Tramlines 2017: Must Sees
Get the lowdown on the must-see acts at this year’s Tramlines from Exposed music writer and Tramlines old-hander Mark Perkins.
You’d need the wisdom of Solomon to choose where to go to hear the best bands over the Tramlines weekend. Fortunately we have the next best thing, the Up The Narrow Stairs Tramlines Guide. There’s no ranking to these choices, they are just the things I think will be the standout gems amongst the mind-blowing range of options available. There’s a choice of paid for stuff, with your Tramlines day or weekend tickets, or you could just go to some free Fringe events in the pubs, bars and clubs, so I’ve tried to look at what’s on offer everywhere.
Here’s the best of the Tramlines events, and I’ll follow it with some picks from the Fringe.
LOGS is Sheffield’s own supergroup, formed by some of the members of Wet Nuns, Drenge, Menace Beach, Saif Mode and Seize The Chair. Tramlines has plenty of one-off shows, bringing together groups of Sheffield musicians, which perhaps indicates how much affection they all have for the event. This should be a great opener on the Devonshire Green stage on Saturday. Who knows what to expect from this collaboration of talents, but you’ll certainly not see these musicians on the same stage again any time soon, I’m thinking.
Tramlines has something of a history of supporting emerging rap talent, and booking Ms Banks to perform looks to be carrying on with that trend. This is not for the faint-hearted, as she tackles some uncomfortable home-truths with her songs, but she is an artist who feels a compelling need to have her voice heard, and that’s just what will be happening in the Momentum Music Fund Tent on Friday as Tramlines weekend kicks off. She is about female empowerment, encouraging women to stand up to whatever has been working against them, and not accepting the role someone else seeks impose on them. With the string of awards she’s already gathered, it seems she’s not only being listened to but that her undeniable talent has been recognised
Just when you thought you’d seen every combination out there, along comes this Scottish-Irish-Indian-English fusion. Quite what that will sound like is really most intriguing, although not many marks out of 10 for putting in the effort when you were thinking of a band name guys. At least YTK would have kept us guessing for a bit longer. Listening to them in the Folk Forest, as the evening sun starts to set, will be a interesting end to the first full day.
If there’s a band at Tramlines that has to be seen in a stadium setting, Twin Atlantic were always going to be the ones. If you like your emo/power-pop loud and proud, then this will be your Friday treat. Even if this isn’t your usual tipple, you should think about going along. Music is a broad church, and festival music even more so. Their massive hit, Heart and Soul will be in there somewhere, and I defy anyone not to be singing along when they play it.
They have emerged from the Brighton music scene that’s so strong at the moment, and are my top-tip of the festival for coming back in the next few years to play a headline set. Their songs are full of riffs and loud punchy beats, which give way to more intimate moments mid-song, only to suddenly turn you round and throw you back into the maelstrom of their swirling, enveloping guitar sounds. When they play on the Sunday afternoon in the Momentum Music Fund tent, I’ll be down the front. See you there.
The girls from M.O have come a long way, slowly and steadily building a fan base over the last few years. They first played Tramlines in 2013, and Annie Ashcroft is an ex-pupil of High Storrs School! Back then, they were playing acoustic sets in pubs on Division Street. So much has changed in the last 4 years, as they’ve now made it onto the Devonshire Green Stage on the Saturday evening. They’ve recently lost founder member Frankee Connoly, but seem to be continuing as a duo, at least for the time being. Their dedication to old-school RnB girl groups has paid off and they are now a successful chart act. If you like your music in a TLC/En Vogue style, get down there.
Hot 8 Brass Band
From New Orleans, they will set the entire Ponderosa Park audience dancing on the Saturday afternoon with their jazz and funk arrangements of tunes you may well know, but will never have heard played like this. Their music transcends all tastes, and it’s become a tradition for Tramlines to put on an act to get everyone on their feet early on the Saturday afternoon, as the party begins, and this conglomeration will fit the bill perfectly. They’ll fill the stage too, with an ever changing membership, there are sometimes 10 of them by the time they hit the stage. Get down.
I’ve lost track of the number of ties I’ve seen Neil play in Sheffield, to the point where he’s probably the Sheffield artist I’ve seen more than any other. I first heard his beautiful song, London Road, in 2007, and I still listen to it from time to time. He has continued to release albums and EPs over the years, and turns up playing in the most unlikely of places. The last time was at one of those ultra-secret and special Sofar gigs in someone’s flat in Nether Edge, so I’m looking forward to another slice of his acoustic loveliness, and lyrical excellence.
Cate Le Bon
Now this is a tough one to categorise, and I’d probably make life easier for myself if I just tell you, she’s different. She’ll make you sit up and take notice from the beginning to the end of her Folk Forest set, and this is a gig I’m really looking forward to, as I’ve spent a good deal of time listening to her mesmerising voice and hypnotic music. Her forth album, Crab Day, from last year, is as fascinating today as it was when I first heard it. Unusual and slightly unhinged songs, together with a wound-up guitar sound have impressed just about everyone I’ve played them to.
If you want the definition of an upcoming band, with bags of talent and who you’ll one day be able to boast you saw first at Tramlines, look no further than Blaenavon. Their infectious and lively music will light up the Folk Forest on Saturday early evening, so get there in good time so as not to miss them. Ben Gregory is the man to watch, with song-writing compared to Elliot Smith, and lyrics to savour, there’s no stopping this lot.
They are continuing the tradition of Glasgow-based dance acts, picking up the baton from predecessors such as Code 9 and Hudson Mohawke. Their sound is a dance-based collage of beats and harmonies, as the duo of Amandah Wilkinson and John Baillie have been impressing anyone with an ear to listen recently. They play the Momentum Music Fund tent on Saturday, and should please fans of electronic pop/dance music – and where better than Sheffield to do that?
OK, I had to put one big name in my list, and I can’t turn down the chance to see All Saints. And it won’t just be a nostalgic trip back to the Nineties hits either. Their Red Flag album from last year showed they still had something to say. The opening track, One Strike, can stand up with any of their earlier hits, and vocally they sound more assured than ever. Welcome back ladies.
Sheffield’s Sgt Pepper Project
If you missed last year’s Revolver project, you’ll not want to miss this, and if you were there, you’ll be excited about this even more ambitious follow up. It pretty much describes itself without any help from me (or my friends); Sheffield musicians getting together for another one-off, beginning to end, Beatles album performance. They seem to be keeping the list of who’s involved a closely guarded secret, which makes it even more exciting, but I’ve no doubt there will be several members of the bands you’ve know for all these years. Sing alongs in the Folk Forest will never be better than this.
In the spirit of the original Tramlines, there are free, or almost free, gigs all over Sheffield throughout the weekend. The venues I’ve looked at range from former Tramlines venues going it alone, such as the City Hall Ballroom, to established venues such as Crystal, and there’s even newer ones such as the Abbeydale Picture House. The City Hall Ballroom has been where I’ve discovered some incredible bands over the years, and their £2 entry seems nothing when compared with the potential delights of the day they have curated.
Myrkur is a one-woman black metal project from Denmark – just the sort of underground, weird and wonderful act that typifies the acts they put on in here during Tramlines, and her real name was even kept secret when she was initially signed to Relapse Records. Quite what we’ll see on stage will be part of the excitement, but it promises to be interesting.
Another black-metal band, but from Belgium this time, who scream and holler their way through their particular brand of loud, and are another band who as far as I know have never played in Sheffield before, and may never again. It may not be your initial choice for a relaxing evening of entertainment, but you should try to sample all kinds of music I reckon, so give them a try why don’t you?
My pick of the bunch down in the depths of the Ballroom are Gallops, who are from closer to home; Wrexham in fact. They have re-united after their well received debut a few years ago to release a second album of electronica and experimental rock. This is the more melodic end of the post-rock fest you’ll find down there, so if you choose just one to sample, I’d recommend this lot.
The music that’s on in the Crystal Rooms over Tramlines weekend is so ridiculously good I’m actually quite annoyed. If this was any other weekend I’d have no reason to move from there the entire time, as I’d be able to watch a procession of the best new bands in the country turn up in quick succession, in what is really a showcase of the best new and exciting talent in Sheffield and the UK. Two of the bands on this year, Desperate Journalist and October Drift have, at previous Tramlines, played some of the very best sets I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to pick just a few acts but I’ll have a go. And if it could actually be any better, it’s free entry all weekend.
After Desperate Journalist played Crystal at Tramlines a couple of years ago, they were so incredibly good, I made a point of interviewing them for the magazine when their second album came out this year. You will be mesmerised by lead singer Jo Bevan, such is her stage presence, but the three-piece backing her somehow create a wall of sound the like of which I’ve not heard before. If they come anywhere close to being as good as they were in 2015 I’ll be grinning for the rest of the weekend.
Last year’s Crystal triumph for me. As a soon as they took to the stage the whole place went mad. Don’t be put off if you’re not familiar with their material, although you’d be hard pushed to avoid it if you’ve been listening to the right sort of radio stations this year. This event will transport you, as their energy will take over the room. There will no doubt be songs sung from atop the speaker stacks, or it wouldn’t be October Drift.
My other three picks in Crystal are bands I have never seen, but intend to catch if I possibly can over the weekend. Sheafs I know little about, but I do know they are from Sheffield and their music is an exciting indie blast of guitar music. Frazer are another Sheffield band who deserve a listen and Avalanche Party will be playing their brand of more atmospheric guitar music. Further out of town, at the Abbeydale Picture House, there are some interesting gigs.
Bonnacons Of Doom
From Liverpool, they are a band I know little about, other than their live shows are incendiary, and singer Kate Smith creates a frenzy of vocals over loud and exciting music. Swirling capes, band members wearing perception shifting-mirrored masks and a psychedelic wall of sound all come together in what my fellow reviewers have struggled to describe, so go along and see for yourself,
Another psychedelic rock experience, mixed with prog and folk influences, they are my pick of the weekend at the Picture House. They’ve been around for a few years, gathering positive reviews for their music and their live shows.
Over in the Plug, In Sulks are playing. They are local lads who are quickly gathering a fanatical following, after only a few gigs around Sheffield. I’ve managed to miss them play their first few gigs, but I’ve seen front man Tom Nugent before, and if the musicians he’s now playing are any match for his immense talent, this will be storming show. Get there early, there will be quite a crowd down the front waiting for this lot.
They have played Sheffield a few times recently at times when I couldn’t be there, so their Washington date is hopefully when I’ll finally catch up with them on the Friday night. Guitarist Dino Sofos is a Sheffield lad, and something of a Tramlines veteran, playing with various groups over the years, and if their brilliant recent single release Demento is anything to go by, this will be a gig to remember.
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