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.

Tramlines – An Overview

A week and a half ago saw the centre of Sheffield turned into a living venue for multi-genre music festival Tramlines. Along with the music of the weekend (for which you can check out our musical rundown) and our top ten moments of the three days (which can be read about here), there were all manner of other pros and cons and quirky tit-bits about the festival that stand as noteworthy.

Sheffield, like Rome, is built on seven hills. For any non-locals who didn’t know this, at Tramlines you will be quick to discover this painful and brutal truth – well, it’s not too painful till the hills need to be climbed. However, this setback comes in balance with the rather excellent layout of the festival – despite the main stage being oddly far from the rest of the venues since being changed from previous years’ Devonshire Green to Ponderosa, there was a good mix of inner city indoor venues and the more typical festival vibe of flags, glorified burger vans and mud at the main stage.

For the sort of people who are up for going to see any sort of music live, like myself, multi-genre festivals are a dream; there’s no way you can ever get bored. This doesn’t apply for everyone though, and with music ranging from dozens of DJ sets, through political folk-punk and every derivative of alt-rock, to grunge, psychedelia and shoegaze, it’s no wonder the crowds weren’t always up for whatever sing along or audience participation was demanded of them. This seemed to be a fairly weekend-wide phenomena, with even Saturday night headliners Basement Jaxx only having a big impact on the biggest refrains of closing Where’s Your Head At.

Festivals don’t stop with the night’s headliner, but inner city festivals do have the advantage of vamped up clubs over muddy rave tents, and Tramlines was no exception. City-wide, the music continued till 7am on the first two night for the fool hardy, determined, or Jager-bomb fueled, and an almost modest 3am on the Sunday. If you’re the sort to be interested, you could’ve probably made your money back on your £30 ticket with the nightlife alone. However, with great nightlife does not necessarily come great service, particular low points being waiting an hour wait for a drink at the O2 Academy (whilst everyone around us was served)  which coincided with the majority of Mike Skinner’s set, and an unnecessary shove from a Foundry bouncer over a genuine misunderstanding.

Keeping things relatively local meant that the vans which lined the main stage had little extravagance to them (I found a bizarre pang of disappointment at the lack of zebra/ostrich/kangaroo burgers), but quality was improved with this compromise. Personal favourite’s came from Grolsch’s 40o years celebration, as much for the free beer as the quirky photo booth, and The Street Food Chef’s burritos – I can vouch for the pulled pork and veggie option. Head into town, and there’s your usual food stops, plus 24 hour Subway (for the festival’s first two nights) and £3 small Domino’s pizzas near Devonshire Green.

With every square foot of the city turned into a festival venue, there were some intriguing corners dusted off and brought to life. From the stunning architecture of the Cathedral to the booming space of the City Hall’s Basement, let alone the tried-and-tested atmosphere of the made-to-fit venues such as Leadmill and O2 Academy, again this was a something for everyone affair.

Tickets for the weekend were limited, and although the best part of 200 bands made the main festival’s line up, there was more beyond that. Even without a ticket, you could access any of the weekend’s Fringe venues, a selection of which were showcased in the guide, but these were by no means the limits of what was available. The sheer volume of music over the weekend was enough to blow even die hard fans of live acts away, and with Fringe venues showcasing local and lesser known talent, there was every chance you’d wander into a pub for a pint and come out with a new favourite band. That’s surely what festivals are for.

Notts Pop Punk Fest at The Maze, Nottingham

On January 3rd, The Maze hosted what was probably Nottingham’s first festival of 2015 with Notts Pop Punk Fest. Last Saturday, a little further into the year and at a more sensible time for a festival, it returned to the same venue with two stages (main and acoustic), all geared up for over seven hours of music. Though described as a pop punk festival, only a handful of the acts fell strictly into that category – this might explain why the festival’s pages have been scrapped and replaced by Hood Fest, ready to return next March.

A prime example of the non-pop punk side of the festival came from main stage openers Pack Mentality, who we saw give a solid show at Derby’s The Vic the night before in celebration of their EP launch. Though largely similar to their Friday night performance, The Maze’s low stage gave them chance to get involved with the crowd, with frontman Daniel Kevan joining the floor in single Salvation, and better sound quality was reflected in the more comfortable vocals.

The fest seemed to be good at getting opening acts right, with Lauren April on the acoustic stage delighting the crowd with her nigh on flawless vocals. Among a selection of her own work came a handful of well known covers, from Alanis Morissette’s Ironic to Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, and an infectious rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing that even had people outside singing along. Lauren gave a performance that demanded attention and respect, boasting the sort of voice that if you heard it drifting out of a pub or cafe would encourage you to step inside and stay till the last moment of her set.

With all the energy of a band with only a few months under their belts, Our Saving Day took to the main stage, along with the crowd working ability and confidence of an established act. A few moments saw the vocals fall flat or be covered by the instrumental, but the atmosphere drummed up from a couple of well known covers (a Fall Out Boy number and trusty pop-punk anthem Stacey’s Mom) left these moments forgotten in the dust.

Other noticeable points across the day included On The Open Road’s clear comfort to return to a more intimate venue after the well tackled main stage at Rescue Rooms which they graced last Tuesday, having less trouble keeping up with the energy of recently-announced lead guitarist Jack Dutton, and Requin Blanc’s upgraded-to-main-stage show, making the most of the significantly improved vocal power available.

Though both stages’ openers had been impressive acts, the stages’ closing sets managed to top that. With the inside of the venue reaching a point of boiling insanity (credit to pop-punk enthusiasm for that), acoustic headliner Arthur Walwin took his set out to the venue’s beer garden with support from Willowen’s “box monkey” – that’s percussion to you and me – George Fullerton. By the end of the first track any general chatter had died down, possibly in awe, as the unexpected duo worked their way through Arthur’s catalogue of hits alongside tracks from his forthcoming debut album. A medley of pop numbers and a mix of the two best known Taking Back Sunday tracks (“the band that got me into pop-punk”, Arthur claims) also cropped up in the setlist.

Quite the contrast to the quaint sing a longs and fairy lights of The Maze’s beer garden, Manchester quintet Milestones had the stage inside to cause a stir. With frontman Matt Clarke and bassist Mark Threfall taking to the floor to bounce life into the all but worn-out crowd, they perfectly reflected the band’s ethos; keep giving it your all. Since releasing their debut single More To Me in December and their debut EP Nothing Left a few months ago, they’ve gone from strength to strength, never slowing down or pausing for breath. A couple of front row fans showed the band the dedication they deserved by chanting every line with the same force Matt did, and the introduction of new, more vocal lead and assertive work went down a treat. Milestones feel – literally and from their position in the music scene – like an act ready to explode into the big-time shows at any given moment.

Though it came across as more of a rock party than its title would suggest, Notts Pop Punk Fest proved another interesting day, with the best acts standing out a mile.

Bearded Theory – our top ten

When it comes to a festival, there’s a little more than merely the line up to be keen on. At Bearded Theory, there proved to be all manner of intriguing stalls and corners that presented new delights, and here we give our top ten favourite parts of the weekend. You can read our full overview of the festival here, and our musical run down here.

  1. james
    After months of reading complaints on social media that the seven piece from Manchester no longer play their best known signal, Sit Down, which reached number 2 (second to Chesney Hawkes’ The One And Only) in 1990, it came as a massive surprise when they opened with it. With a setlist that also included fan favourite Laid, and a handful of songs of their most recent album, Le Petite Mort, featuring Curse Curse and seven minute long Walk Like You, it was a show to suit old and new fans equally. And if the music wasn’t enough, Tim Booth’s manic dancing should have been worthy of making james a must-see act at any festival they grace.
  2. Alabama 3
    Friday night managed to set the tone for the festival, with the penultimate act on the main stage proving to be one of the best of the weekend. We previously saw Alabama 3 play Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms last December to a packed crowd, and despite the less forgiving acoustics of an open air stage, Larry Love managed to lead the show as well as ever. With their “spare the rules” attitude – at one point speaking of the concept of drinking responsibly with “I’d like a glass of uncool-ahol” – they set the weekend in motion, with stand out track being Bam Ba Lam (Here Comes Daddy).
  3. Buzzcocks
    It would almost feel wrong to not note Buzzcocks as one of the highlights of the weekend, not least for their best known single Ever Fallen In Love. They also provided one of the tightest show of the festival, captivating a huge crowd at the main stage. Although they might have formed way back in 1976, a mark of a solid band with deserved success is one who can stand the test of time – and there’s no doubt that Buzzcocks have.
  4. The Woodland
    We touched on this in the overview article, but there truly was something special about The Woodland Stage. With a very high attention to detail, the place proved to be an enclosed dreamworld. Upon entry you’ll find yourself in a swarm of bubbles, and with an all day eatery opposite the bar by a stage providing all kinds of music, you’ve no need to leave. As dusk falls the area turns into a wonderland of colourful lights, beams dancing across the trees and fairy lights reaching into every corner.
  5. Kangaroo burgers
    Not one for the vegans among us, but around the side of the main arena were dozens (it seemed) of food vendors selling everything from doughnuts (very nice, albeit very small, with top notch sides) through Mexican, Texan and Chinese food to straight BBQ food. A little off the beaten track came kangaroo burgers, and despite tasting little different to heavily peppered beef, it was certainly worth trying.
  6. Rave tent
    Come the small hours of the morning, a tent just outside the main arena, home to the cinema, became what can best be described as an 80s rave tent. Still serving tea and cakes despite the late hour (I can recommend the ginger cake) in the front of the tent and with music blasting in the back, if the Magical Sounds tent was a little too intense for you, you’d be happy to find yourself winding up here.
  7. Market
    In the centre of the main arena you’d find yourself all but drowning in shops to buy all sorts of odds and ends from, ranging from hundreds of bracelets to choose between, henna artists and many bright and colourful felted jackets. The woodwork proved a particular artistic delight, and at the other end of the scale, a store selling bacon jam and absinthe marzipan (not necessarily together) showed the variety of the festival.
  8. Acoustic stage
    Beside the Something Else Big Top stage comes a bar (with an amusing sign about what will happen to your children if you leave them there), and with this bar comes a small acoustic stage, an open mic event. Again, a fair amount of talent passed across the stage throughout the weekend, and the atmosphere of the tent was a homely and enjoyable one.
  9. Electric River
    Although the final day of the festival was supposed to see New Town Kings open the main stage, for one reason or another there was a change of plan, and Electric River were brought in to do the honour. As they explained before bursting into Hold On – “when you’ve played a show in Manchester, driven down to Bearded Theory and had a party behind the merch tent to be told you’re opening the main stage at 12 you gotta hold on”. Despite this, they went on to play the most impressive set of the weekend.
  10. Drum Machine
    For those not feeling fully awake at midday from the night before, every morning saw Magical Sounds opened by Drum Machine, as is Bearded Theory tradition. Invigorating and the sort of act that demanded respect, there was no excuse to miss one of their performances over the weekend.

Bearded Theory – musical rundown

Seeing as we’ve now posted two articles scarcely related to music, about a music festival, and we are a music orientated website, it would seem appropriate to give a few words on the matter. If you want to see what we made of the whole weekend in general, have a read about it here, and here you can check out our top ten favourite parts of the festival. So, allow me to take you through the musical high(and low)lights of the weekend, in only as much order as seems fit.

Although the festival began on the Thursday night, the four tents didn’t all open till Friday, when the real weight of the weekend kicked in. Alabama 3 made it as our favourite set of the night, second to last on the main stage and delivering a set as tight as their Rescue Rooms show last December, regardless of the unforgiving festival sound. Their age old acid house sound, or as they generally describe themselves, “modern music”, pulsed through the crowd and sparked a fire in the festival that continued to burn through the weekend.

Inside or outside, not everyone blossomed so well in the confines of a festival environment. In the small hours of Friday night/Saturday morning, Radical Dance Faction took to the Something Else Big Top stage, though a guitarist seemed to walk off stage and, in the words of my +1, the vocalist looked more like he was reading from a script rather than singing a song. It might’ve been the hour that loosened everyone up, but the tent’s crowd seemed to enjoy the show regardless.

Saturday’s line up proved to be an impressive one for the main stage, though again the festival acoustics were not kind to all of the acts. Second on were Neck, akin to a less frantic version of Flogging Molly, and despite timing occasionally being amiss and the vocals straining at times to carry the full weight of the music, a valiant effort was made and a few thick riffs bulked up the performance.

Again, Skinny Lister fell victim to the sounds levels, and what was set up to be a punchy and atmospheric opening somewhat lost its edge in the delivery. After the first song, this all changed, with front woman Lorna Thomas demonstrating a powerful command over the audience with her enthralling vocals leading the band’s quirky folk-punk-pop.

The closing two acts of Saturday’s show demonstrated that the odds faced weren’t entirely insurmountable, with reassuring solid vocals from New Model Army, almost so strong they overpowered the rest of the music, with High being somewhat of a stand out in the set. Later, Saturday headliners Afro Celt Sound System proved to be as eclectic as the title would suggest, and as deserving of the headline space as you’d expect, living up to their name with an engaging and tight performance.

Closing the Something Else Big Top stage on Saturday night were Inner Terrestrials, one of the most intense acts of the weekend, their pioneering dub-punk sound as fun and fresh as it ever was. Watching a band encourage a crowd to chant, “I reject your law and shit your God” repeatedly at 1am to a packed tent is one of those stand out moments that’s bound to stick with you for a fair while afterwards.

As with every day of the festival, Sunday saw Magical Sounds opened by Drum Machine, a tradition of Bearded Theory and definitely one to experience at least once if you’re given the chance. Although New Town Kings (one of our top live acts of 2014) were set to open The Pallet stage, for one reason or another they became replaced by Electric River, one of the stand out sets of the weekend for the clean set they delivered to an audience awaiting a rather different sound. To open a stage that big to a hungover crowd is difficult, but to open to a hungover crowd that got up (sort of) early to see someone that wasn’t you, and still perform excellently? Now, that’s an achievement.

Two of the weekend’s biggest highlights came in the evening of the Sunday, Buzzcocks with their polished performance featuring modern classic Ever Fallen In Love, and the weekend’s headline act, james. Delving into their archives to play old fan favourites such as Sit Down and Laid, and taking a handful of work from the new record La Petite Mort to avoid it being a “nostalgia fest”, with the trumpets in Interrogation a clear highlight. Closing the event with a fireworks display made up for a set which had to be cut short even after they “cut out the ego gratification [encore] even though we’re feeling deprived lately”, making a suitably wow-ing finale.

Festival sound is not for the faint of heart in musicians, and those who managed to conquer it proved to engage the crowd best and put on the most enticing shows. To find out who made it into our top picks of the festival, have a read here.