AS the dust settles on this year’s Split Festival the sight of John Lydon commanding the stage seems a rather distant and barely believable memory.
Yet somehow an old English cricket ground seemed the perfect place for a ‘national treasure’ to strut his stuff.
For some reason I half expected Public Image Ltd to take the option of approaching the gig in second gear, with an appearance lined up on BBC’s Jools Holland.
Instead Lydon and his band went full throttle through a set full of crowd pleasing tunes from the opening This Is Not a Love Song to a raunchy version of Rise, taking in 1989’s Warrior to the powerful new-ish One Drop.
Lydon was backed by a band that included punk rock veteran Lu Edmonds, (The Damned, Mekons) on guitar and electric Saz (a Turkish style lute) and rhythm section Bruce Smith on Drums and Scott Firth on bass and keyboards creating a tight driving sound.
Maybe it’s my age but PiL for me were the highlight of a very eclectic weekend of music at the fourth Split Festival. However Split offered much, much more to music lovers.
With two marquees and a big tent offering a constant fast-turnaround supply of live music, there was a range of folk, hard rock, funk, alt-rock, soul to choose from.
Every year Split has a local flavour which is no bad thing given the high standard of music that’s on offer. The Lake Poets – in full band mode – drew the plaudits on Saturday afternoon with a tight punchy set attracting and making new fans in the process, as did Natasha Haws.
The Unthanks attracted a full tent but due to sound problems and an impatient over-chatty crowd their gentle folk was somewhat lost, which was shame. A return gig to Sunderland in a small intimate venue would surely draw a big crowd though judging by the amount of people who loyally stuck around.
A rare hometown gig by Field Music was rapturously received. Hard to describe their live sound which proffers a kind of 21st century mix of Talking Heads meets Steely Dan. I’m sure a lost chord was found during their set – brilliant though.
St Etienne were a nostalgic diversion for 40 somethings but a tad lightweight making way for Sunday’s headliners The Futureheads. For most the weekend belonged to the resurgent Sunderland band, fresh from a summer of festival shows, who performed a superb energetic career-spanning set that blended the latest a cappella tunes from Rant with pounding crowd favourites like Beginning of the Twist and Decent Days and Nights. It was easy to forget that the lads in the band were festival curators and would have been forgiven for running on empty. They did however bring a great festival to a rousing close.
This year’s festival, the fourth, was arguably the biggest and best yet with organisers making full use of Ashbrooke Cricket Ground site adding a food village and shops making for more of a traditional festival area.
For a late September outdoor show Split was also blessed with great weather which really gave the weekend a summery festival feel.
The challenge for Split Festival organisers now is where to take this next after the scale and success of this year’s event.
I for one hope that they continue to grow it and make this annual event bigger and better with each passing year. And I also hope that Sunderland people take up the gauntlet en masse and get behind this festival in greater numbers to make sure that this remains a welcome on-going date in the region’s musical calendar.