Sheffield’s ‘inner city music festival’ is 10 years old this year. What started as a relatively small affair on the city’s Devonshire Green has slowly grown in size. The initial idea was for it to be like the now discontinued Camden Crawl in London, where festival goers could travel from venue to pub to bar seeing a weekend’s worth of bands.
A couple of years ago, the main stage was moved to The Ponderosa, just outside the city centre, and now it’s moved even further away from the city, in Hillsborough Park. The city centre presence is still there (under the title Tramlines Free Fringe), but the move to Hillsborough has enabled Tramlines to feel more like a ‘proper’ festival than in years gone by.
I only went to the Saturday of Tramlines, but after being a skeptic over the move to Hillsborough, I was completely won over. The site is, frankly, perfect – compact enough to walk around, with stages set far apart to stop any sound leakage. The area in front of the Main Stage is absolutely huge, and you’re guaranteed a decent view even if you’re perched near the back. There are also two other stages – The Leadmill Stage and T’Other Stage – covered by a giant tent, while a smaller stage (The Library Stage) is situated right by the main entrance of the West Gate.
Also, the atmosphere was excellent – I’ve always found Tramlines in the past to be a bit gruelling, with thousands of people crammed into the city centre, fuelled by alcohol. Although I’ve never seen any trouble, you always felt that it could start at any moment. This year, it was much better, far more family friendly (I think this may have been many children’s first ever festival), and the general atmosphere was friendly and happy.
The first act I saw was Self-Esteem at The Library Stage – this is Rebecca Taylor (from Slow Club)’s solo project. Now anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Slow Club fan, and I was intrigued to see how Taylor’s solo songs would differ from her (former?) band. Happily, she sounds like a woman reborn – the Self-Esteem material is very different from Slow Club, but just as accessible and addictive. It’s electronic pop, with a slightly wonky edge, and the influence of Taylor’s collaborators Django Django can be heard loud and clear. Taylor has obviously worked hard on the visual side of things as well – all band members dressed in identical t-shirts proclaiming (ahem) “squirt isn’t pee”, and songs like Your Wife and Wrestling were accompanied by some impressive synchronised dance moves. I’m just desperate to hear the album now (as, incidentally, was the little girl dancing down the front who looked like she was having the time of her life).
After Self-Esteem, I took a walk around the site, before watching the last couple of songs from The Everly Pregnant Brothers on the Main Stage. This eight-strong ukulele band have pretty much become local heroes in the last few years, but I have to admit I don’t really ‘get’ them. They cover well-known songs like Kings of Leon’s Sex On Fire, but replace the lyrics with comedy references to Sheffield culture (i.e. No Woman No Cry is reborn as No Oven No Pie, with plenty of references to Hendo’s). Not my bag particularly, but they were going wild at the front, so they must be doing something right. Plus, the man of the moment, Sheffield’s new Lord Mayor Magic Magid made a crowd-pleasing appearance on stage.
Then it was over to T’Other Stage – I caught some of Norfolk soul singer Mullally who didn’t make too much of an impression, and he soon made way for Fickle Friends, who won the day for best stage set-up: a huge banner with their name on, plus an impossible amount of plans and foilage. Fickle Friends created a fantastic atmosphere, with the entire tent bopping up and down to tracks like Hard To Be Myself and Swim.
Back over at The Library Stage, York’s King No-One were marking themselves out as stars of the future by whipping up their young fans into a frenzy with their sleek indie-pop songs like Alcatraz. They were quickly followed by Scottish duo Honeyblood, who were one of the highlights of the day. There’s only two of them, but they create an almighty racket – old songs like Killer Rat still pack a punch, while more recent tracks like last year’s Babes Never Die already sound like classics. The only surprise is that they weren’t playing a bigger stage.
As the sun started to draw in, Rae Morris closed out the Library Stage, but I wanted to get a decent spot to see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Gallagher is probably the most high-profile headliner that Tramlines have attracted yet, and his booking felt like a bit of a statement of intent.
The sound quality on the Main Stage for Noel wasn’t great – it was a bit quiet, which is understandable in a residential area, but a bit of extra volume would have worked a treat. It was a set heavy on highlights from the most recent High Flying Birds album – tracks like Holy Mountain and It’s A Beautiful World were greeted like old friends, but it was clear what the Tramlines crowd were really waiting for.
“You like Oasis, right? OK, this is going to go well”, before launching into Little By Little. There was also the always welcome Half The World Away, before the inevitable raucous reaction to Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger. Those songs have become as familar as wallpaper in an old house, but it’s impossible to deny the power of thousands of people bellowing along with them (the crowd even forgave Noel for baiting them with “the only good thing that’s come out of Yorkshire is the teabags and you know it”….well, if you will boo the very mention of Manchester…).
With a final cover version of All You Need Is Love by The Beatles (you may not have heard, but Noel really likes The Beatles) closing the evening, it was time to beat the queue for the buses and take my leave. Tramlines 2018, against all the odds, proved to be a huge success.