Returning after a year off, Wakefield’s Long Division (June 1-3 2018) will be a bit of a different beast from what we’ve seen in the past. Musos’ Guide put a few questions to Festival Director Dean Freeman to find out about the event’s plans for expansion.
MG: So Dean, from the looks of the emails we’ve been getting in and also Long Division’s Twitter feed (@Long_Division_), you’ve happily plugged the funding gap which saw you have to crowdfund part of the 2016 festival. The monies for that seemed to roll in satisfactorily but still, it must be nice to have no recourse to that for 2018?
DF: Getting over £7500 from the 2016 Crowdfunder was unreal and the positivity it created was amazing. People have said, why not do that again? But I think it worked because it was genuine and it was a one-off. It's like, you're more than happy to shout a pint for a mate if they are skint, but if they always come out with no money, you start to question why they bother coming out. Still, that idea that some people want to be more involved than just regular punters has fed into our new ticketing system, so we didn't throw the whole thing out.
MG: Having Wakefield BID (Business Improvement District) committing to Long Division shows a pleasing belief in what the festival can do for the city in a wider sense. It must be refreshing to deal with such an entity when it has a progressive outlook in terms of promoting the city etc.
DF: Refreshing is definitely the word. And it fits with our ideals too. For those who haven't come across a BID before, the basic outline is that all the rate paying businesses in a geographical area pay a small annual levy, and then those businesses decide how it is spent. Usually the goal is to drive footfall and spend. I'd been collecting these stats for years about how Long Division audiences spend their money, where they go etc. (thank you anyone who ever filled out our surveys!) and was able to show the festival was bringing in around £100,000 a year. That's secondary spend, after the tickets have been bought. Wakefield BID represents over 400 businesses and with the best will in the world, I can't get round all of them and sell this idea. But the Board of BID got it and have got right behind it, so it's pretty exciting.
MG: With the funding from the BID you’ve been able to make the festival 90% free. Tell us about the expanded plans for what that covers. “Poets in chip shops” was an option that jumped out at me from one of your recent emails.
DF: The idea I went to BID with was: if Long Division was bringing in £100,000 from that many people ... what if we could double the audience by making it free to attend for the majority? I think that's an interesting model for a festival, where it can be hard to connect up cultural and business sectors.
But the thing that actually excites me most is how it opens up venues and spaces. Obviously with a ticket, the venues need to be exclusive and as a lot of cool spaces in Wakefield are small bars or shops, it never really balanced. Now we can literally use anywhere in the city centre, indoor or outdoor, cultural or not. There will be a very public stage on the precinct, there are interesting spaces around the shopping centres and yes, I'd love to see poets in chip shops and lots of little surprise shows. Although most people attending will have their tickets upfront, I just love the thought of someone out doing their Saturday shopping and coming across something weird and unexpected.
MG: To take in the bigger acts of the weekend there’s a three-tier pricing structure in place, with £20, £50 & £100 options – how do the benefits of each of those break down?
DF: The 'Pioneer' ticket (currently £20 as an Early Bird) is the traditional Long Division ticket. You get to see the headliners (basically that extra 10%) as well as any of the free stuff you want. The £50 and £100 tickets are the Crowdfunder influenced ones. They have everything the Pioneer has but with the Curator you can get involved in directing the future of the festival, including helping with booking the festival and taking over our Official Playlist. And with the Investor ticket, all the money above the regular ticket price goes directly to our Seed Fund Programme which will commission local artists to create new work for the festival. That might be paying that Poet in the Chip Shop or a band to write an EP based around "The Future Of Wakefield Culture" - anything really. You'll be a named supporter of that and it will make a big and direct difference to artists.
MG: The last time Musos’ Guide was able to cover Long Division was the year that the Union Works was reopened. The year before was great in terms of venues already but that performance space brought a good centrality to the proceedings as well as excellent acoustics. What can punters expect in terms of larger venues next summer? Any option to tie in with The Hepworth?
DF: Our main venues will be Wakefield Cathedral, Warehouse 23 and Wakefield Town Hall (Unity Works closed a couple of months back). We haven't used Wakefield Cathedral since 2011 - it's a stunning place. Warehouse 23 has hosted the likes of The Fall (a very busy and sweaty show - MG) and Ghostpoet for us in the past. And the Town Hall was last used in 2012 (I think) so it's a nice group of major venues that show Wakefield off well. There will be other elements to the Pioneer venues too which we can't reveal yet.
Venues has always been tough but interesting for us. Of the 25+ we've used since 2011, 10 have since closed. But also 6 of them opened in that time too. So very little is permanent. In 2018 there might be around 8 venues we've never used before and that, combined with our pledge that 90% of the artists will never have performed at Long Division before will hopefully provide something fresh and exciting. It's certainly going to be an adventure.
Many thanks to Dean for taking the time to respond to us & we'll aim to keep you abreast of festival updates as they appear. With luck you'll end up looking forward to it as much as us &, in case you missed it the first time, the event site can be reached here.