Sheffield’s award winning “Tramlines” is a recently established festival, but it blew the city apart regardless over the 3 day weekend July 20-22nd. Despite Tramlines only being in its third year, those local to Sheffield will recognize it as one of the busiest weekends that the city see’s all year, establishing new music in new ways.
As a free festival to all who attend, who could refuse the opportunity of a weekend full of not only music, but indubitable energy and charisma from every corner of the 60+ venues hosting acts. Things such as street theatre and art exhibitions are also found across the city, bringing people of all ages and interests together for one weekend.
The city was a buzz of energy with not a minute of the weekend left live music-less. The beauty of Tramlines is that wherever you go, there is always somebody new to watch or something new to do. Venues are spread across the city; including Ecclesall Roads and Endcliffe Park, just outside the city centre, which hosted ‘The Folk Forest’ for those looking for a little folk in their festival.
Tramlines is not just host to local bands and artists. The Main Stage this year included acts such as Reverend and the Makers, Frankie and the Heartstrings, and We are Scientists. Despite many of the crowds flocking to see big names on the main stage, the essence of Tramlines can be seen in Sheffield’s own bars and pubs; a string of intimate gigs in which new music is heard amongst a diverse mix of audience and bands. Many of the bands playing Tramlines have already established a name for themselves — and if they haven’t, this weekend gives them a chance to.
For most, Tramlines begins on Friday night. However, a few of the local venues kick it all off on Thursday, with a taste of some of the live bands to get everyone going. Some of these bands included Sheffield’s own Alvarez Kings, who have played gigs across the country and overseas — they played at the local pub and music venue Frog and Parrot. The Black Tambourines also took stage Thursday — they played The Green Room, which is where I began my Tramlines.
Best Friends, signed by record label ‘Art is Hard’ records, catapulted everyone there into Tramlines on Thursday night. They’re a band which twists the California surf scene in with the alternative British pop-rock. Playing a set full of upbeat and gutsy songs, their tenacious instrumentals with fast paced guitar and drums inspired an immense energy in the crowd. Lewis Sharman’s spunky vocals finish the band’s sparky and impelling sound. Like most bands over the weekend, Best Friends played more than one gig, at venues including The Bowery, one of Sheffield’s most popular and award winning bars. Not shy to playing gigs, these boys have also been seen supporting quirky indie-pop band Summer Camp at The Harley in Sheffield at the beginning of the year. This band is one of the most likeable and listenable on the Sheffield music scene, with a boyish confidence and a plucky new sound which is perfect for those into the beachside summer scene.
Thursday night also saw special guest Mr. Scruff play a 5 hour DJ set at The Leadmill, which saw many festival goers up into the early hours of the first official day of Tramlines. Come Friday evening the city centre was animated with the hustle and bustle of crowds flocking to the main stages and bars. No Street was empty and certainly not quiet until the first cracks of dawn on Saturday morning.
Dipping in and out of crowds listeners could hear the familiar sounds of cheers and shouts in-between songs by the clearly popular choice Reverend and the Makers on the main stage. As one passed by and entered the Frog and Parrot, you were greeted by the gritty vocal and twangy guitars of band Roaming Son. With a deep American rock and blues sound the songs gave foot stampings beats. “Call it home,” is a song that you can’t help but move to and this showed amongst the tightly compacted crowd.
This was closely followed by energetic blues duo, The Blackbirds. Front man Thomas Matthews’ soulful voice and guitar playing combined with Mark Flaherty’s brash and animated yet still ‘never miss a beat’ style drumming, makes a perfect blend of heavybluesy music. Playing their instruments loud and hard The Blackbirds clearly relished the opportunity to make some noise, and boy did they. They also threw in a surprise in the form of rap artist Ruby Kid who had played earlier that evening. Showing that Tramlines is very much an opportunity for new music to be heard and new people to connect they went on to collaborate, combining the Blackbirds soulful sounds with the Ruby Kid’s quick tongued lyrics to create a unique performance which blew those there away.
As Friday night turned into Saturday morning the city was once again vibrant with activity. A rarity for northern British weather the sun hit Sheffield just as the music did. Amongst the stages and bars ran the Buskers Bus, transporting people out to different parts of the festival. A novelty as well as transport, packed with bands and DJ’s all day it delivered music in a creative way.
The first act seen on Saturday was a duo which was perfect to watch on the sunny afternoon. Emily and Benjamin are two established musicians in their own rights; both playing gigs in and around Sheffield which many of the locals have seen. However, early that afternoon they combined the two to make a nothing short of sweet and talented boy-girl duo. Emily Stancer, female vocalist, is not only a talented lyricist but has a powerful voice which gives her such presence it’s difficult to keep your eyes off of her. Drummer Ben Stubbs, who is the drummer for local band The Ratells, added a new dynamic to the usual acoustic sets that Emily plays. Together the charming duo won the hearts of the crowd that watched, and set the day off to a smile-brightening start.
Sly Pariah is a four piece band which played a gig full of catchy songs with clever lyrics and imaginative instrumental riffs and beats. Jim Richards makes a captivating front man, saying little between songs — he shows his character through his gravelly but not quite rough vocal and energetic guitar playing. Supported on either side by Matthew Blunt, whose bass lines give a defined backbone to the songs which could almost be grunge if it weren’t for Ben Chapman’s inventive and often cheeky guitar riffs. Drummer Phil Chandler gives the band its rhythm section, played cool and collected with a sense of poise. The talented bunch has a brilliant rapport with each other which comes across when they play. It is incredibly obvious that they all have a love of music and they are an utterly endearing band with a tremendous amount of potential. Their alternative indie, garage, and often dark and intriguing songs are certain to stick in any indie rock fans heads.
Moments later I was back to a different venue watching a band that have been on the Sheffield scene for a number of years. Cut Your Wings is a rock and blues band with a rough and ready sound that many are familiar with. They played a gut-punching, hard-hitting yet soul-soothing set. Russel Frisby’s impassioned vocals left a resonating impression and the blues based riffs blended with heavier, brazen rock rhythms from the rest of the band (Matt Turner- Guitar, Nick Wainwright-Bass and Mark Flaherty-Drums). There was a standout instrumental sound which distinguishes this band from many other rock and blues artists. Nearing the end of the set the band did a cover of The Black Key’s hit “Gold on the Ceiling” which the crowd embraced. Putting their own stamp on the song, making it more rock less pop, Cut Your Wings played a version to rival the original, making their mark on Tramlines.
Meanwhile, the main stage hosted Ms Dynamite and Headliners Roots Manuva, putting another genre into the Tramlines pot of musical diversity. There is always something for everyone at Tramlines, and the main staged sported a playful atmosphere which was very much family orientated. The arena included fairground rides and food stalls, top that off with live music and you have a perfect family day out. The main stage also had local acts on across the weekend, including The Violet May, Blue Lip Feel and Dead Sons.
Amongst other local talents playing around the city was a young trio who have been up and coming in local music recently. Ripoff Britain played a set with an energy which the audience reciprocated. After appearing on BBC Radio Sheffield in June and playing more gigs, the rock and blues trio played a tight string of songs with a performance which surpassed others and showed real progression. With effortless confidence and accomplished musical ability this is a band which will only get better. Playing popular song ‘buttercup’ which was broadcast with their radio interview, Ripoff Britain were a real crowd pleaser, and a brilliant band to spark up peoples Saturday night at tramlines. They are due to headline Sheffield’s O2 Academy on the 8th of September.
Across the city at The Leadmill club, The Ratells began after Ripoff finished. A band that has built up a fan base playing at Tramlines in 2010 and 11, it is no wonder that they are back for a third after seeing their alternative indie-pop music. The Ratells had a sound that could easily slip in with bands such as the Editors and We are Scientists (a Tramlines headliner). The powerful guitar riffs and instrumental changes in songs such as “Legacy” gave them an impressive sound. Lead vocalist Ash Holland’s voice is full of emotion and the boys as a band together showed character and passion. They did an indie-rock style cover of recently popular song ‘Too Close’ by Alex Clare, which the crowd revelled in. The atmosphere throughout the set was energetic and intense, with many of the songs being sung back at the band, showing just how popular they have become.
Established Indie band, Little Comets, was listed to play the main stage on Sunday morning. As well as this set, however, they got into the true spirit of Tramlines, playing a secret gig on Saturday night. As word spread, the Frog and Parrot grew busier and busier until eventually being packed to the rafters. Fans were itching to see the band in that intimate context and the gig itself gave example to what Tramlines is about. Sharing music regardless of how big or small the band is, and supporting music itself.
Saturday merged into Sunday in a blur as the music carried on into the morning. With the sun still shining the festival entered its last day, there was a quiet hum, and the city was still busy, but people seemed calmer. Sunday saw a relaxed day at Tramlines, and many local talents such as acoustic artist Ryan Wilson, Blue Lip Feel, Sour Cherry and Alvarez Kings played local venues.
One of the biggest crowds however, was for a band from Nottingham, who have recently been breaking through to the UK music scene. Dog is Dead played a blinding set on the Nando’s stage, after recently supporting Bombay Bicycle club on tour the band has collected a horde of young female fans with their blasé attitude towards the crowd, always appreciative but focusing on only delivering a good set. With a completely indie-pop sound to them, the subtle use of instruments created an atmospheric sound to the songs and the vocals could be compared to those of Orlando Weeks (The Maccabees). The band played a beautiful set on the open stage, perfect for the sunny afternoon, topping it off by playing their recently released single and finishing in time for the majority of crowds to run to queue for the big headliners of the weekend, We are Scientists on the main stage. Many people were unable to see We are Scientists set as the main stage was so full.
As Sunday’s sunset came in the festival began to wind down to a halt and it was ever so clear that it was almost over, and a few of the crowd made their way to The Bowery for an after party with Milburn’s Joe Carnall. For many of those that did it was the highlight of the weekend. With constant chants of ‘MILBURN MILBURN’ as he approached the stage, nobody was quite prepared for the set that he continued to play, with rumours of special guests there was a mix of tension and excitement in the air. Carnall went on to play one of the most exhilarating acoustic sets that I have ever seen. Playin g a mixture of Milburn and Beatles songs with an array of other artists the audience could be heard resonating the lyrics of hits such as “Storm in a Teacup” and “Psycho Killer.” With the crowd surging forward as he stepped onto the speakers of the stage he played an adorably modest set with an air of forte to what he was doing. The set then became more intense as he called John McClure, otherwise known as the Reverend, of Reverend and the Makers to do an acoustic version of “Contender.” For anyone that missed the main stage gig of Reverend and the Makers this more than made up for it. A gig which was a testament to the essence of Tramlines, the crowd was excitable throughout the whole set and the performances given were golden. A perfectly fiery end to the weekend, the crowd left stimulated and in awe of what they had witnessed.
Tramlines is truly one of the best new music festivals floating around Britain at the moment and will continue to grow and improve in years to come. An inspired idea it brings the attention to new music that it needs in the current industry, with a fun filled weekend and friendly atmosphere. The one downfall of Tramlines is that there’s never enough time to see everybody at once, and with so much talent around, it’s a crying shame.
Rhiannon Drew | Our Vinyl Contributor