Tramlines – Our Top Ten

The majority of festivals which attract thousands of people are field-based, but even Tramlines’ hashtag #escapetothecity directly opposes this. Last weekend, Sheffield’s city centre was taken over by masses of people ready to experience the multi-genre three dayer, but with the atypical location there was more than just music to experience. From captivating venues to inspirational speeches, here – in no particular order – are our top ten of Tramlines 2015.

  1. Billy Bragg’s speeches
    I may have said this list was in no particular order, but this was a hands down favourite for me; beforehand I had been warned that Bragg’s live shows are an “experience”, and this was a claim that was lived up to. His half-an-hour overtime set saw his setlist interspersed with what can only be described as political rants and prep talks to inspire even the most haggard of hearts in the final hours of the festival. I challenge anyone to go to a Bragg performance, even if you don’t agree with his political views, and not come away motivated to do your bit to change the world.
  2. Slaves’ finale
    Maybe it’s not fair to pick a highlight of the weekend that may well never appear in another set ever again, but oh well. Whilst closing their set with first single Hey, drummer and vocalist Isaac Holman took to the crowd, with a hat. After managing to stand up on the audience and crowd surf a bit, he returned to the stage, sans hat. Then followed a demand for its return, a very real threat to stop the set till it was found, a crowd-wide chant of “where’s his hat”, a plethora of incorrect hats being thrown at him (including a neon bobble one which was louder than their set, and a good five or six from Team Sheffield Hallam), and an eventual reunion. Yes, bizarre, but with the sort of fun that only festivals can boast.
  3. Cathedral
    By having a city festival, almost any acceptable space is turned into a venue – sometimes this may mean the spare six square foot of floor at the front of a pub is cleared of tables and crammed with musicians, but there were rare occasions when these buildings were more glorious that claustrophobia-inducing. One of the main venues, the Cathedral, was a perfect and wonderful example. Of course, the acoustics alone were enough to make the space a fantastic choice, but it’s a rare and wonderful time when you can happily spend all your between-set time gazing at the architecture and admiring the ceiling.
  4. City Hall
    Another brilliant main venue came in the form of the City Hall’s Basement, far away from the wristband collection station and seemingly buried a good way underground. Transported away from the chaos of the ground-level nightlife, this room boasted several of our stand out acts of the weekend including And So I Watch You From Afar. Though the room seemed accustomed to holding events of a more delicate nature in general, it did a brilliant job of containing the massive sound each act delivered, and truly engulfing the audience with it.
  5. Crystal
    For those who couldn’t get to the main festival, the free fringe version served as an apt substitute, and this didn’t (necessarily) mean having to compromise on venue quality. Crystal (where we headed to check out Scarlet) was a fine example, with its intriguing half in/half out architecture and cosy-meets-sophisticated furnishing making it a simply lush space.
  6. Fringe
    In fact, the entire fringe section of the festival is worth noting for all manner of reasons. As well as allowing non-ticket buying punters to enjoy some of the weekend’s delights, these venues showcased an even wider variety of music for those who had a gap in their time. Transforming spaces allowed the festival to flood to very literally every corner of the city, and pushed what the weekend was capable of boasting.
  7. Set-up
    Let’s take things to an even more general level – the entire festival’s set up. Sheffield takes pride in being a city with such nearby countryside links, and whilst not strictly out of the city, the main stage took advantage of this. Despite being a stiff ten-fifteen minute walk from the general “center” of the festival, they managed to get the whole open field, generator-run food vans, ridiculously large flags, canvas covered stalls and generally slightly muddy vibe of a more typical festival alongside the packed rooms of the true inner-city festival.
  8. Food all night
    Whilst in the grand scheme of things, there may have been acts or moments that deserved recognition more than this, I feel this is a fair point for non-McDonald’s fans and potential punters for Tramlines 2016. After you’d enjoyed the festival till the sun was rising, or even just till the small hours, there was food to be found in the city, at Subways if no where else, remaining open 24 hours through till the late-nighters’ nights ended and early-morningers’ mornings began on Friday and Saturday (or Saturday and Sunday, depending which end you’re coming at it from).
  9. Nightlife
    Let me point out again more perks of Tramlines being an inner-city affair; the music doesn’t stop at 11pm when the last band play and the main stage shuts down. Head into the city and you’ll find all the big venues remaining open with DJ sets till the early hours (7am for the Friday and Saturday, 3am for the Sunday) with the likes of Basement Jaxx and Mike Skinner (The Streets) providing the entertainment.
  10. Dominos
    Dominos were handing out small pizzas by Devonshire Green for £3; I feel this point needs no explanation to its brilliance.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

GCWCFWith an enthusiastic combination of familiarity and swagger, Sam Duckworth – better known as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – takes to the stage in one of his final string of shows before giving up the alias. Known not only for his political, but also his personal style of acoustic singer/songwriter music, minus some time off for illness, Sam has spent the past ten years spreading his thoughts, accompanied by a guitar and computer. Whilst the politics become a key part of the show, they are by no means the be all and end all of Sam’s personality, and even if you’re not a fan of accessible, one-man indie-rock, it’s easy to respect him for his attitude.

A few cheers come as response to Sam dedication of the second song of the set; “this one’s for anyone who’s been there since the beginning”. There’s a strong sense of nostalgia and sentimentality as the night works its way through the set, with lengthy gaps between the tracks providing the chance for a trip down memory lane, retelling experiences of previous visits to Nottingham, and events that shaped him through his career. Despite this regular break up of the songs, the evening continues to buzz along nicely with the computerised backing providing entertainment between songs.

Tracks such as best-known I-Spy allow the packed room to display their full-out enthusiasm, the only real hiccup in the first half of the show came from an over-confident and impatient heckler. Disrupting the set mid-song, he accuses Sam of the fact that he “used to be like a young Billy Bragg” – as the man himself highlights, “I’m not a young Billy Bragg, I’m Sam Duckworth”. You have to admire his determination to take his time to resolve the issue, instead of simply letting security brush over the event, even offering the heckler his money back if he didn’t enjoy the show. In response, the lone figure criticises that Sam has “changed”, and as “what’s the problem? Is it me? Is it the guitar? Is it the computer?” only elicits, “where’s the message?”, our host for the evening launches into a political (or more accurately, anti-political) speech.

The energy built up from the en masse cheers and boos to the respective participants in this argument powers Sam into the second half of the show, full speed ahead. The set was at its turning point regardless, and the songwriter makes a point of the fact that the more political songs have not been included to please, but were intended to be placed there anyway. As he continues to be clapped for his confident comebacks to the straggler, Sam launches into another rant, finishes up with describing the argument as an “exorcism”.

After the all-out zest that ensued from the event had worn off, it begins to look as though Sam was thrown off by it; as the mood returned to a vibrant hum, the disruption seemed to catch up with him. Most of the way through a track intro he stops the set to retune, apologising that as it was “basically one and a half minutes of guitar” it would “sound bad” without being tuned fully. Bad enough to stop the set, apparently, but this break gave Sam the chance to gather himself up, and launch into the end of the set with the same momentum he started with.

Call Me Ishmael, Collapsing Cities and War Of The Worlds gave the audience chance to sing their hearts out and do their part in the gig, whilst the highlight of the night came in the form of Whitewash Is Brainwash; sincere vocal work layered with synthesised backing made a beautifully intense and alluring sound. The gig comes to a close after an encore and a turn up in the strobe lighting and folk-infused sound, creating a hectic, bustling singing crowd all equally upset to see him leave the stage for the last time with the GCWCF banner as a backdrop.