Tramlines Diary 2014
Phew, what a cracker. Tramlines 2014 is now history, and I won’t be alone in my opinion that this was the most successful one ever. Admittedly the weather was kind, but the real success was down to the selection of bands, and in particular the Saturday line-up. After 6 years, and charging for only the second time, it was a resounding success. I’ll give you a rundown of some of the things I got up to, but if you went, you won’t need me to tell you why it was so good.
I’m not going to do a step by step account of what I did, and there are reviews elsewhere of some of the acts I saw, so I’ll give you my thoughts on the weekend from the perspective of a few days distant from it all.
Friday night is always full of expectation, but with it only really kicking off after most people have finished work, there wasn’t too much to choose from, but that suits me. As I wandered around town waiting for the fun to start, I thought I recognised a bunch of cool-looking dudes strolling through the Peace Gardens. I wasn’t 100% sure until a woman leapt over a barrier for a selfie with them and then I knew. It was Public Enemy! Strolling round Sheffield in the sunshine! Cool! Their barrier-leaping fan and I exchanged cameras for the obligatory photos and I my weekend was made!
If you’re anything like me, as the weekend progresses I get more anxious about fitting everything in. My opening shot was in the Millennium Gallery, with an event curated for the second year by Prism, Sheffield’s renowned arts project. If you’ve never attended a Prism event before, you really should, as they always put on an interesting combination of performance and modern multi-media art. The band I saw playing were a band from Castleford called allusondrugs. They rocked; all grunge metal and head-shaking long hair, inevitably putting me in mind of Nirvana, and with their own well crafted songs too. I had to rush off, with that festival ‘not-wanting-to-miss-anything’ mentality setting in early, so missed all the art displays. Never mind, I had all weekend to get back there. My highlight of the evening was hopefully going to be Kerbdog in the City Hall Ballroom. Backtrack 10 years or so and you’d hear me espousing the virtues of a band called Wilt, from Dublin, who very inconsiderately allowed me to miss them when they played Sheffield, then even more inconsiderately split up. The reason for my lapse into nostalgia is that Wilt were a more lightweight, pop version of Kerbdog. Both were fronted by Cormac Battle, and since Wilt’s demise, he’s been persuaded, mainly by the eternally enthusiastic fans, to occasionally reanimate Kerbdog. My flabber was never so gasted as when I saw they were headlining in the City Hall Ballroom, as until now I wasn’t aware they’d played outside Ireland. I was pleased how many others joined me to see them, and amazed how many were clearly bigger fans than me as they knew all the words! My favourite Tramlines moment ever occurred towards the end of the set, when it became clear that someone had brought their baby! He couldn’t have been more than a few months old, and was complete with his own ear-defending headphones. Someone in the band noticed her and when she held him aloft, both band and audience gave them a rousing cheer.
Saturday was the day Tramlines came of age. The sun shone on a city, no longer in denial that festivals like this have to be free, and which was ripe for a day of music the like of which has never been seen here before. Booking Sister Sledge for the end-of-the-day sing-a-long in Devonshire Green was a master stroke, but Public Enemy? At teatime? Mental! As expected both of those events closed the gates on anyone not in there before show time, but there was plenty of other entertainment to be had. Many of those disappointed at not getting were well served with plenty of other bands to discover.
It’s always tempting to try to cram as many bands in as possible on a day like this, but I made a conscious effort not to try to do too much, but to take some time to meet friends, take a longer look at some bands, and pace myself more than in previous years. Not only that, but those slave drivers at Exposed magazine had me writing reviews for the Tramlines Times, so I needed some occasional me-time. I also decided to try to see a range of acts. It’s too easy to just use my press-pass to sneak into closed-gate arenas at the last minute, but there’s more to Tramlines than that. It’s a few days when music is everything, and that means appreciating everyone from the seasoned festival headliners to the lad playing acoustic guitar in a half empty pub with a handful of his friends and his mum.
I saw seven acts that day, from the arena-filling Sister Sledge and before them Public Enemy, to John Birkett, singing one of his first ever gigs to his friends in the Wick at Both Ends. All of them contributed to the feeling that music was everywhere. I had an itinerary in my head, but was easily persuaded to ignore it. I met some friends in the cathedral at See Emily Play, who’d been told to go see the IC1’s at the Millennium gallery, who I knew nothing about, but off we trotted. They were little more than average, but it was fun not to have any idea at in advance what to expect. I ended the day in the arena with Sister Sledge. Now, I’ll come clean and admit that, back in the day, I was a bigger Sister Sledge fan than most, certainly in their early years, when they recorded with Chic, and then with Narada Michael Walden. This was their finest hour in terms of single success, spawning their biggest hits, and the two albums they made back then I still listen to today. They are full of fabulous songs, but the crowd only wanted Lost in Music, Greatest Dancer and of course, We Are Family. As such we were treated to extended jams, drum solos, dancers up on stage. This made the show last the required hour or so until We Are Family finished the show. I’m sure not many realised the irony of the line ‘I’ve got all my sisters with me’. There were once four sisters, not three. Kathy Sledge, the only one I’d have been able to name in the pre-Wikipedia dark-age, was sued by the others when, after leaving to go solo, she tried to take her own ‘Sister Sledge’ on the road in Australia, claiming her older sisters had retired! The line ‘I’ve got all my legally available sisters with me’ doesn’t scan, so perhaps we should let it pass. I did miss her voice, as she sang lead on their biggest hits, but no-one else seemed to notice, and it didn’t make any difference when the whole of Devonshire Green was grooving and singing along.
Tramlines Sunday is always a much more relaxing day. I started out in the far reaches of Tramlines, at the Red House to see Chromatography, a group made of young musicians performing together for one of the final times before they depart for various universities around the country. They will be a loss to the local music scene, with some excellent playing, particularly from guitarist Mike Nunn. Then I spent a few hours in the Folk Forest in Endcliffe Park. This has really taken Tramlines out into the community and has been embraced by the great and the good of the leafy suburbs of S7 and beyond. It’s free, and you can set out your picnic blanket and take the kids. What’s not to like?
After the gentle entertainment of the Forest, I made my way into town. Most things I wanted to see were in Sheffield Cathedral, although I did venture to Corp for Rolo Tomassi, and the Millennium Gallery for Blood Sports. Woman’s Hour weren’t as good as I’d hoped they’d be, and Screaming Maldini played the set of the festival for me (my review appears elsewhere in these pages), but two things need a mention before I close. Firstly, my discovery of the festival. I always feel it’s been a good Tramlines if I can leave with a new discovery under my belt, and this year it was We Were Evergreen. Their performance in the cathedral was stunning and you should seek them out asap. The other surprise event of the day was wrestling! Not the WWF American version, but the grannies-and-children-in-the-audience pantomime that used to be the province of Saturday teatime World of Sport with Dickie Davies. I’d no idea this ‘sport’ still went on, but apparently they meet every month in the Library Theatre, and they opened their doors to any Tramliners who strayed from the beaten track on Sunday.
So there it is. Tramlines 2014 all done and dusted. Beat that 2015!