barnsley for that.  Anyway, a three-piece of guitar, bass and drums is all you really need to rock a little, isn’t it? Well, Fever Dream rolls too, in a kind of rickety old wooden rollercoaster way. The ladies in the rhythm section provide a bedrock of sorts for the singer/guitarist’s screaming outbursts and positively shoegazey strummings. It’s a weirdly compelling hybrid…it’s also simple journalistic laziness to suggest that any reference to all-female rhythm sections should mention The Raincoats and their studiedly untutored approach to playing. If that’s so, I’m a lazy journalist, because there is definitely something of the first two Raincoats LPs in Fever Dream’s sometimes overly-shrill sound. Not a bad thing by any means.

Ears suitably battered by Fever Dream’s explosive set, it’s back to The Hop for Glasgow’s PAWS, another highly recommended turn, and another revelation. Another three-piece, Paws quite frankly look like a trio of young men who really shouldn’t be hanging together. A non-descript drummer, bassist who’s dressed like he’s bound for Henley-on-Thames, never mind Wakefield, and a singer who looks like Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, more of which in a bit. As with the Piskie Sits’ set earlier in the same venue, over the course of 30 minutes, more people filter through the door as Paws whip up a veritable storm. Regulars at The Hop will know that the sound system is something that can floor you on a good night/day, right? Sound man for the day, Tom, and the band combine to almost defy gravity at times (can sound really defy gravity? Maybe not, but there were times like it felt like it could). The speed and intensity of Paws’ performance is astonishing. At the start of their set, there were just twice as many of us in the audience as there was on stage, and they still went at it like they were playing to a sell-out crowd. By the finish – mashed up cymbals, shredded vocal chords and all – Paws had a small but rapt audience maybe convinced that the Grunge revival was really on. The singer screamed like Mark Arm, the songs were played at a furious pace, and for the first time since the Piskies graced the same stage a couple of hours previous, milkman-friendly tunes you can whistle, albeit in a ramalama punk rock fashion.

Next up, Hookworms at the Town Hall. I’ve seen the Leeds five-piece a couple of times already in the last year or so, and both times have come away mightily impressed, the mesmeric, motorik sounds they make enhanced by the dimly-lit venues they obviously prefer. But Hookworms in the daytime? In the splendour of the Town Hall? That’s a tough gig, and ultimately one that they can’t quite handle. Or more specifically, the frontman can’t handle. Even before a note is played, things don’t bode well as event staff are asked to close ALL the curtains in the venue to shut out the daylight. When this proves to be impossible (look at the size of those drapes at the back!!) the singer’s mardy mood escalates as the band is told to get on with its set by the resident sound engineer. As they ease into its first song, things look good. Hell, by the time they are in full rhythmic flow, everything out front sounds good, but there is obviously something very wrong up on stage. Amid much frantic gesturing and scowling from the man at the front (he’d probably run a mile from the description ‘frontman’) the set goes on in Hookworms’ inimitable hypnotic style, but just four songs in, it’s all over. Whether it’s a combination of drapery malfunction, monitor problems, or just plain old mardiness, his waving arms indicate the end of the set, prompting half applause and half catcalls from a fair-sized crowd. Hookworms is mood music for sure, but this was just bad mood music and an opportunity wasted.

After the aural assault of the early afternoon, Hookworms’ premature exit gives me a chance to pootle down to see Treecreeper at the Theatre Royal. Again, having seen Treecreeper before, I kinda know what to expect. Hypnotic in the way that Hookworms are not, Adam Killip and friends slow things down to a shuffle, and it’s not just a respite, it’s a pleasure. Treecreeper’s music feels like a warm embrace, a good friend’s arm around you, and a sound akin to the first half dozen Neil Young/Crazy Horse albums rolled into one. They look – and hopefully feel – right at home in this splendid theatre, as the twin guitars gently distort around one another, and the bass and drums keep that tight, walking rhythm. Songs seem to go on forever, but this is a good thing, people. Treecreeper’s Juniper LP is a thing of beauty, but to really appreciate them, see them live.

In contrast to Treecreeper's comparitive caressing of the ear, Wet Nuns are on back at the Town Hall, and the Sheffield duo is doing its damndest to splinter the wood panelling on the walls that surround a large and appreciative audience, already enervated by a teatime Runaround Kids set. Wet Nuns are as odd a looking pair as their name suggests: a silk Nudie-shirted singer/guitarist, and an extravagantly-bearded drummer who, from a distance, looks like he's wearing a paisley shirt, but on closer inspection isn't wearing a shirt at all. For just two men, they make a hell of a noise, a sound that prompts my companions to mention Keys and Stripes of the Black and White variety, and yes, they have a point. But Wet Nuns are more than that, as they prove with a set of sleazy rock offerings that teeter on the acceptable side of metal. The illustrated man behind the traps hits as heavy as John Bonham as the singer/guitarist makes like a guitar army, alternately shredding and picking and squealing and yelling. The Wood-panelled splendour of the hall has probably never seen the likes of this before, and I swear if they had run over their allotted time, those splinters may well have appeared for real.

After the aural assault of Wet Nuns, it's a return to the Theatre Royal, and the less abrasive prospect of St Gregory Orange. St Greg have already played some memorable shows since becoming a live force, both as a duo and as a quartet. Tonight we get the latter, as the foursome deliver a huge, warm wall of sound that reverberates around the stalls. The first voice we hear as things get underway belongs to Leonard Cohen, and a spoken intro stolen from his album Songs of Love and Hate. From then on, it's all about Tim and his ruminations on relationships past, a litany of lyricism that evokes secret meetings, burned-out cigarettes visible in empty beer bottles and stolen record collections. The backing to Tim's observations is a cavernous sound courtesy of two live guitars and bass and an Apple Mac full of minor key maladies (sic). It's not at all as miserable as I'm making out, however. Between songs, smiles and laughs are exchanged between the young men on stage, before they take us back into the abyss for another five minutes at a time. St Greg always sound good, but tonight they surpass themselves. The stalls may still have been reverbarating as the audience took its seat for the next act, but by then, I was gone, knowing that I had witnessed one of the most charismatic and potent bands Wakefield has to offer.

Talking of potent, Two Trick Horse are an absolute blast. I've seen them before, a year ago, when they opened the bill on a sweaty Friday night at The Hop. A duo back last summer (like Wet Nuns, just guitar and drums) the 2012 model is now the music encyclopedia definition of power trio. The venue, the former site of Escobar, is a posh cocktail bar these days, and as the door has been deserted of whoever is supposed to be checking wristbands, there is a more than incongruous mix of punters inside. What the regulars make of things when TTH kick into gear is plain to see: the tiny stage and the immediate perimeter blurs into one as shoulders shake, beer spills and the music pummels. The line is drawn within a minute, as it becomes a case of Us versus Them for at least 45 very loud minutes. The addition of a bassist has beefed up TTH's sound obviously, but this fella plays with such precision and like his life depended on it. Behind the traps, erstwhile Piskie Sits drummer Steve Livesey switches from four-to-the-floor rock behemoth mode to tricky time signatures with the minimum of fuss. On top of this rock solid rhythm section, there is a singer guitarist who looks like 'everyman', but when he plays and sings...he rocks! And he has a scream that can be heard over the rabble which by now has turned Saturday night on Westgate into another potential Channel 4 series on badly behaved herberts. Like fellow Leeds noisemongers Blacklisters, TTH cop from the best of American alternative 80s back pages. If we're being lazy (and it has been a long long day at Long Division) if Blacklisters reference Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard, TTH is more of a speeded-up Laughing Hyenas concern, with a little Rapeman thrown into the mix.

It's an enthralling, deafening show of strength to put the cap on the day. Even as I was waiting in the theatre in the afternoon, enduring the seemingly never-ending soundcheck for The Twilight Sad, I recall thinking to myself, 'I already can't wait for next year!'

Andrew Mickletwaite

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