Across Sheffield, Friday 19th – Sunday 21st July
It seems barely five minutes ago when Tramlines; Sheffield’s very own metropolitan festival, launched back in 2009. Bringing together a diverse mix of local & national acts across some of the city’s most popular and cherished venues, it quickly became a welcome addition to the calendar.
Five years on, and like any growing child, it’s fair to say there having been a few teething problems along the way. With the loss of Nokia as a major sponsor, and with Sheffield Council’s decision to pull their funding, this fifth anniversary has seen the festival have to adapt or die; controversially bringing in day & weekend wristband charges for the more established venues, for what was once dubbed the ‘Free For All’ festival.
Friday got off to the best possible start, with a cracking set from Counting Coins at The Bowery. Having stumbled across them by sheer luck, drawn in by the programme listing of “Skanking: Ska, Punk, Gypsy, Hip Hop”, their sweltering half hour set did not disappoint, combining high tempo rhythms, offbeat guitars, and lots of pogo-ing.
Down to the Library Theatre for something completely different. It feels like David Ford has spent an eternity traipsing up & down the country; the accomplished songwriter and multi talented musician seemingly forever on the verge of a breakthrough. And yet there was no sign of fatigue or any lack of passion creeping in just yet. With old favourites ‘State of the Union’ and ‘Go To Hell’ seamlessly mixed with material from recent effort ‘Charge’, Ford came across as sincere and driven as always, with the theatre’s intimate surroundings proving the perfect setting. A tease of The Smiths’ ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ before the encore certainly left me desperate for more.
It’s fitting that it fell to Hey Sholay to bring the evening to a close with their headline set in the Cathedral – the iconic building packed full for a band that have been tried & tested favourites of the festival over recent years. Wonderfully unique, the cathedral setting added that extra special to feel to their delightful pop hooks.
After a fortnight of relentless sunshine it was somewhat of an inevitability that Saturday got off to an overcast start. Determined not to the let gloomy weather dampen spirits, The Everley Pregnant Brothers brought much needed cheer with their set from roof of the Fat Cat. There must have easily been a few thousand or so spectators crammed into the car park for their ukulele enthused parody covers, with ‘Pork Pie’ (Parklife) and ‘Common People’ getting the biggest laughs.
Back in the City Centre, and Sky Larkin looked completely at home with their mid afternoon slot on Stage 2 in the O2 Academy. Whilst world domination may have not quite happened for the once hotly tipped Leeds trio just yet, they still packed an almighty punch – tracks such as ‘Fossil, I’ soaring to as dizzy heights as ever.
With a name like Gnarwolves, it’s to little surprise the Brighton punk trio’s set at the Corporation was every bit a raw and energetic as their moniker would suggest – their blend of hardcore lapped up by all in attendance. A brisk walk across to the The Plug and there was just time to catch Hot Soles’ headline slot. Well known throughout city, the duo clearly relished the home crowd reception, with frontman / guitarist Kieran taking an impromptu mid set stroll across the top of the bar. A blistering end to the second day.
As with any festival worth its salt, Sunday morning was a bit of a struggle. Fortunately Dave Woodcock’s early afternoon acoustic set at the Frog & Parrot was the ideal remedy. With Dave currently recording material for a forthcoming new record with The Dead Comedians, the set was a pleasant mix of some old, some new, with a tasty Lach cover thrown in for good measure.
Back down in the O2 Academy, and Wet Nuns showed little mercy to anyone hoping for a quiet Sunday. Their storming set saw the Sheffield / Leeds duo play their trademark blues tinted with heavy rock loud enough to rival that the sound levels of much bigger bands. Drummer Alexis even managed to get himself stuck stood on the top his drum kit, much to the amusement of frontman Rob. I’m not sure the word wild quite cuts it.
My first and only trip of the weekend to the Main Stage on Devonshire Green was a pleasant one for Slow Club’s early evening slot. The majority of the crowd may have been more than content to just sit and nod along, but that didn’t make the duo’s twee pop numbers any less enjoyable.
Upon arriving for one final stop at the Harley, it was bizarre to find audience and bar staff alike mesmerised in a seemingly hypnotic gaze towards the stage, amidst a fuzzy noise of electronics beeps and screeches. This of course could only mean one thing – the ever-inventive Thomas Truax was on stage with his peculiar collection of homemade instruments and mind-bending gadgets.
Once the Truax spell was eventually broken, the task of closing the weekend fell to recent Futuresound runners up Witch Hunt. Coming off the back of the hype surrounding their forthcoming Leeds Festival appearance, and a recent team up with Gorilla Perfume who scented one of their tracks, it’s no surprise the Leeds duo drew a big crowd. A few songs in & it was very hard not to start throwing comparison with the The Kills around – frontwoman / guitarist / percussionist / banshee Louisa Osborn having that same siren like draw as a young Alison Mosshart, whilst guitarist Chris Mulligan going for the more brooding guitarist act that has served Jamie Hince so well. Musically, that is where the similarities end, with Witch Hunt peddling a much darker, less polished sound – that only adds to their mystique, aptly captured their recent haunting effort ‘Crawl’.
And so that was Tramlines for another year. Despite facing its biggest challenges and controversy to date, it somehow delivered one of its best years. As the saying goes, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it”.