Friday. 12.15pm. The people of Sheffield are adorned in bucket hats, bum bags and dropping Dark Fruits cans wherever they can get away with leaving them. In other words, it’s beginning to look a lot like Tramlines.
The feeling of momentum gathers across the city, as venues decorate themselves, pubs welcome festival goers, and trams are heady and crowded- the festival spirit lingers in us once more. It is a rainier Tramlines than usual, as the audience of Hillsborough Park are reminded that this is in fact a UK festival and are greeted with a minor downpour on Friday afternoon. Nothing can spoil this party though, as crowds gather for special guest openers Shed Seven on the main stage. Later, Baby Queen takes that same stage with the type of energy to perfectly kickstart the weekend. Shouting out the misfits, the buzzkills and the vapers (particularly the vapers) of the crowd, she unifies the crowd in her boisterous pop.
Because of the earlier shower, people seek shelter in the Leadmill Stage, which plays to Lime Garden’s advantage. They are self-aware enough to acknowledge this, but they treat their captive audience to an array of perfectly crafted synth-infused disco indie that wins over everybody there. Across the festival, there are tents from local businesses and sponsors alike. The trademark “Be More Nulty” tribute hangs from the main stage, all in all it’s a festival with a lot of love put into it. All Girls Arson Club are perhaps the best kept secret of the lineup; they’re a local duo who take to the Library Stage with a set of fun, bouncy jangle punk. With references to Kath & Kim, Frasier and “Lidl’s Toffee Yum Yums”, they put a smile on everyone’s faces, even the children running along the barrier. You might also like... Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Baby Queen, Alfie Templeman + more in new Tramlines announcement The Sheffield Scene - 7 Acts To Not Miss At Tramlines Fringe
Declan McKenna bounds onto the stage like a glitter-clad Tigger. He and his band treat the crowd to a selection of bouncy indie pop, with much of the set dedicated to the fifth anniversary of his debut album. ‘Brazil’ is cheekily introduced as a “new song” and ‘British Bombs’ incites the first big moshpit of the festival. Afterwards, a flurry of James fans (including myself) head down to the front to catch the veteran Manchester band at a perfect viewing point. James are a band unlike any other; it’s often frustrating to see them grouped in with bands like Happy Mondays and Ocean Colour Scene when they are still creatively firing on all cylinders, as relevant as ever. The band and their many members all beautifully gel, Tim Booth enigmatically dancing and embracing the crowd, often diving in headfirst. They condemn “the white supremacy in America” on ‘All the Colours Of You’, warn the younger attendees to “not make the same mistake as their parents” on ‘Walk Like You’ and embrace the spontaneity of their setlist by changing it up at the end. It’s a set for hardcore fans and casual listeners alike, as we are treated to a near consecutive run of ‘Sit Down’, ‘Laid’ and ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ towards the end. It’s a spellbinding show, one that sets the stage for tonight’s headliner perfectly.
It’s fair to say that a few people are here tonight for Sam Fender. By a few, we mean pretty much everybody. There are many Newcastle shirts and chants of “woah woah woah woah woah woah keep your distance” before he even takes the stage, and when he does it is euphoric. This is Fender’s first UK festival headline show, something that he takes the time to tell the crowd, especially how thankful he is to them. He spectacularly rises to the occasion, with confetti, fireworks and pyro that would make Def Leppard blush. At one point, things get a bit too hectic in the pit, which leads him to temporarily stop the show to make sure everybody is safe. It’s wonderful to see an artist of Fender’s stature be so considerate and care so much about the safety of his fanbase, and his personality shines through in his songwriting. His lyrics and on-stage persona promote a healthy form of masculinity, something that the young men in the crowd can look up to. “Those dead boys are always here” he sings on The Dying Light, a poignant piece which gives everybody time to take it all in, how after everything we are still here and still breathing. It’s remarkable that music can have that effect on you, and the goosebumps continue as the people on shoulders multiply during ‘Seventeen Going Under’. As the final chords of ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ ring out, Fender shouts “see you next time” to us, but it’s very clear that bigger stages await him- we were all incredibly lucky to witness that show.
“Tramlines is absolutely one of the highlights of our year” Nick Banks, drummer of Everly Pregnant Brothers, says after their set. “It is such a fabulous festival. To play to a home crowd who are always up for it, it sets the day off in the right way.” Everly Pregnant Brothers can only be described as the heart and soul of Tramlines. Taking the main stage for their annual Saturday afternoon slot, they represent everything the festival stands for- compassion, entertainment and most of all, they are Sheffielders through and through. Throughout their set, frontman Big Sean teases and goads the crowd like they’re old friends, and it gives the set a degree of humility and approachability. They are much more outspoken than they have been in previous years, with Sean goading for Boris Johnson’s imprisonment, and “fuck the Tories!” chants are interspersed throughout their songs. Every song is a huge singalong, their very Northern renditions of popular classics are all hilarious, and by the end you cannot help but be uplifted. “When people are so invested”, Banks further elaborates, “you feel like you’re doing something right. You feel you’re tweaking something inside them”. I suggest the possibility of a headline slot, to which he replies “oh absolutely! We’d be up for that”.
Tramlines is predominantly an indie festival, but the importance of giving bands like Everly Pregnant Brothers, a homegrown working class skiffle band, more of a platform is essential to its success. Similarly, before the Brothers, Mouse Teeth opens the day on the Open Arms. A relatively new addition to the festival, the stage presents spoken word artists during the day and alternative acts and DJs during the evening. Mouse Teeth is the moniker of Leicester based musician and poet Nancy Dawkins, and her work is ethereal and fierce. Ambient guitars back spoken pieces, which all know precisely how to enrage and break your heart. It’s a set that proves why the festival is right in providing spaces for more artists like Mouse Teeth; it’s as far from a generic clean cut indie sound as you can get. By contrast, Inhaler are a band who seem robotic in their show. If you’ve ever heard any indie band ever, you’ve heard Inhaler, and you never really need to see them again after the first time. First song ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is the standout, but the rest flatlines for me. Despite this, there are a flurry of dedicated fans who get stuck into the moshpits and sing along enthusiastically, so perhaps the boat has been missed completely. Crawlers may be the only band on the lineup who would be found on both a Tramlines and a Download lineup- fresh off recent My Chemical Romance support slots, they are here to party. Frontwoman Holly Minto’s energy is infectious, and it’s not too long before the crowd are bouncing along with her, closing the Saturday afternoon on a high.
On the main stage, reformed Sheffield indie band Little Man Tate play to a solid home crowd. However, across the site, Sam Ryder has managed to overflow T’Other Stage completely. Faces and bodies spill out of the tent to as far as the bars and the food vans. After his monumental Eurovision success, Ryder’s set was going to be one of the most hyped of the weekend, and he absolutely delivers. ‘SPACEMAN’ was always going to be the highlight, but his voice sounds pristine on ‘July’, and even manages to pay tribute to fellow Eurovision legends ABBA on a soulful cover of ‘Waterloo’. He's followed by hometown hero Self Esteem, who appears alongside her band in full Sheffield Wednesday gear. If that’s not enough to skyrocket this into one of the sets of the weekend, her performance is breathtaking from the first song to the last; ‘I’m Fine’ gets the crowd barking like dogs, ‘Fucking Wizardry’ sees Rebecca apologise to her mother for the bad language, and ‘Moody’ turns the tent into an all-out disco. You can tell how much this moment means to her as the set draws to a close, and the anthemic ‘I Do This All The Time’ gets the tears flowing. Her rise to fame has been one of the best things to happen in the past two years, and tonight’s performance was a homerun worth waiting for.
There’s a case to be made that Kasabian might be the biggest headliners Tramlines have ever booked. It certainly looks that way, given the amount of people gathering outside the main stage to await the Leicester rockers. They’ve made a name for themselves as one of the best live acts in the UK, and it’s easy to see why as they walk on stage to the meteoric stomp of ‘Club Foot’. From there, it is a set of wall to wall hits, with only two new songs being thrown in. It’s admirable how well Serge Pizzorno has adapted to the frontman role; he is clearly ecstatic to be on this stage and leads the crowd with force and charisma. Limbs fly for ‘Vlad the Impaler’, throats yell during ‘L.S.F’ and the flares are many by set closer ‘Fire’. Kasabian are the ultimate party band, and Tramlines were set ablaze by them in a Saturday night for the history books.
Sunday brings with it even more fervour, as the trams are packed with festivalgoers eager to catch Liverpool indie legends The Coral in their special guest slot. Before them, Luxury Goods open the main stage in what their singer Leonie described as “so exciting” for them. They’d previously played the Leadmill Stage under the name Lio, and the move to the main stage was initially daunting but ultimately rewarding; “people kept coming and stayed, which is a really good sign!” She moved from the Netherlands to study in Sheffield and fell in love with the city and its music scene; she tells me “everybody is so supportive, there’s no unhealthy competition whatsoever. It feels like people want you to succeed, I feel very loved!”. Her words echo those of Sheffield music icon Jon McClure, frontman of Reverend & the Makers; “if there are no regional independent festivals like Tramlines”, he says, “there’ll be nowhere for young local acts to see a band they like and think “yeah, I can do that!””. And it’s at these festivals that acts like Reverend & the Makers truly shine, playing to a crowd of friends, fans and contemporaries alike. Hits like ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ and ‘Shine a Light’ electrify the park, McClure bounds across the stage, constantly keeping the crowd alive, and the band ,including new bass player Antonia, are incredibly tight; Reverend & the Makers are a band who are often overlooked or lumped in with other bands of the era, but they are a live behemoth, one who deserve to keep playing to these crowds for years to come.
Elsewhere, when you think the festival has run out of surprises, you find yourself in a Scouting for Girls moshpit. It’s 3.30 in the afternoon, it’s chucking it down with rain, and you find yourself in a time portal to 2007. “She’s so lov-er-ly” sing the crowd, and a warm dose of nostalgia hits you right in the heart. You think the novelty might wear off after half an hour, which is good because that’s exactly how long their set is, and it never outstays its welcome. However, you find you haven’t left that time portal left, because The Wombats are about to take the stage for an hour-long sub-headline slot. Their set reminds me of every naff indie disco I’ve ever been to- messy, boozy, full of singalongs, but honestly still quite naff. And you can only really stand about half an hour of it before going outside anyway. The real party is at the Leadmill Stage, named after and run by the legendary Sheffield venue that is currently under threat of closure. “It was originally our aspiration to just play the Leadmill, it was all we ever wanted!” says Jon McClure, seeing their work in platforming new acts all weekend makes it all the more heartbreaking that we could lose it. Do Nothing, Nottingham post-punk dynamos, bring their eclectic and off-kilter tunes to a loving and appreciative crowd, and after them emerge Yard Act. “We arrived slightly early” admits James Smith, “and I’ve spent the past four hours drinking beer in Hillsborough Stadium”, and with gleeful abandon, they launch into ‘Fixer Upper’. If the thought of a tent full of indie kids screaming “I’m Graham, by the way” isn’t enough, we have 50p coins being thrown at the stage, and Smith launching into tipsy monologues about tonight’s headliners, Madness. “You thought this was gonna be a slick rock n roll show” he laughs, but the set is as chaotic and hilarious as I expected and hoped it would be.
Eventually, the Nutty Boys themselves have the honour of closing the festival. Opener ‘One Step Beyond’ begins proceedings in style, but the set falls apart soon afterwards. Frontman Suggs has the onstage charisma of your drunk uncle at a wedding, like Morrissey in sunglasses. He introduces ‘My Girl’ by making a joke about the Johnny Depp abuse case (“I saw Johnny crying in the bar, I said why you crying Johnny? He said “my girl’s mad at me””) which leaves quite a nasty taste in my mouth. Later, he sees a girl in a cowboy hat on somebody’s shoulders and makes a reference to them being a “cow-they” (do you get it, because the existence of non-binary people is SOOOO strange!), and I leave. I realise this set is a set by old men for old men, that the progressive spirit I found in the rest of the festival to be completely absent here. I finish the festival at the ABBA Party run by the Leadmill’s DJs. It felt fitting to end the weekend with a singalong celebrating the glorious musical culture that Sheffield has to offer, and it left me leaving Hillsborough Park with a huge smile on my face. Throughout the weekend, local charities and businesses have had spaces, and local artists have shared their skills, whether they be new or established. Is Sheffield the musical capital of the UK? After this weekend’s festival, I can wholeheartedly say “yes”. Long live Tramlines.
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