Tramlines is an independent set up with a community feel, and it is really just for the Yorkshire area. Placed in a fairly central position in the City of Sheffield just opposite the Sheffield Wednesday ground in Hillsbrough Park. There are NO camping facilities, and so you are reliant on bus/car/taxi/train to get you there and back each day. As it is in a residential area the curfew is 10:30pm so not too late for those local transport options – this works really well, and means you are not having to schlep there with a ton of camping gear and have the hassle of packing it all up at the end.
This is my first visit as it always clashed with something else in the festival diary, but the line up hits that sweet spot of enough artists that the thirty or fortysomething Mums and Dads will know, and that they can safely bring their kids along to, who themselves are more likely to be watching the younger bands – future year’s headliners.
One of the stages (Leadmill) is reserved for those newer artists and then the t’Other Stage (2nd Stage) and the Sarah Nulty (Main Stage) hold those that require a larger audience to view. With lots of space around – it felt really safe at all times, and the amount of bars here meant that there was never a long queue to be served – the ratio of bars to people were actually the best I’ve ever seen at a festival.
Foodies were well provided for with lots of quality vendors spread over the site, there’s even lobster available, I’ll say that again…“Lobster in Sheffield ” Gone are the days of greasy burgers chips and hendos, although you can find that if you look far enough.
It is a pretty much perfect set up for the size that it is, and with traditional festival mixed weather – the occasional rain shower, it is ideal for poncho, shorts and bucket hats, there really isn’t a better place to be, to revisit your memories of live music with some of the best bands from the 80’s through to current break-throughs.
What about the music? Oh yes that’s why you’re here right!!
I started early on Saturday with Shed 7 not quite sure why they were on so early but it got a fair few in at the start, and Rick Witter was his genuinely humble self, throwing out maracas for the kids to shake along with “Chasing Rainbows” always a great finale. They hinted that they will be back next year at a more appropriate time.
Brooke Combe was next on my list at the Leadmill and what a great surprise, funky, soulful modern feel rock with a Scottish voice, and thankfully she didn’t do her slow version of “Yes Sir I Can Boogie” which is on YouTube for all to see – don’t bother. Instead she shows her talented voice on “Are You With Me” and other newer tunes – one to watch, as she has just announced her first solo UK tour for September.
Baby Queen I have seen before but she is always good fun, never ending energy as she colourfully bounces around the stage to her hazy alt-pop tunes, those in the know at the front loved every second of her short set and Tramlines quite rightly placed her on the main stage. One band I was itching to see again after watching them support Sunflower Bean earlier in the year were Lime Garden, and they followed immediately on the Leadmill stage. They have more earworm choruses and sharp kooky lyrics that would please any fan of decent lo-fi pop/indie/rock. I could watch Leila Deeley on guitar all day, she is in this laid back trance like state throughout, throwing her blonde hair around while picking out little riffs and then Chloe Howard next to her delivering some deadpan vocals that Jarvis Cocker would be proud of. In a world where Wet Leg are becoming the new big thing, there must be a place for this Brighton outfit to follow suit very soon.
Jade Bird is on the main stage and how she sings the lyrics to “I Get No Joy” so fast I’ll never know “All the words my mother said, Can’t seem to get them out my head, Everything becomes everything, You live, you learn, you love, you’re dead” at 100mph, that wasn’t what I was singing – I had to google them, still a great tune. However, I didn’t stay too long as I knew she would be at Kendal Calling next weekend, so I went for Coach Party on t’Other Stage instead and what a great choice that turned out to be. They are from the Isle of Wight and like Lime Garden another great newish band to watch out for “Everybody Hates Me” is still ringing in my ears even now and “Can’t Talk,Won’t” has been on my spotify playlist for weeks. It’s all just the right side of heavy for any casual fan to pick them out as a new favourite band.
Back at the Leadmill Kynsy is running through a collection of cool indie tunes, sometimes they rock out like “Happiness Isn’t a Fixed State” and her guitarist stage left seems to let loose with all the shapes and facial expressions, and then she will softly uplift you with “Elephant in the Room”, eminently danceable and this Dublin based artist could well be on a bigger stage next year. Similarly Orla Gartland born in Dublin but now London based is charming t’Other stage with her personable self-deprecating wit, she gets the crowd singing along to “Zombie” at the end.
There seems to be an Irish theme to the afternoon as The Clockworks from Galway take to the Leadmill Stage. Very hard to not compare them to Fontaines DC, in a good way. Vocalist James McGregor has a similar delivery and without a guitar in his hand, the stance isn’t too far from Grian Chatten – you can’t mistake the Irish lilt in his voice as well. They recently signed to Alan McGee’s new record label and he knows a thing or two about good rock bands – they were superb, one of the highlights of the weekend.
The sound of “Born of Frustration” wafting over the speakers in the distance let me know that Tim Booth was dancing his hat off with James on the main stage, they appear to be playing all the hits today even “Sit Down” gets an airing, so he must be in a good mood. Frequently he drops down to the front, holds on to a manly hand and stares out into the very large gathering of loyal fans. They could have headlined any other year, but this year Sam Fender has shown he is ready for that coveted slot. Tramlines might be his first, but others will follow.
That said James gave a performance worthy of a headliner and before we mention Mr Fender again, a special mention to Working Mens Club who filled the Leadmill tent with colour and dance in a way that New Order used to. One of those enjoyable 30mins where you can happily get lost in the music and lights. Apart from frontman Sydney Minsky-Sargeant (yes that is his name) the rest of them stay rooted to the spot and look miserable, juxtaposed with the joyous music coming out of those speakers – mostly from the latest album only just released last week. Fear Fear was produced just down the road in Sheffield at Ross Orton’s studio. Something a little different that went down very well.
It feels like the whole festival has turned up to watch Sam Fender, his Glastonbury set was incredible and I also watched him at Scarborough Open Air Theatre a few weeks previously. His show now includes pyro and high pressure steam jets that burst out during the heavier numbers. With prominent sax breaks, the comparison to Springsteen is evident but his appeal spans both today’s teenagers and their parents, which makes him a perfect festival headliner. With “Saturday” he has a singalong chorus that continues long after the song has finished, with “Hypersonic Missiles” he has his “Born to Run” moment and nothing will top that performance on the main stage this weekend.
What a first day, some outstanding performances and we still have 2 whole days to go!
Saturday is my birthday, so I start it with a full English breakfast at a local cafe (Riverside) literally 100 yards from the entrance to Tramlines, eagerly anticipating a full rock show from October Drift I find them doing something different, which was a bit like saying Motorhead were doing an acoustic show. It lacked that usual punch, “Cherry Red” sounded limp and lifeless – not what I wanted at all, so I left to watch some comedy on the main stage. Yes it’s The Everly Pregnant Brothers, they are celebrities in this city and particularly at Tramlines with their jokey ukulele alternatives to well known tunes, for instance Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” becomes “They tried to make me go to Rotherham and I said No No No”. They unveil a massive backdrop that says “F*ck Worcester Sauce and F*ck The Tories”. Plenty of support here for the latter and despite the occasional spot of rain there will always be a place for them at Tramlines. At other festivals over the pennines border they have The Lancashire Hotpots who do the same sort of thing but with less swearing, parental guidance is definitely needed in Sheffield today.
In search of shelter from the rain I find comedian Russell Kane in full flow on t’Other stage and despite not from these parts he does a great Northern bloke impression which goes down well. Seems like a day for comedy and it doesn’t stop with The Lottery Winners as Thom Rylance is part singer/guitarist and part stand up comedian. Perfect pop tunes with the most danceable and sing-a-long choruses but with a comedy introduction each time.
Bono’s son is up next on the Main Stage, unfortunately he will never shake that tag and it is a shame because the whole band are brilliant “My Honest Face” is a highlight from Inhaler and it is nice to get back to some quality music in the afternoon. I shift to the Craft Ale bar which again doesn’t even have a queue, served immediately! Happy Birthday!
One of my favourite sets came next, or was it the beer? Either way Crawlers were a force to be reckoned with and Holly Minto is just a pocket rocket, she is everywhere – writhing on the floor, on the speaker stack, jumping around screaming like a banshee. Now signed to Polydor and having sold out their first UK tour, bigger things are expected from this Liverpool alt-rock band. They delivered, and everything after them would not match the ferocity of that performance. One for my ever growing list of bands to see again.
To go from that to the UK Eurovision 2nd place artist Sam Ryder was a little weird to say the least, but he drew a massive crowd at t’Other stage in the late afternoon. Wearing a white jump suit he got the whole tent to put their phone lights up and sway from side to side, he was pleasant I suppose, very smiley, but I needed a little more oomph added, so I left for Just Mustard. Now I know all about them as I saw their set at Live at Leeds last year at the Brudenell Social Club. They are a very strange brew of shoegazey trancelike vocals from Katie Ball and then some dance beats and electronica with guitars. She is striking to look at, but remains steadfast to the centre of stage, occasionally shaking a tambourine and her ghost like moaning vocals are unique. Have to say it doesn’t work for most people, they are very niche, but those that get it are shouting their praises. I can’t honestly see them scaling the heights to be a festival headliner, but they will certainly always be a cult following on 2nd stage festival tent circuit. Yet another Irish band that I have seen this weekend.
I now have a choice to make as the headliners are on at the same time, do I go with Leicester indie kings Kasabian or the Norweigian pop princess Sigrid? I decide on Sigrid but mainly because I want to see Self Esteem again as she is playing her hometown and I know the atmosphere will be great. Rebecca Lucy Taylor is now a fully fledged pop star, having paid her dues in an indie band her transformation to Self Esteem has been one of the stories of the last few years. She now has a huge new audience and today was announced as a nominee for the Mercury Music Prize. She walks out to a massive cheer and says “you’re already louder than Latitude” (she played that festival the night before). Her backing singers/dancers are all in Sheffield Wednesday kits, Taylor has her Wednesday shirt under a white jacket which lasts 1 song. I’ve seen the show 3 times in the last year, but never tire of it, an empowering display covering a multitude of issues around gender, self belief and celebration, set to an RnB soundtrack that gets the crowd moving for the whole 45 minutes. The next album will surely see her on the main stage next time.
After that I’m staying for Sigrid as my now 57 year old legs need to rest, particularly if I’m going to continue the dancing in another 20 mins time. I hear that Kasabian went down really well but I believe I made the right choice as Sigrid was everything I expected, full of energy, amazing vocals and the new songs are sounding great live but “Suckerpunch” is still one of the best dance tunes of the last few years and she throws it out at track 4 of her setlist. “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Strangers” were reserved for the latter stages. Another great day, wasn’t sure at the start how it was going to pan out but some inspired choices made the birthday a great success.
The last day was the wettest of the 3 and started with The Coral and they very quickly realised that the audience were only going to stay outside if they played the hits, consequently “Pass it On” was an earlier than expected outing. That was enough for me to disappear to the Comedy tent again to stay dry and have a few laughs, only making it back to The Leadmill stage for my most anticipated performance – Dead Pony. It’s the 3rd or 4th time I’ve seen them in the last few years, they used to be called Crystal then changed their name and got signed by Lab Records in March, and since then have released 2 of my favourite records of the year “Bullet Farm” and “Zero”. It is a complete sweatfest in there as the word has obviously got out that this is the band to catch before they blow up, as Sam Fender has officially declared them “Mint” having watched them at TRNSMT. Anna Shields is the main focus here and she is constantly prowling the stage, pausing to put one foot on the monitor, or to jump on the barrier, staring anyone down who is prepared to give her eye contact. The set is just the right side of heavy punky grunge that you have been missing for the last 10 years. Possible circle pits for a couple of their songs but this audience are not quite ready for that yet. Easily the set of the weekend for me and I get to see them again at Kendal next weekend!!
Sports Team are another band I’ve followed for the last few years, great music and good to see a strong turnout for them in Sheffield in the rain. “M5” and “Here’s the Thing” still sound great even if you are soaked, can’t actually tell if its due to sweating inside a plastic poncho or the rain itself. Doesn’t stop energetic frontman Alex Rice jumping around and crowd surfing though. A brief try to get in to see anything of Scouting For Girls is reduced to turning back as they pull the biggest crowd at t’Other Stage, and I can’t help but feel that this was the wrong stage for them, perhaps they should have swapped with Little Man Tate for the main stage.
You can’t have Tramlines without Reverend and the Makers, it is written in law and John McClure and Co will have the entire audience bouncing “from the front to the back” as he frequently says. The setlist feels like an old friend “Bassline” kicks us off as always and “Heavyweight Champion” closes, however I’ve left the main stage by then for the greatest party band to hit any festival – Elvana. It shouldn’t work, someone dressed as Elvis singing Nirvana covers, but it so does and within the first few songs we have “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the best of Nevermind sung by the whole tent, streams of people start pouring from the outside bars not knowing what to make of it all, and the King on stage revels in the whole experience, later jumping in for a crowd surf. Every festival should have Elvana booked and next year they should go main stage
The last time I saw Kelis she came out like a soul singer, big dress, hair in plaits all tied up, not moving much at all, now she has changed back again to the sultry funky girl whose milkshakes brought the boys to the yard. She has a backing singer and a DJ and she brought her funky RnB dance back. “Trick Me”, “Millionaire” and the aforementioned “Milkshake” got the dance party started, great set.
Only 2 more artists on my list to see, firstly Yard Act a local band to me in Leeds whose star is rapidly rising, they even recently collaborated with Elton John on a new version of “100% Endurance” – sadly he didn’t turn up at the Leadmill stage. Lead singer James Smith admitted they had been drinking beer all afternoon, but that didn’t stop the chaotic performance of this refreshing band, a new take on indie rock n roll mixed with a more punk attitude and some quirky guitar moves from Sam Shjipstone who I thought initially was Mark Bowen from Idles. They are heading places and it won’t be long before they are on the main stage
The headliner on the last night is the ever popular Madness, not so much “Nutty Boys” now, more like “Nutty Grandads”, but they have the tunes to easy fill an hour of the best 80’s party you have ever heard. Suggs doesn’t seem to age and still has that quizzical look behind the shades, a fantastic brass section with Lee Thompson still firing up the sax. They open with “One Step Beyond” and the place erupts with balloons, party hats and streamers everywhere. It’s like a new years eve party everynight with Madness, who doesn’t like “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers” and “Our House”, they even throw in a cover of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” for good measure. A great end to a fantstic festival.
My first visit to Tramlines and I saw enough this weekend to think that they really set the template for inner city mid-sized parkland festivals. Its the perfect size, with 3 key stages, very similar to Live at Leeds (In the Park) and the Neighbourhood Weekender in Warrington. If we can replicate this across the UK in a few more cities, then live music and festivals have a very fine future ahead. I shall be back next year!! If you want to join me, then you need to get your skates on because 70% of the tickets have already been sold. See you there.
For ticket details and more information for Tramlines 2023 visit https://tramlines.org.uk/tickets/ for details.x