By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 24th July 2013 at 11:00 am
Not counting the varying levels of success in 2006 to 2008 at a Baltimore racetrack and since 2009 when Richard Branson brought in the Virgin Mobile FreeFest to Merriweather Post Pavilion (the venue, not the Animal Collective album), Washington DC doesn’t have a major music festival. And the FreeFest doesn’t even attempt to cater to people who might not be mainstream music listeners, such as myself. I wouldn’t drive anywhere to go see the Black Keys or Jack White, just two examples of previous FreeFest headliners. Most other American festivals suffer from the same problem. They focus on getting huge names that the MTV watching public would enjoy. Coachella and Lollapalooza, anyone? Despite John and Martin’s urging that I need to do one at least once, I don’t think I could survive the massive camping festivals, so city festivals, with their many venues dotted across one given place while also allowing me to sleep in a real bed for the night, are very appealing to me.
This year I decided to pay more attention to a local UK city festival that has been going on for a couple years and seem to be doing it right: while they bring in big names to headline the main stages, there is a whole wealth of bands, big and small, playing traditional venues to the town cathedral. I am, of course, speaking of Sheffield’s Tramlines, which I had understood from the get-go had been an idea borne by local Sheffielders such as Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders, Jon McClure of Reverend and the Makers and Toddla T.
Even the name of the festival, inspired by the friendly-looking tram transit network I admired when visiting the city in the spring, seems to indicate the pride the festival organisers have just by being from the city and wanting it to remain something very special to the people that live there, yet all the while being entirely welcoming to those who choose to come into town to enjoy it with them. It’s hard not to have your heart warmed when you hear things such as Festival Director Sarah Nulty talking about this year’s event, “A huge thank you to everyone who attended and made it a truly wonderful event. The fantastic weather on Friday set everyone in a great mood which lasted across the site all weekend. Musically it was a great year for Tramlines with so many talented artists on the bill. Through Tramlines we get to showcase exactly what Sheffield has to offer and we’re very proud of it.”
John and I have been in discussion that next year we might just join forces and go finally, having looked jealously as this year’s line-up and whinged that we weren’t there. Who was there were the bands, of course. We’ve asked several of them to weigh on their Tramlines 2013 experience, so here we go…
Andrew Parry, keyboardist, Story Books:
Tramlines 2013 was our first band trip to Sheffield, and what a pleasant one it was. Tramlines is one of those inner city festivals that takes over an area of a city, encouraging sprawling crowds on streets and music coming out of its ear holes. Situated a few yards away from the aforementioned tramlines, our venue of battle was The Bowery, a cosy bar with a stage the precise dimensions to squeeze us and our gear on. This made for a real fun set. Nice and close in, we forgot any inhibitions and had a ruddy good time. The crowd were attentive and appreciative, with many a complimentary post-gig word. Which is all you can ask for isn’t it? That, and chips and gravy. And ‘scraps’. We’ll be back, Sheffield. Cheers.
Fran O’Hanlon, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Ajimal:
The cathedral might have been the most beautiful construction site I’ve ever played! Unfortunately, the body of the cathedral is being renovated, but the sound was pretty incredible none the less, such a beautiful and massive space. There was a bigger crowd there for me than I expected, which was lovely to come out to, and really attentive – those kind of venues always seem to inspire pin drop silence.
It was nice to wander round and get a sense of everything going on in Sheffield at Tramlines. I also managed to catch Dutch Uncles who I’d been meaning to see since their last album came out. Brilliant band.
James Leesley, vocalist and guitarist, High Hazels (read my Bands to Watch on them here):
To collectively summarise the weekend in two words, hectically pleasant would probably be accurate. Saturday was a day where we had three shows to play, the first being inside the Sheffield Cathedral. I think we were all particularly excited about playing in the cathedral, it’s quite a rare place to play and sonically speaking, it has a natural sound that we strive for within a lot of our music. The gig surpassed all our expectations and went really well – the audience sounded like they enjoyed it which is always a good sign. Along with the Cathedral, we played at Weston Park and later at Shakespeare’s, which was our highlight. There was a great atmosphere and it was a fitting ending to a very good day.
Sunday, we were on at The Bowery in the afternoon which was another full house and a great show. It was a good way to draw the curtains on our playing for the weekend and we were all really pleased with the response and quite humbled by the way we were received.The rest of the day was the first real chance we had to catch some of the other bands and join the traffic of the festival, which is always nice.
We thoroughly enjoyed it and are looking forward to next year.
Eddie Dullaway, guitarist, Van Susans:
After a 4-hour drive and two festival gigs in Kent on Saturday, we arrived in Sheffield’s Weston Park for the first of two performances. As we were setting up there was an apparent air of anticipation. A crowd, not on their feet, but sitting waiting for the next eargasm. We made for a musical fixation, drawing in with technical interludes and catchy hooks; our set time was halved but it kept us short and sweet and the crowd eager for more!
Our second show was at The Forum at 10.30 PM so with a little time to spare we engaged ourselves in frisbee, interviews, football, eating and more interviews. It was also Olly’s birthday, so a small amount of alcohol was consumed! The second show came bringing much of the crowd from the first into The Forum for an acoustic show which equally entertained the listeners. Overall, it was a brief, hectic but energetic day. We left Sheffield at around 12 AM to return to base (Bromley, Kent) and arrived home at 4.30 AM just in time to see the sunrise.
Ben Duffy, vocalist, Fenech-Soler:
Sheffield, for me, felt like it all clicked from a live perspective. It takes some shows and some experiences to fully get to grips with new material, especially the way we make our music. On the first record we had hundreds of shows testing things out but Tramlines felt like we were fully comfortable. We hadn’t actually slept in few days as we’d come straight from Switzerland so that just added to the mental state on stage. It’s nice getting totally lost in a performance. It’s also always hard at festivals playing songs that no one knows but the reaction has really made the last 12 months worth it. We’re just looking forward to releasing ‘Rituals’ (their second album out on the 2nd of September) now.
Dave Fendick, multi-instrumentalist, Fossil Collective:
Tramlines was pretty cool. We love playing in Sheffield, and it’s always good to be so close to home (as we can sleep in our own beds!) Although the weather forecast predicted rain, it held out and it was nice to arrive and see everyone lounging about, drinking beer and soaking up the vibe.
Playing on a bandstand instead of a normal stage was a nice touch. It made a change from the normal festival stages that we play. The crowd were very receptive too. (The cheap beer helped!) It was a nice family vibe, with lots of little stalls selling a variety of food and drink. We stayed on for a bit after the gig, talking to various people who’d seen us by chance and who were very glad that they did.
We left having made some new friends, and hoping that we get another invitation next year.
Tom Sanders, vocalist and guitarist, Teleman:
We played in the afternoon on Sunday, the weather was calm and temperate and everything seemed nice and relaxed. I don’t think many people knew our songs, or who we were, but that didn’t seem to stop people from enjoying it. I always think these kinds of festivals are about just wandering round and discovering new music anyway. Some of the best shows I’ve seen have been entirely by accident. Sheffield seemed a perfect setting for the festival and I can only see it going from strength to strength!
Bridie Jackson, vocalist and piano and guitar player, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour:
We played two gigs at Tramlines on Sunday, starting off with The Folk Forest, where we enjoyed some great music and our first Pimm’s of the season! The atmosphere was fantastic and the audience were great – we even managed to get them to join in with our rather whimsical Justin Timberlake cover.
Our second gig was at The Riverside, which boasted the highest ratio of cellos on one stage that we have ever seen! All the music was excellent, but particular highlights were The Early Cartographers, The Pocket Satellites and Joe Banfi. Again, the crowd were great and fun was had by all.
Matthew Whitehouse, vocalist and guitarist, The Heartbreaks:
Arrived in Sheffield at about 8 PM. Sat in the van outside the Harley mixing vodka and tonic in the bottle until Russ and Tom from the Crookes walked past and Russ gave us some promotional Red Bull cups. Tom was eating a margarita pizza. Saw the singer from Grammatics (who we went on our first UK tour with) and met the singer from Komokino, who our tour manager Mark used to drum for. Charlie Bone was there too. At about 5 past 10, we walked out to Sharpe’s ending theme as sung by Rifleman Daniel Hagman and played seven songs, including ‘Polly’ for the first time since February. Joe did a nice new drum bit at the end. Dedicated a song to Richard Sharpe and no one laughed. Ate an entire packet of custard creams.
Tom Dakin, guitarist, The Crookes (photograph below from the stage by drummer Russell Bates):
Tramlines is comfortably the highlight of the musical year in Sheffield, and will always have a place in our hearts. We’ve played at every year of the festival and it has been thrilling seeing it grow from its smaller roots into the city-wide, all encompassing event it now is. Every day on our route to our practice room in town we cross the green where the main stage is (Devonshire Green) during the festival, and it’s hard to believe it’s the same place when we’re stood onstage looking out at all the people.
This year has been particularly special for Sheffield music, which really is the lifeblood of our city. Bands such as Hey Sholay, Seize the Chair and High Hazels are just a few of the brilliant new wave of Sheffielders breaking through, and 65daysofstatic created a stunning combination of three-dimensional music and visual effects which left us wondering if our minds would ever be the same again as we wandered in a daze from their installation at the Millennium Galleries.
Needless to say, as the dust settles on this year’s Tramlines, all we can do is try to shake off our hangovers and begin the countdown to next year’s festival. May there be many more.
And that’s it from the bands of Tramlines 2013. Funds and time off from work willing, we’ll be in the thick of next year’s festivities so we can experience first-hand what always sounds like one of the best UK city festivals of the summer. See you soon, Sheffield!