Its five years since The Hepworth Gallery opened, to a fanfare of both excitement and sneering, the latter largely due to the strange and some may say obtrusive architecture of the geometric grey mass on the bed of The Calder.
Time has lessened that visual shock (which I personally love, anyway) but time has also seen love for the gallery increase year on year, with reviews in The New York Times and a string of exhibitions to make those galleries in bigger cities rage with envy.
To less of a fanfare, only three weeks after The Hepworth opened, Long Division Festival took place for the first time. And since then it too has grown in stature and importance. It may still be a way off its millionth visitor (which The Hepworth achieved last year) but it’s surely only a matter of time.
So, to this evening of joint celebration. Among a weekend of activity sits an evening show curated by Long Division, taking place not in the gallery itself, but in the more recently acquired mill space opposite, known as The Calder. Fans of local indie lore may know this was once the home to The Cribs first rehearsal space, though it probably didn’t look like this.
The vast industrial space has been split into three stages, with a mix of projections, video walls and impressive lights. The ‘taster menu’ format provided by Long Division featured 5 performances from bands due to appear at the festival itself on June 11th and, with shorter sets and the requirement for the audience to follow the bands around the space – like a mini Jools Holland – the night passes by swiftly.
Wakefield’s own Jack Winn opened up, some may recall his former band Runaround Kids. Jack has had a couple of low key releases over the last couple of years and the quality and variety of his song writing has been steadily progressing, it really feels like the time may be close for something a little more high profile. This environment of an attentive audience suits his introspective songs and the subtle use of a loop pedal avoided coming across as showy, it simply built the songs without killing the atmosphere in a way that a full band may.
Across the room, Juffage introduces himself – “just another white guy with a guitar. Any more questions?” There weren’t and he continued. Juffage has been around for a long time, a constantly evolving character and creator, as his impressive array of merch proves. Tonight he rides the dynamics, quiet one second and then raging into huge chords, possibly aimed at those sat over in the Café Area, chatting idly. Or perhaps he just wanted to own the room. He did a pretty good job of it.
Over to the ‘Main Stage’ and Napoleon IIIrd returns to Wakefield, an even bigger chameleonic character than Mr Juffage. It seems ten lifetimes ago since Napoleon IIIrd used to play fucked-up pop songs to a reel to reel tape machine backing. Perhaps influenced by his recent Napoleon IVth soundscaping project, the new stuff is pretty far-our prog influenced noise making. They’ve even got a saxophone player now. Of all the bands, the restricted set length probably did them less favours, but I’m certainly keen to catch them again soon and hopefully it’ll be in a space such as this, as the natural acoustics worked a treat.
Sam Airey is another long term Long Division favourite, often confined to the smaller spaces of the festival, but this year he is set to play at the 500 capacity Theatre, so this was a good trial in a wider, more open space. Sam’s songs are interesting in that they seem like they should be low key, but there is something widescreen about his work, something cinematic and far reaching. Once again, the acoustics and atmosphere suit his set, each reverberation of the brickwork and the harsh concrete floors adding to the effect.
The evening closes with Her Name Is Calla, who blew the roof off the aforementioned Theatre at Long Division last year. This set is more stripped back, with just guitar, banjo and some electronic effects. I could have perhaps done with some of that sheer volume to close out the evening, but over the set my mind changed as it put the evening into perspective. There was a stark openness, laying bare the passion at the core of all the performers tonight, and none more so than Her Name Is Calla, a gentle, glowering undertow of what could be menace, could be defeat, permeating throughout.
Which, now I think about it, doesn’t sound like much of a birthday party. That may be true, but from what I see, neither The Hepworth, Long Division or any of the performers tonight are about nostalgia, or looking backwards. They are about great music and art, today. So although this was an ambient and thoughtful show, it was also highly celebratory. The Calder is a great space and I look forward to seeing more shows there.
Long Division 2016 takes place June 10th – 12th in Wakefield city centre, across 12 venues.