Header photo by Russell Bates
2013 marks the fifth year of celebrated Sheffield music festival Tramlines, with this year’s proceedings kicking off this Friday the 19th of July. While the locale itself has been known as ‘Steel City’, many of the up and coming bands the city has spawned sound anything but gritty and hard. And that’s just fine by me. Let me explain…
If you happen to have the wonderful privilege of being present this weekend for Tramlines (or maybe you just happen to possess an incredible imagination and love the North like I do?), close your eyes in the middle of Sheff and quite possibly you will hear the dulcet sound that several bands from the area have independently cultivated. It is a sound of a time gone by, when life moved slower and you could stop and smell the roses because you weren’t worried about checking your (smart)phone for texts. This is also the kind of sound that is entirely unreliant on studio trickery or swish electronics. When you have really good songs and the beautiful voice of a lead singer, the only things left you really need are the rock band basics of guitars and drums.
One of the bands at the forefront of this movement is High Hazels. Like the Crookes, High Hazels’ band name is ‘borrowed’ from a real-life place in Sheffield: the High Hazels Park east of the city centre. Naming yourself after a beloved park – one of of the many nice, leafy spaces that make Sheffield less ‘Steel City’ and more inviting – lends your group an entirely unpretentious air, which also applies to High Hazels’ music. What’s probably most astonishing about this band is that even before they ever played a live gig, they were already getting plaudits from local hero Jarvis Cocker and Radio2 plays by BBC presenter and indie star maker Steve Lamacq. In an interview last winter with Artrocker, frontman James Leesley noted his reverence for the songwriting and musicianship of Simon and Garfunkel, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise when you hear the gorgeously reflective ‘Five Weirs’ and the melodically upbeat ‘So Strange’.
But the song that hooked me from the start was the first song the band ever recorded, called ‘French Rue’. For a start, the title itself has two meanings: “rue” in French means “street”, but it’s also used here to express regret in the Robert Frost poem ‘Dust of Snow’. The beginning chords usher in the song so sweetly as a ‘Lady’s Bridge’-era Richard Hawley might have done. As most pop songs go, its main theme of lost love is not new. However, ‘French Rue’ is lyrically rich, expressing separation using the sun, sea, stars and sky as cues to indicate this without being obvious.
With the gently strummed guitar lines and nicely drummed rhythm underneath, it’s a winner. The song’s bridge “I float on seas of emotion, coated in the weight of my devotion / I float on seas of emotion, our love suffered from some slight erosion” deserves special note as well, proving elegant rhyming whilst comparing the pain of heartbreak to permanent physical changes in landscape is not only possible but indeed, works really well and in a way you might not expect.
This is the first year Tramlines is charging the paltry entry fee of £6/day but if you’re skint, not to worry, as High Hazels are playing four entirely free shows: on Saturday they play the Cathedral at 3 PM, Western Park Bandstand at 5 PM and the Shakespeare (yes, *that* Shakespeare) at 8 PM, followed by an appearance at the Bowery on Sunday at 3 PM.