[wide][/wide]It’s that time of year again. The one weekend of the year when Sheffield city centre is turned into a festival playground. Despite this being the first year this festival has charged for entry, the streets were heaving as always. Mind you, £6 for a day ticket or £15 for the weekend is a small price to roam the city. Yes, it was a weekend of musical eventfulness with even some moments of randomness but there was something missing from this year’s Tramlines. Somehow, it wasn’t as awesome as last year. I wondered if it was just me but lo and behold I have found other Sheffielders who feel the same way. Let us retrace our steps and see if we can put our fingers on it.
I start my day in the bunting covered Leopold Square. Danny Maddocks Band are a chilled, jazz influenced band befitting of the sophisticated audience who have wondered out of the pricey cocktail bars. Just as I think this, I see an intoxicated guy crouching in an open window above, holding a beer bottle and playing air guitar. I walk out of Leopold Square and behind the City Hall to find a man dressed as a nun, playing a mini classical piano on a floating stage. And just as randomly as he appeared, he disappears down a side street. I reach Division Street and realise this is just the beginning. A group of gangster grannies emerge. Sitting on their big wheeled shoppers, they cruise down the street to Flo Rida’s ‘Low’ (Apple Bottom Jeans) and hold out their fists to ‘respect’ the startled crowd.
I continue walking up Division Street to check out Feelix at The Frog And Parrot. I am greeted by a female vocalist who flaunts pop vocals with some husky hints accompanied by a male acoustic guitarist. The guitarist adds loops, whilst the frontwoman improvises with a tub of hundreds-and-thousands as percussion. The duo continue with a crowd pleasing, cover of Chaka Khan’s, ‘Ain’t Nobody’ before finishing with the vocal stretching, ‘Escape From The Real World’. Next I go to the Cathedral to see new Sheffield based indie band, High Hazels. Their matching chequered shirts tucked into their belted trousers suggest they are an inoffensive, country act but musically they are a typical indie band. The acoustics are complimentary at the Cathedral but the main space is currently closed for refurbishment so this year’s line up are playing the slightly less grand, St. George’s Chapel which, although has some dual worthy swords on display, proved to be a little too cosy.
Then it was time to run up that hill as Kate Bush would say, to the main stage at Devonshire Green for British hip hop artist, TY. His effortless fast raps over chilled out beats make for a talented act who has worked with the likes of Roots Manuva. The set ends with a mega mix of crowd pleasers such as Eurythmics’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ and Queen’s, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ which succeed in getting the crowd moving. He even manages to get them to mirror his dance moves which pretty much boil down to the Macarena jump without the Macarena dance. Although TY was entertaining, those familiar with his material would have been disappointed not to hear tracks such as, ‘Keep On’. I grab a Kopparberg from the bar and sit on the grassy bank before next act, Lulu James begins. A woman in a black leotard, a glittery hood and massive flower coated shoes emerges looking every inch a diva, emerges. With pop songs such as, ‘Sweetest Thing’ and the electronic debut single, ‘Step By Step’, it’s no wonder she has been tipped as the next big thing. However, I prefer the more vocally soulful and hip hop influenced tunes especially with a live band behind her.
I stick around the main stage for Friends, a synth infused pop rock band fronted by a female vocalist in a cap and Yin Yang jacket. They appear to have a mixture of musical influences evident in songs such as ‘Friend Crush’, which contrasts catchy pop hooks with undertones of darker indie bass, whereas the cyber synths on a song about UFOs places them more firmly in the electronic realm. After this, I catch the legendary Buskers Bus to Kelham Island. Although there is a band at the front of the double decker bus, but I can’t hear a thing from where I’m sat. I reach The Riverside, the perfect place to relax on this hectic Saturday. Sat outside in the pebbled beer garden, there are still some dregs of sunshine left as DNAE & The Indigo Sound Project play some soulful jazz from their Kingdom E.P.
I make it back to The Harley in time for Public Service Broadcasting. As I go in I see Grand Old Ukes of Yorkshire stood on a wall across the road, playing a cover of Destiny’s Child’s, ‘Survivor’ to a small group who energetically, and most likely drunkenly sing along. The room resembles a sardine can full of sweat. My glasses instantly steam up but somehow I make it to the front to view this impressive audiovisual performance. Public Service Broadcasting do what they say on the tin with snippets of old fashioned, English accented, soundbites on top of progressive, euphoric, indie dance tunes. After every song the overwhelming chant is, ‘Everest!’ The crowd jump for joy when this song is finally played. I am amazed at the reaction. The whole room hums, or rather, shouts along to a catchy riff which will forever remain etched into my inner ear. Even when the show is over and the duo have left the stage, the crowd are still shouting the tune for a further five minutes. If Alt-J were the must see band of Tramlines 2012, Public Service Broadcasting were the must see band of 2013.
At 9pm, Lianne La Havas takes to the main stage, a promising starlet with a voice as soulful as Andreya Triana’s and a face as sweet as Corinne Bailey Rae’s. As the sun sets and her delicate vocals fill the air, I realise we are witnessing something beautiful. After this, I return to the Cathedral for some dark pop rock in the form of Nadine Shah. Not only does she sound good, her facial expressions pump life into her performance. She finishes with a cover of Julie London’s, ‘Cry Me A River’ which is so much a song in its own right, I don’t realise what it is until the tormented chorus. My friend labels her performance, ‘Harrowing’. All I know is she certainly makes an impression.
I end the night at Bungalows And Bears with Holy Other, an electronic artist who fills your feet with bass and your head with stars. The room is so dark you can barely see two inches in front of you but this makes his performance all the more intense. This act is certainly one to watch out for. So much so that I hear another friend say, ‘Holy Other should blow his brains out before Thom Yorke tries to sing over his music.’
I start my day at the Folk Forest, a lovely, peaceful spot for families and the hungover. There are lots of little craft stalls and then deeper in the trees of Endcliffe Park, a stage where groups of people sit on picnic blankets and unwind to the gentle music of Carl Woodford, a talented and intricate guitarist, joined today by a female vocalist who compliments his deeper vocals. I get a pork sandwich from one of the many food stands before heading into town to see Micky P Kerr at The Hop. He starts with a spoken word piece called, ‘Long Haul Flight’ which is an accurately humorous description including limited leg room, crying babies and people taking full advantage of the free gin and tonics, before moving on to comic acoustic song, ‘Generally Better’ to D:Reams, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ tune.
I head back out of town to Weston Park for Broken Saints, a folk-pop band who sound a little like The Goo Goo Dolls. This festival area has a similar feel to the Folk Forest with its picnic families, dog walkers and face-painted children running around the food stalls and ice cream vans. Broken Saints play a Divine Comedy cover before finishing, surprisingly with a cover of ‘Fade Out’ by Radiohead. I stick around the band stand stage for The Van Susans, a much livelier Levellers-esq folk band who show off their raw talent with nice guitar, violin and drum solos from each member of the band. I walk back into the city centre for Tall Ships in the main room of the O2 Academy. These guys play melodic rock songs such as stand out track, ‘Chemistry’, whilst at other times flexing their electronic muscles with ‘Ode To Ancestors’.
Once I’ve peeled my feet off the sticky floor of O2, I check out the breakdancing competition which is taking place at the International Peace stage in the Peace Gardens. There is a dance routine before the winner is announced and the whole audience is invited to dance on the stage. There are smiles all round. Last but not least on my list is 65 Days of Static Presents Sleepwalk City, a Sensoria Festival style art installation at The Millennium Galleries. With two projectors pointing at a huge screen and 16 speakers surrounding the audience, it is a musically and visually cinematic experience. As the music builds and images flash quicker onto the screen, the result is a complete sensory overload. I feel a little deflated when I realise, ‘That’s it, Tramlines is over!’ And rather than feeling disappointed because I was having so much fun and now it’s over, the truth is, I was waiting for the buzz to take hold of me but for some reason it never did. Oh well, there’s always next year!