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Review: Split Festival 2014 at Mowbray Park, Sunderland

Weatherwise, the Split Festival was an event of two halves. Qualitywise, it was consistently smashing, says Kathryn Beeson



Sometimes, there’s an air of exclusivity around smaller music festivals. They’re for the ‘die-hard’ fans - the people with trendy hats who somehow know all about that band playing mid-afternoon on stage three. If you’re under 15 or over 35 they’re not for you.

Split Festival has been a breath of fresh air in this respect. After taking a sabbatical last year the event returned to Sunderland over the weekend, with a new emphasis on inclusivity and family-friendliness.

Up and coming acts Son of Jack, The Firelight Opera and Cold Committee all put in strong showings. Later on, South Tynesiders Gallery Circus, fresh from their well-received stint at Glastonbury played a storming set too.

As the sun shone and kids played football in between groups of punters, Mowbray Park became a diverse and relaxed place to listen to music. At one point a small girl, high on life and ice-cream, turned a cartwheel into a large, leather clad biker sort. His pint spilled everywhere, but he didn’t mind. It probably wasn’t possible for him to mind - everyone was having too much of a good time.

Meanwhile, on the main-stage, openers Big Beats Bronson got the crowd dancing with their unique combination of hip hop and crimson short suits. Later on, local favourites Lake Poets soothed chilled out tea time crowds with heartfelt, slightly ethereal acoustic melodies.

As the day drew to a close Hyde and Beast packed out the third stage marquee with a headline set of glam-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, whilst Simon and Oscar from Ocean Colour Scene elicited some of Saturday’s loudest sing-a-longs with old favourites like ‘the day we caught the train’.


UK hip hop super star Dizzee Rascal finished off the day with style. Children, hipsters and middle aged couples sporting sensible shoes and thermos flasks all danced along to hits like ‘dance with me’ and ‘flex’ with equal amounts of enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, Sunderland used up its monthly quota of good weather on Saturday. Yesterday was distinctly damper. Saturday’s ubiquitous bubble guns and hula hoops disappeared, replaced by ponchos and cheap umbrellas. North Easterners know how to take advantage of bad weather, if nothing else.

Punters huddled into the marquee staged to listen to Tissue Culture’s vast soundscapes, So What Robot’s angular indie and Shy Nature’s soaring choruses.

The bands tasked worth drawing people in to the main stage fought valiantly against the weather, and managed to coax a growing army of ponchoed and umbrella-d up music fans. Lilliput kept spirits high with their obliviously sun-tinted brand of indie-folk, and later on Frankie and the Heartstrings exhorted crowds to clap along to their toe-tapping jaunty indie tunes.

DIY stalwarts and second-headliners The Cribs put up an impressive array of favourites from across their back catalogue. Split, with its community-based roots suits them, and they dedicate ‘We share the same skies’ to Sunderland’s emerging music scene. ‘From one town with a great DIY scene to another’ Ryan Jarman announces. It’s a suitably low-key acknowledgement, and it doesn’t go unappreciated.

Nor did Newcastle-born Maximo Park who returned to Split as headliners and brought the curtain down on a triumphant return for the event. See you next year.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
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Business Editor
Mark Douglas
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