For such a relatively young festival, Tramlines has effortlessly workedits way into South Yorkshire’s consciousness. Now in its fourth year, thefestival covers the whole of Sheffield: taking in scores of venues,hundreds of bands, and thousands of visitors. Last year, 155,000 visitedthe Steel City over the weekend – by a rough estimate based on how busySheffield’s streets were this year, you can confidently predict thatnumber’s increased as well.
It could be chaotic – sunshine, beer and crowds is potentially a recipefor disaster, but Tramlines is one of the safest, most organised festivalsin the country. What makes this all the more impressive is that the entireventure is free – from the ‘buskers bus’ trundling round the city, to thevenues such as the Leadmill, Bowery and Academy all opening the doors, tothe specially constructed main stage on Devonshire Green, there’s noentrance fee, and even the beer is a reasonable £3 a pint.
Of course, the downside to Tramlines’ popularity is the queues. It’s easyenough to find somewhere to visit, but organisational skills worthy of amilitary general are required to see any vaguely popular band. A primeexample of this is Alt-J at the 200 capacity Bowery on the openingFriday night. The weekend before, the Leeds-based quartet had played to5000 people at Latitude – it’s little wonder that the queue to see them atthe Bowery snaked all the way up the street, leading to many disappointedfaces outside.
Including this reviewer, who instead wandered over to the Main Stage, where Reverend & TheMakers were finishing their set. The self-styled Rev may splitopinion, but he’s treated as a homecoming hero on Devonshire Green, withthe impressive sight of thousands of Sheffield youngsters bouncing up anddown in time with He Said He Loved Me. And as McClure was one of thebrains behind Tramlines back in 2009, it’s only right that he gets toheadline his very own festival.
The Saturday was when Tramlines really kicked off, with a whole host ofnew stages springing up around the city. Over in Endcliffe Park, a ‘FolkForest’ had been constructed, with James Yorkston headlining, and aWorld/Youth Music Stage in the city’s beautiful Peace Gardens highlightedsong and dance acts from all over the world. The biggest crowds gatheredat Devonshire Green at the Main Stage – in the past, this has been thefocal point for pop and chart acts, but the city’s local radio station nolonger sponsoring the festival, there was a slightly more eclectic feel ondisplay.
The euphoric electronica of Clock Opera made for an excellent startto the day, while local boys Hey Sholay blew away some cobwebs withlead singer Liam even partaking in some crowd surfing. There was somesleek electro-pop from Charli XCX (who, it’s fair to say, caughtthe eye of many a young man in the crowd), but in desperate need of someshade and a cool drink, we retired over the road to The Bowery to catchForeign Hands.
This turned out to be a fine decision, for Foreign Hands are, it turnsout, pretty brilliant. The Daniel brothers from Manchester can kick upquite the auditory storm, songs like Waves and Winter’s Sun soundingimmediate, intense and satisfying. They even threw in a cover version ofGrimes‘ Oblivion for good measure. Ones to watch, we think.
Following Foreign Hands came the blissful indie-pop of Leeds’ This ManyBoyfriends, who effortlessly had the entire Bowery shaking on itsfoundations. With the fuzzy guitars and nervous energy, there’s anundeniable connection to fellow Leeds band The Wedding Presentwhile lead singer Richard Brookes has more than a touch ofMorrissey to his vocals. Yet TMB are no mere C86 wannabes – theirsongs are deliriously joyful and hook filled with I Should Be A Communistand especially Young Lovers Go Pop proving insanely addictive. With aclosing chant of “No more aztec print” and a sprint up the Bowerystaircase and back, This Many Boyfriends were gone. They’ll be welcomeback anytime.
The Main Stage finished off the day with a much-delayed set from MsDynamite, who ended up having to tell off various audience members forfighting, and Roots Manuva headlining, who was clad in a nattywhite suit and succeeded in getting the entire Devonshire Green crowddancing. The biggest cheer was, of course, reserved for Witness (1 Hope),but the whole set was a fine swansong to the second day of Tramlines.
The final day of Tramlines saw glorious sunshine all over Sheffield -perfect festival weather, and perfect weather to enjoy Eugene McGuiness.The Liverpool-based singer was looking impossibly dapper, and evenattracted his own coterie of screaming girls at the front of the stage.The music was pretty special too, especially the recent, Peter Gunn-apeingShotgun, but sadly there was no room for early marvel Monsters Under TheBed.
Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny would certainly win theaward for most creative outfits, with caps, enormous hats, and facepaintall to the fore. Most extraordinary though was Houghton’s voice, divingand swooping, and sounding utterly magnificent. Atlas made for a terrificopener, while album highlight Franklin Benedict sounding equally as goodlive as it does in the studio. Sadly, Houghton’s attempts at audiencebanter fell flat – “you don’t seem a particularly happy bunch, I’ve got tosay” – but her set was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend.
Sunderland then took over the Main Stage, with Frankie & TheHeartstrings receiving a hearty welcome, despite the slightlyill-advised choice of Gary Glitter as their walk-on music. Lead singerFrankie Francis looks nearly unrecognisable with his new haircut, but theenergy and verve of tracks like Photograph, Possibilities and the stillbrilliant Tender had the first few rows of Devonshire Green moshing away.Equally good were fellow Mackems Field Music, whose intricate,jerky, clever songs were the perfect accompaniment as the day began towind down – Them That Do Nothing sounding particularly fine.
It was left to We Are Scientists to draw the Main Stage to a close,and a typically kinetic set from Sheffield’s very own 65 Days ofStatic on the ‘new music stage’ (particularly ironic as they’ve beenaround for 12 years now). The clean-up operation in the morning will be anunenviable job, but once again Tramlines has proved itself to be theundoubted highpoint of Sheffield’s year. Roll on next year.