For Sheffield, this weekend means more than the Olympics. Forget British pride, it’s all about supporting and celebrating your local community. Nothing says this more than the festival’s name. ‘Tramlines’ the veins that run through and touch so many parts of the city. These last three days have been well and truly awesome in so many ways, that my love for Sheffield has grown as a result. Follow me on a journey into the heart of the city which just as importantly, pumps me out into the industrial bosom of Kelham Island.
It’s half five and I’m ready for action. Violet May are not on for another hour so I make my way to the Frog and Parrot for a swift half and a glance over my programme before going to investigate the Main Stage area. It isn’t particularly busy to begin with, just small groups of teenagers dotted around, some looking like they’ve stepped out of a festival chic magazine article. Violet May front man, Chris McClure takes to the stage in a camouflage army jacket with arms stretched wide, mimicking the cocky attitude of Liam Gallagher. His vocals cannot compete with brother, Jon McClure’s but the band’s sound is the harder side of indie with continuous distorted guitars similar to Queens of the Stone Age. Things have fallen behind schedule at the Main Stage, so I miss Dead Sons in favour of solo act, Juffage at the Cathedral. His chilled, acoustic set is captivating and sounds amazing inside this venue. Juffage is clearly comfortable too, as he paces the stage in his stripy socks, creating twinkling, reminiscing songs from his album, Semi-Circle.
It’s always difficult deciding what to do next at Tramlines because there is always so much happening at once, but after discovering that the timetable at The Leadmill is completely muddled up, I make my way back to the Main Stage for Reverend and the Makers. The area has filled up a considerable amount and the crowd are only too happy to welcome the local grown band in a sea of arms and umbrellas. I feel a sense of belonging as the majority sing along to ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ in the rain, whilst others are slipping down the muddy banks of Devonshire Green.
I’ve been warned by several people that there is no way I will squeeze into The Bowery to see Alt-J tonight. They’re not wrong. As I reach the venue, there is a queue all the way around the block. Some have been waiting for over an hour and ask the bouncer how much longer they’ll have to wait but he tells them there’s absolutely no chance anyone else will get in. Not even me, with my queue jumping wrist band. So I wait next to the entrance until someone leaves, much to the bouncer’s annoyance. Eventually, someone does and I’m in. I start to wonder if it’s all just hype, but as Alt-J begin, I am left in no doubt, they are the hottest act right now, and that’s not just because I’m packed in here like a sardine. I am convinced that if a band is difficult to define, they are doing something really exciting for the music scene, and Alt-J are certainly genre benders. They are intelligent indie but this in no way explains the more electronic, trip-hop elements that make you want to dance. ‘Fitzpleasure’ does just that. The grinding bass-line makes the tiny venue, vibrate in epic proportions, whilst the harmonising vocals add a softer side to this raw sound. Single, ‘Breezeblocks’ from their new album, ‘An Awesome Wave’ has already been a huge success, and it shows by the number of people singing at the tops of their lungs. The phenomenal atmosphere at The Bowery has been enough to prove that, Alt-J are by far, the stars of tonight, outshining even the Main Stage.
Finally, I reach The Harley for AlunaGeorge, a two piece consisting of the chilled, dance vibes of DJ, George Reid and the sweet R’n’B vocals of Aluna Francis. They prove to be another popular act in a small venue, as I cannot get anywhere near the stage. All I can see are the Nokia wristbands which glow green or amber when you slap them. When a group of friends arrive we end up stomping on them and kicking them to each other. Their actual purpose would have been clear if I had been in the main stage area for the Nokia Lumia Light Show. During Alt-J’s performance, I noticed two girls with wrist bands that were flashing in unison and imagine this would have looked awesome if a huge crowd all had their arms in the air. After all the bands have finished, I’m still buzzing, so we head down to Old House for a drink and dance to some indie and rock classics. This looks like a job for Devonshire Chippy then, home.
My excitement builds as the tram gets busier on the way to town. One woman asks me, ‘Is there some big teenagers day out or something?’ Thankfully, there is a good mix of people once I get into the Main Stage area, although I’m horrified by the number of under-age bums on show. I’m just in time for Hey Sholay. It’s only 2pm, but the crowd are up for it, whole-heartedly clapping along to ‘Dreamboat’ and willing to catch vocalist, Liam as he crowd surfs at the end of, ‘The Bears, The Clocks, The Bees’ (a class song, if I may say). I try to follow Liam, as his legs flail towards the back of the crowd, but all of a sudden, he disappears. And then, in a miraculous moment, he’s back on the stage again. Someone afterwards tells me that he simply ran back to the stage, parting the sea of people like a rock’n’roll Moses. Exaggerating? Me?
After this, I take a wander round the city centre. I locate the New Music Stage, outside the City Hall and find a guy leading some kind of hand drumming workshop on the corner of Fargate. This leads me down Surrey Street to the square in the middle of The Lyceum and Crucible theatres. Me and a friend grab an ale from an old fashioned, Hob Goblin caravan and perch on a wall. There’s some sort of entertainer in front of a yellow, American school bus, but I can’t see over the circle of people that have gathered round it. No time to check out the Library Theatre, so it’s back to the Main Stage for Charlie XCX, a young, talented artist who sounds like a more electronic, Marina and the Diamonds. On closer inspection, she looks like a fitness video instructor, wearing a crop top and tight Lycra leggins, finished off with big, Spice Girl shoes. She is clearly confident and does a mean, electro thumping cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s, ‘The Killing Moon’. She finishes with ‘End of the World’, a dance song with a dub inspired bass-line.
Next on the Main Stage, female vocalist, Tigs of Chew Lips is debating what is more essential, ‘Glasses or rock out? Rock out wins. They’re coming off!’ I don’t know who is having more fun, her or the crowd. Electro dance with funky, soulful vocals, I like what I hear. Plus, Tigs has such great energy and stage presence. Definitely the kind of band you want to see live. Then it’s, all aboard The Busker’s Bus! Or not, as it is completely empty. There’s no band and no passengers, so me and my two amigos sit upstairs on the back seat, making up our own ridiculous versions of, ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ and scaring the passengers that get on at the second stop. We get off at Kelham Island and reach The Riverside, only to be told that Tom Attah has cancelled, but no matter, the sun is just about shining so it’s a nice change of scenery, looking out at the River Don. I have to do a double take when I recognise guitarist, Laurie from Hey Sholay working behind the bar. It’s funny reading the drunken, crap girls scrawl on toilet cubicle doors, ‘If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies.’ The surrounding graffiti was not so pretty.
With no time to wait for The Busker’s Bus, we grab a taxi back to the Main Stage, where Ms. Dynamite has warmed up the ever expanding crowd with tunes, old and new. Amongst them is, DJ Zinc collaboration, ‘Wile Out’ which gets the crowd noticeably more excited. Add to this the streaming green lasers and you see a stage completely transformed from the more humble bands of the daytime. The last act of tonight should need no introduction as he has left such an immense mark on what I call, ‘real’ British hip-hop. Roots Manuva takes to the stage, looking sharp in a white suit, supported by a full band and two other rappers. His new material is a lot more playful than his darker, more chilled, ‘Brand New Second Hand’ days, but it’s obvious which is everyone’s favourite when ‘Witness (One Hope)’ drops. All hands are in the air and even the tough guys can’t help moving to this one. I’m convinced it’s already a classic, as it transports me back to the first time I heard it vibrate the dirty walls of the Corporation hip-hop room. ‘Movements’ calms things down, whilst his new collaboration with female vocalist and keyboard player, Rokhsan, has an unexpected electronic sound. Roots Manuva’s music has developed so much over the years, that it touches on everything from, edgy hip-hop, to dub, to reggae, to pop and beyond.
We don’t quite know what to do with ourselves after this, but after a couple of cheaper-than-usual, Dominoes pizzas, we make our way to the hidden, purple pub, Harrisons. There is an interesting split of people, with some looking dapper, dancing to funky house music in the beer garden, and all-day, festival goers, still watching bands indoors. As the bands finish, Oasis tunes are played painfully back to back, signalling the end of the night. Punters stumble into the streets, discovering the ridiculous lack of taxis. No wonder they named this festival after more reliable public transport.
Sunday promises to be more laid back with work looming Monday. I get into town in the late afternoon, welcoming the sun and sitting on the floor amongst many others, between the War Memorial and the City Hall. This would seem quite odd if it wasn’t for the New Music Stage in front of us. Let’s Buy Happiness are a chilled rock band and even when their music does get harder, I am a safe distance away from it becoming too intense. However, this does mean that a lot of people are using this area as a thorough-fare, as this stage area is located slap bang in the middle of a pavement, separating the high-street shops from the pubs. I realise that Let’s buy Happiness’s songs echo those of Paramore on the Twilight soundtrack and are consequently, teen-pleasers.
It’s time for a change of scenery. I go down to Sidney Street to check out Kid Acne’s South Yorkshire which features the Sheffield artist’s pick of rising local hip-hop acts and bands as well as, showcasing artwork by Theo Simpson. The piece consists of a slide show, displaying black and white photos of places in Sheffield that inspired or produced musical talent and therefore, ‘depict the city behind the music.’ This is accompanied by, ‘songs these places sung’. One example is 38 Tasker Road, the house where Joe Cocker was born.
The stage area is in darkness, apart from the eerie red light which glows on, Bad Taste Record’s, Trellion and Sniff. These rappers can be best described as Sheffield’s answer to Foreign Beggars, particularly Trell who spits on the mic like Orifice. Just as down to earth, he insists, ‘I say what I mean and I mean what I say.’ My only criticism is that every song keeps the same slow pace. Next is the heavily praised, Chester P who is someone you either love or hate, judging by those who cheer him on, and those who walk abruptly away. His hip-hop style, spoken word can feel too preachy and political, especially in pieces such as, ‘Conspiracy Theories.’
Then it’s back into the sunlight and up to the Main Stage to see Sunday headliners, We Are Scientists. Singles from their first album seem to be appreciated more than their new material and even though I’m starting to get worn out at this point, I muster up enough energy to dance to ‘Nobody Move, Nobody, Get Hurt’ and ‘The Great Escape’. After yet another Dominoes pizza, (no one said Festivals were healthy) I am persuaded to give The Busker’s Bus another go. This time, there is a band on board. Success! Every seat is filled as Red Hot White play acoustic covers of Kings Of Leon’s, ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Sex On Fire’ before moving onto Red Hot Chili Pepper’s, ‘Under The Bridge’ and Bob Dylan’s, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, all greeted with enthusiastic clapping and whole-hearted, singing-along. I’ve never been so reluctant to get off a bus. The beer garden of The Fat Cat is silent in comparison and before long, I’m falling asleep in my cider. Having missed The Busker’s Bus back to town, I walk up to the Cathedral to get the good, old Supertram home.
So how would I sum up this year’s Tramlines Festival? Intensely entertaining and wonderfully varied would be a start. If anything, there is too much to see and I have barely scratched the surface. I wouldn’t say it was the most family-friendly festival, as the odd drunken idiot did stumble/dance/scuffle around the Main Stage area, but it always felt safe, thanks to the amazing efforts of the security guards, the organisers and the traffic controllers. But it was also the people who made this festival what it was, and the majority of people were absolutely sound. Combine this with awesome music and you’ve got a festival I would have gladly paid for, but fingers crossed, it will remain free, because the whole point is that it welcomes all, whilst supporting local acts, as well as bringing you some of the biggest names in music. It makes you proud to live in Sheffield. Bring on Tramlines 2013.