Folk Forest Simon Butler

UTNS: Tramlines beyond the headliners

Mark Perkins looks beyond the headliners, to find some of the more hidden gems of Tramlines, as we go Up The Narrow Stairs to bring you his Top 25 Tramlines picks.

There’s just a week to go until Tramlines 2015. I’ve got a programme in front of me, I’ve got a highlighter in my hand, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Every year the best gigs are often in the smaller venues. Remember Alt-J in the Bowery? Need I say more? In a relentless quest to save you from ‘why-wasn’t-I-at-that-gig’ syndrome in the months ahead, I’m here to save you from the misery of missing out. I’ve picked 25 acts without any real consideration to scheduling. You’ll not be able to see them all, but at least you can’t say you didn’t know.

Alcest – Saturday, 20:10, City Hall
If you like your pop music a little bit dreamy, a little bit shoe-gazy, but all the while still hanker for a bit of black-metal, look no further. All the way from France, this really is a class booking from those nice Tramlines people. Alcest have virtually invented their own little niche genre, and I can’t imagine the opportunity to see them will happen again any time soon. Some people regard this gig as being worth the price of a Tramlines ticket on its own.

Anathema – Friday, 21:00, City Hall
Watching the headliners on the opening night at the City Hall has become the place to be in recent years. Last year it was Kerbdog, this year it’s Anathema. Numerous albums over more than 20 years stand as testament to their staying power, and their gothic-metal sounds is as good as it gets. Even if this is not the sort of music you might normally listen to, give it a go, you will be astonished I promise you.

Aquilo – Sunday, 20:30, Cathedral
By the end of Sunday you will be more than ready for a sit down. It’s grand to find a comfortable chair when you’re getting on a bit, so even if they haven’t got seats provided by Shackletons, indulge yourself with the Lake District’s finest soundscape artists, Aquilo.
Their ethereal, electronic sounds will blend perfectly with the Cathedral surroundings and ease your pain as you approach that inevitable post-Tramlines crash.

Awooga – Friday, 19:00, City Hall, and also Sunday, headlining West Street Live (free)
Tipped by the reliable BBC Introducing, Awooga provide a loud and fuzzy-guitar led brand of music that has been impressing fans of this type of progressive rock. If you miss them at the City Hall, or you’re just sampling the free Fringe events, there’s a second chance to catch them as they close West Street Live’s Sunday night session, but heaven knows what time that will be.

Bartholin’s Glands, Sunday, 19:00, Millennium Gallery
I’ll not speculate on why performance-artist Bartira Sena chose to perform under this name, but I think we’re all very grateful to Batholin’s Glands in one way or another. This is one from the more experimental end of the Tramlines spectrum. Hybrid Vigour Records, based in Sheffield, have put together some truly left-field events for Tramlines Sunday, and I have a feeling this one will be as odd as it is interesting. There will be noise, melody and weirdness in equal measure I’m sure, but I really don’t know what to expect from this show. Brit Pop it ain’t.

Beth Frisby – Friday, 21:30, Millennium Gallery
Beth Frisby, another BBC Introducing sponsored act, combines electronic sounds with her gorgeous vocals, coming as she does from the hotbed of creativity that is Nottingham’s current music scene. If you’re looking for someone with real potential to be a big star, this is the one for you.

Bjorn Torske – Saturday, 01:00, Fusion
Downbeat and groovy electronica from Norway is something you might well associate with groups like Rokysopp. In fact he was an early band member before he left to have considerable success as a producer, DJ and purveyor of beats from a climate even Sheffielders would find a bit grim. If you’re still awake and sober by the early hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning, shame on you, but try to find your way into Fusion to give this guy a listen. Chances are no-one else will actually be standing around and listening, they’ll all be getting down with their bad selves. Like you do. And it would be rude not to join in…

Blanck Mass – Friday, 23:30, Millennium Gallery
As the first day draws to a close the headline act in the Millennium Gallery will be hard to top. Blanck Mass is the solo project of Ben Power of the Fuck Buttons, so if you’re familiar with them, you’ll know what to expect. His side project is a little more accessible, and, dare I say more dance oriented than his work with the rather rudely named trouser fastening accessory. If you’re extra nice to him, he might play ‘Sundowner’ which was used as part of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

Blossomer- Sunday, 19:30, Cathedral
This is a new and emerging Sheffield band, about which it’s not easy to find out much information, but their music, as the saying goes, speaks for itself. Falsetto vocals over layers of synths and other electronic instruments will fill to vaulted ceilings of the Cathedral as only this kind of ambient music can.

Cleft – Saturday, 17:20, City Hall
Now who doesn’t like a bit of good old prog-rock? Well I certainly do, but all those really long tracks? They were fine when I’d not much else to do but burn a few joss sticks, but nowadays I’m a busy man. People to see, tweets to twit, instagrams to post. Cleft are the answer to my instant gratification urge. They cram 15 minutes worth of prog-rock riffs into every 3 minute song, and have a great time doing it.

Desperate Journalist – Sunday, 17:00, Crystal
I first heard these on our Sheffield Live radio show, and was impressed straight away. They’re exciting, fresh and straight from the current underground scene in London. The two boys/two girls combo are as cool as it gets. Add to that their charismatic and energetic front woman Jo Beven bouncing around, and it’s no wonder their live reviews are so universally brilliant. This is at Crystal, one of the Fringe venues, where the weekend’s entire line up looks like the best place to see up-coming, exciting new bands. If you plan to spend the weekend in a venue that seems to have its finger on the pulse, with an ability to spot tomorrow’s headliners, this is the one.

Errors – Saturday, 22:30, Millennium Gallery
The Prism art installation project have again selected the Saturday bands in the Millennium Gallery, which means that this is going to take some beating as one venue I could quite happily spend the entire day in. Errors have been creating their own brand of intelligent synth and guitar indie/dance music for over 10 years, and this will be a euphoric explosion of rhythm and catchy instrumentation. All the way from Scotland, imagine the music of Kraftwerk, but with someone filling in the gaps when they weren’t looking.

Ghost Culture – The Harley, 23:20, Sunday
I’ll be in need of a wake-up call by the time Ghost Culture hit the stage on Sunday night, and this is laid-back, stripped down, dance music with gentle vocals and subtle instrumentation, but don’t be put off, it has a groove that will get under your skin and have you shuffling until the early hours. In fact this may well be the perfect chill-down event to get you through to Monday.

Gnod – Sunday, 21:00, Millennium Gallery
They’ve been around for a few years, with a fluid membership, but that was always their intention. If you’re a fan of Can or Cluster, Neu! or Faust, this one’s for you. Unashamedly picking up the baton from such German luminaries, this will be a hypnotic mix of electronic instruments, deftly layered over a hard-driving drum and bass rhythm section. OK, they’re from West Salford, not West Berlin, but don’t let on.

GoGo Penguin – Sunday, 19:15, Folk Forest
You have to go and see a band with such a great name, whatever they sound like. The good news is they sound unlike pretty much anyone else. As you would imagine in the Folk Forest they will be sounding as gentle as they can, but this is sophisticated stuff. It’s a sort of classical/prog-rock mix, but played in a more acoustic style. Imagine that Yes or ELP turned up, and were told, ‘sorry guys, acoustic sets only today’. You’re now half way to imagining how GoGo Penguin will be waking up the good folk of Hunter’s Bar on Sunday evening.

Inga Copeland – Sunday, 22:00, Millennium Gallery
This is the final act of the night for the Hybrid Vigour Records event in the Gallery, so if you’re still on board, I don’t think anything much will surprise you. Inga was once part of Hype Williams, an experimental and deliberately obtuse duo, who shook things up a few years ago. On her own she has produced some stark and quite remarkable music, which is not for the faint-hearted, and with her distinctive vision of the world shining through the lyrics.

Inherit The Stars – Friday, 19:00, Leadmill
This will be a big gig for Sheffield alt-rock band, Inherit The Stars, but they are more than up to the task. Loud as you like, and then some, they have a knack of writing some of the best songs of this genre that I’ve heard in some time. It’s a crowded market place for the loud and proud brigade, especially in our patch, as we have some excellent bands of this type, but I’ve a feeling that this lot have something a bit special.

Lone Wolf – Saturday, 20:00, Main Stage
I think this might get a little lost on the main stage, but it will be excellent exposure for Leeds-based singer Paul Marshall and what will be (almost) the last ever Lone Wolf performance. He’s not giving up, he’s actually going back to being known as Paul Marshall, in what would once have been a record company nightmare of a wasted PR budget, but these days, it’s just an opportunity for this very talented singer/song-writer to progress his art. Comparisons to Nick Drake and Fleet Foxes will still follow him I’ve no doubt, and he won’t be too disappointed as long as his music gets heard.

Lonelady – Saturday, 18:00, Main Stage
Anyone signed to Warp records has an automatic considered for inclusion on my Spotify playlist, and Julie Campbell, recording as Lonelady has passed the audition. Her music comes alive when performed live, as witnessed in reviews from the Guardian amongst many others. With shades of George Clinton and Prince, and inspired by the post-industrial landscapes of the North, within a couple of years of her debut she was playing SXSW in Austin, Texas. This should liven things up as Saturday evening kicks off in the Ponderosa.

Polar Bear – Saturday, 18:45, Folk Forest
Just how many Mercury nominations do you need before you get the public acclaim you deserve? More than two it seems, or this lot would be much better known. Their post-modern jazz sound will float perfectly amongst the trees as they ease us into Saturday evening in Endcliffe Park. They list Stevie Wonder and Bjork as some of their influences, so traditional jazz fans might have a bit of adjusting to do, but there will be plenty of folk dancing around their hummus and pitta bread salads by the time they leave the stage I’m sure.

Portico – Saturday, 23:30, Millennium Gallery
Prism have pulled in a unique collection of bands for their Saturday show in the Millennium Gallery, so the headline act will have to be a big one, and this is it. Portico’s recent album, Living Fields has attracted an avalanche of excellent reviews, and it certainly is hypnotic and entrancing. Shades of Alt-J were further reinforced when Joe Newman sang lead vocal on several tracks. Don’t know if he’ll be here tonight, but whatever, they will inhabit the gallery space with their layers of sonic beats and blips.

Renegade Brass Band – Saturday, 15:00, Main Stage
The sun will be shining for their afternoon performance. I’ve already arranged it. The irresistible combination of funky rhythms played by a brass band has all the hallmarks of a marriage made in heaven if you’re a son of South Yorkshire. But there’s more. Add some rapping, sampling and scratching into the mix, and this becomes something of a Sheffield sensation. Get down in a Brighouse and Rastrick stylee.

Rolo Tomassi – Saturday, 19:00, City Hall
If it’s Tramlines it must be Rolo Tomassi. They are now almost a permanent fixture, and I’m sure are the only band to have performed every year, so if by any chance you haven’t seen them, make this year the one that you catch them. They released their fourth album this year, and are the undisputed lords of all they survey, in the kingdom that is mathcore rock music. Originally from Stocksbrige, they have travelled the world in the 10 years since they formed, and it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Scott Matthews – Sunday, 15:00, Folk Forest
Scott Matthews is the perfect fit for the Folk Forest folk. Beautiful and inspired acoustic guitar playing and some heartfelt songs of pure emotion, he’s the closest thing we possess to the spirit of Jeff Buckley. Ideally suited to such an intimate venue, he will mesmerise the crowd to the point where some of them will forget to eat their hand-knitted yogurt.

Stuart Falkener – Busker’s Tram, Saturday, Leaves the Railway station at 16:05
Whenever I’ve seen this guy, he’s been the most entertaining thing on the bill. He specialises in getting the audience to join in, and you will not be allowed to just watch his performance, you’ll be in it. I imagine when the tram reaches Ponderosa, you’ll be wishing the trip took longer.

Submotion Orchestra – Saturday, 02:00, Octagon
If you’re still going by 2am on Saturday night/Sunday morning you either haven’t drunk enough, or you’ve drunk far too much and can’t remember where you live. Either way, try to find your way to the Octagon for the Submotion Orchestra from Leeds. Their fusion of jazz, electronica and soul is mesmerising and will keep you grooving until you can go home in the daylight. You’ll hear them all over radio shows like Gilles Peterson, Trevor Nelson and Jo Willey, and their live shows regularly sell out.

And there it is. The venues and locations were accurate when I wrote this, but, as you will be aware, things change, so check first. I’ll be planning to see as many of these as I can, so come and say hi if our paths cross.

Words: Mark Perkins

Photo: Simon Butler

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