Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival (visit the website here) celebrated its 15th anniversary with a 3-day party in the beautiful setting of Hillsborough Park with a field full of guests joining in with the festivities. But not without some issues across the weekend.
With gates having only just opened, the brilliant Delilah Bon was first on at the Leadmill Stage. With a hi-energy set of feminist-driven punk/rap/hip-hop tunes, they started things off with a bang and, if playing later, would’ve drawn a much larger crowd. But those that were there were blown away by the show. With their energy and joy being infectious and songs like “Bad Attitude” and “Dead Men Don’t Rape” they are fantastic and have a great future to look forward to.
With a schedule that created several clashes and a main stage dominated by an indie driven who’s who of ‘I can’t really be bothered with that,’ it was decided to spend the day casually walking up and down the hill between the Leadmill Stage and T’Other Stage to see a wider mix of styles throughout the day.
Conveniently that route takes you directly passed The Open Arms, a small, tented stage that hosted a uniquely diverse set of acts across the weekend and became a much-loved stop-off point. Firstly, for a bit of ’Barrioke.’ The brilliantly strange idea of being able to get up on stage and sing along with one of Britain’s best-loved soap characters, Barry from Eastenders (aka Shaun Williamson). The crowd he drew and the chants of “Barry! Barry! Barry!” from people that weren’t even born when his character was killed off in 2004 were incredible and an early highlight of the day.
T’Other Stage provided a highlight of the weekend with a beautiful set from the delightful indie singer-songwriter Rachel Chinouriri, whose warmth and personality create a shared experience between her and the audience. With a mix of goosebumps and joy, her set truly was a sublime and memorable experience.
The energetic and exciting Dead Pony were next up back at the Leadmill stage, and the Glaswegian indie-punkers showed they were the kind of band that can get you hooked instantly. Singer and guitarist Anna Shields is captivating; whether throwing punches or staring mildly threateningly into the audience, she has your attention while the rest of the band creates a fantastic sonic wall behind her.
With the clashes meaning tough decisions had to be made, we headed over to see the first half of the set from the brilliant Pale Waves before heading to the main stage to catch some DMA’s, which was a mistake. They were dull, and for the rest of their set, it felt like we were missing out on something, as Pale Waves had been brilliant and energetic.
That left the legendary Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft to close off day one, and he didn’t disappoint. With songs as big as he has in his catalogue, it would be tough not to enjoy and sing along at the top of your voice. “Sonnet,” “Music is Power,” and “Lucky Man” were early contenders for moments of the day, but when he finished with “The Drugs Don’t Work” and “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” both songs that sound majestic, he had given Tramlines a moment they will never forget.
The forecast for day 2 of Tramlines meant a last-minute wellies purchase was in order, as everyone knows the secret to the enjoyment of a festival has nothing to do with music but having the right footwear, and it was supposed to turn muddy. Luckily the weather mostly defied the forecast, and it turned out to be quite a pleasant day with some joyous surprises and a secret set.
Venturing to the Open Arms stage rewarded us with one of the most joyful experiences of the weekend as Under the Stars, an organisation that helps people with disabilities and autism through music, performed a set of chaotic soundscapes that simply put a smile on your face if you were there to witness it.
Liverpool’s Red Rum Club is a party band. Plain and simple. If you can’t move to them, you need to see a doctor. They’ve graduated to the main stage here by performing on pretty much all of the other stages over the years and took this opportunity with both hands, playing a short 30-minute set that left you breathless when it finished.
Shortly before the Scottish Flies were about to play on the main stage, it was announced they’d be unable to perform and would be replaced by pop royalty McFly. Which thinking about it now is bloody obvious, but it never registered until it was pointed out. So as the McFly backdrop came down and they took to the stage for their ’secret’ set, the crowd went mental. They were full of energy but had sound issues during their opener, “Where Did All the Guitars Go?” with both the bass and lead guitar literally disappearing from the mix. Their big hits proved to be massive singalongs, and chucking in a Bruce Springsteen cover will always go down well. All in all, a great surprise.
The extremely sassy Mae Muller, our most recent Eurovision representative, performed on T’Other Stage. She easily connected with the audience with engaging stories introducing her songs about breakups and exes. With a really genuine and down-to-earth personality, she radiates energy, and her voice is as stunning as she is.
The second most joyful experience of the weekend was discovering Tragedy playing at The Open Arms on the journey back to the main stage for The Courteeners. They are an absolutely batshit crazy Heavy Metal Bee Gees act. Playing the likes of “Raining Men” over the music of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and it was fan-fuckin-tastic. The crowd in the small tent was going crazy, and the band on stage looked like they were having the time of their lives. Absolutely the best thing of the day.
You know The Courteeners will never disappoint. They are the ultimate festival band and will, without a doubt, always get the crowd riled up. Opening with “In Love with a Notion?” they do it instantly and have to stop and leave the stage during the second track, “Cavorting,” due to a medical issue in the audience – which was dealt with extremely well by all involved. Not only do they play a big chunk of their St Jude album, which shares the same 15-year anniversary as the festival, but they do a great cover of Labi Siffre’s “It Must Be Love,” and Liam Fray launches the Manchester United Away Kit by wearing it on stage, replicating the launch of their Home Kit with Aitch at Glastonbury. A fantastic headlining set.
On Sunday, it was touch and go whether the festival would even go ahead after a biblical amount of rain had fallen overnight, and it was due to rain non-stop for the rest of the day. With a mammoth effort from the ground crew to ensure it did go ahead, the arena opened later than planned, meaning several of the opening acts on each stage were unable to play.
That was a shame, as we had planned to check out Mui Zyu early on. Instead, a plan to hide inside a tent for the majority of the day had formed, so we headed over to catch the legendary Omid Djalili deliver a masterclass in comedy. The rain was constant all day which benefited many of the acts playing in tents as fans sought refuge from the weather.
Matilda Mann was one of those, but she would have drawn a crowd anyway with her Wet Leg-inspired indie rock. An even larger crowd gathered for the fantastic Black Honey, whose increased energy levels were much needed by everyone in order to find a second wind to make it through the rest of the day. Their raw, aggressive, and energetic set brought everyone back to life like a shot of adrenaline.
Kaiser Chiefs also brought a high-energy set to Tramlines and played an absolute blinder. Opening with “Never Miss a Beat” and “Na Na Na Na Naaa” and Ricky launching either himself or his mic stand into the air regularly it was a headline-worthy set. So, we called it as ours.
There was a point during their set that we reached full saturation, so we made the tough call to catch Paul Heaton next time around and try and get out of the rain and away from the mud back to some form of normality.
So, our Tramlines was done for 2023 – and what we can tell you is that as far as festivals go, Tramlines is one of the best out there; the music, the trooper spirit of the people and everyone who worked so hard to make the weekend so successful all deserve a round of applause. With ideal weather, it would probably be one of my favourite festivals to attend, and next year’s edition can’t come soon enough. Fingers crossed for clear skies and dry ground.
Tramlines Festival 2024 will take place at Hillsborough Park from the 26th to the 28th of July 2024, and you can buy your tickets here.