In late July, Songwriting headed up to the Steel City to check out the three-day musical extravaganza that is Tramlines
The weekend of 21-23 July saw Songwriting once more heading up to Sheffield in South Yorkshire to check out Tramlines – one of the biggest urban festivals in the country and undoubtedly one of the most eclectic, with its musical menu running from the gentle acoustic sounds showcased in the folk forest, via premier league rock, pop and hip-hop acts on the two main stages, to all-night house, drum & bass and grime parties in the city’s clubs.
This was our second year at Tramlines, so some things no longer took us by surprise. The long distances between the different venues and stages, for instance, which mean some difficult choices have to be made because a timetabling clash isn’t simply a case of nipping across to the next field; the sheer amount of walking involved (we packed well-soled trainers this year), or just the slightly surreal experience of being in a normal, everyday city centre that somehow has been more or less completely taken over by festival-goers. The rain, on the other hand, did take us a bit by surprise this year – anyone would’ve thought we were 40 miles east in Manchester!
Anyway, so we went to Tramlines, and it was good. Here’s what happened…
Friday daytime was the usual chaos of a long train journey, hitting the press office to pick up wristbands and meeting up with our hosts for the weekend. So we didn’t make it down to the main Ponderosa stage till around 8pm – too late to catch Twin Atlantic but just in time for headliners The Libertines.
This writer isn’t a fan, to be honest, and their Tramlines set did little to change that. Pete Doherty and Carl Barat do manage to pull off a halfway convincing Mick and Keef impression onstage, though, and the banter and obvious affection between the pair kinda made me warm to them a little bit – though Doherty’s “look at me, I’m a Cock-er-ney geezer inn’ I?” schtick does get quite tiresome, quite quickly. At one point they went into a between-song rendition of Annie’s Song, but with all the lyrics replaced with things like “like a good pie and mash shop” and “like a packet of Woodbines”. Hilarious.
Still, the youngsters in the crowd wearing Libertines t-shirts seemed to think it was the best thing ever, so what do I know? Next!
On Saturday, we had a choice between the Devonshire Green stage, which was hosting a slew of local indie bands in the daytime and the pop-tastic double whammy of M.O. and All Saints in the evening, or the more eclectic programme on offer at the main Ponderosa stage.
We opted for the latter. New Orleans’ Hot 8 Brass Band opened the day’s proceedings, their brass takes on assorted funk, soul and hip-hop classics showing just why they’ve become such a firm favourite on the UK festival circuit. But it was the chance to catch Jamaican legends Toots & The Maytals in action that was the biggest draw for us, and they didn’t disappoint in the slightest, Toots Hibbert looking frankly amazing for his 75 years as he led the crowd through linga-longa-Toots versions of classics like Funky Kingston, Monkey Man and, of course, 54-46 That’s My Number.
Equally impressive were Mancunian indie upstarts Cabbage, who played the 5.30-6.30 slot. Despite the early billing they played a blinder, with co-frontmen Lee Broadbent and Jim Martin clad in Throbbing Gristle and ‘Don’t buy The Sun‘ T-shirts respectively and Broadbent’s Ryder-esque, couldn’t-give-a-f*** demeanour an interesting foil to Martin’s more thoughtful and artsy approach to the job. They also managed to not massacre any John Denver songs while randomly inserting clichéd references to Greater Manchester, which was nice! Dripping in punk attitude, Cabbage proved a refreshing antidote to today’s welter of safe, smiling indie bands whose main goal in life often seems to be landing a lucrative sync deal for a Lloyds Bank advert.
It was at this point that the heavens began to open and Songwriting sought shelter and warmth in a nearby hostelry, hence missing We Are Scientists, but we were back at Ponderosa for the headline act of the night, Primal Scream. If Barat and Doherty’s Stars In Their Eyes impression the night before had raised a smile, then tonight Bobby Gillespie showed who the real contender for Jagger’s crown is as, resplendent in a flared red suit, he led the band through raucous renditions of all their big hits, from Loaded and Come Together through to It’s Alright, It’s OK. Some 1,500 people had already left the arena at this point (a security guard informed us) due to the heavy rain, but those who stayed were amply rewarded for their determination, and Gillespie seemed genuinely stoked by the crowd’s enthusiastic response in spite of the weather.
Sunday morning dawned, and Songwriting was faced with a dilemma. With Tramlines taking place at venues across the city, timetabling clashes become a real problem – unlike at a camping festival where it’s just a case of nipping over to the next field or tent. Reluctantly, then, we had to miss the chance to go catch up with Jerry Williams, a previous winner of our ReverbNation competition, at the 02 Academy 2 (hosted that day by The Music Momentum Fund) because we really, really wanted to see Akala, who was taking time out from his duties as Spokesman For Modern Youth (well, according to the likes of Newsnight, anyway!) to, y’know, play some music. Backed by a live drummer, his blend of hip-hop, reggae and grime influences was as satisfying as ever, and the man remains lyrical fire – massive respect!
For Songwriting‘s money, Akala deserved better than the warm-up slot, but that’s not to take anything away from Lady Leshurr, who was up next. Clearly a favourite with the younger element in the crowd, who responded rapturously to favourites like Crispy Bacon and Where Are You Now?, her sweet, heavily Brummie-accented onstage manner (thanking everyone who watched her viral YouTube vid Queen’s Speech 4, for instance, because “it’s had 44 million views now, and you’re the reason I could buy my Mum a new house”) soon had young and old alike eating out of the palm of her hand. At one point she got the entire crowd to jump four paces to the left, then four paces to the right, repeatedly – no mean feat on a lazy Sunday afternoon!
After checking a party-tastic, covers-heavy reggae set from the legendary Don Letts at the Into The Trees tent and an exhilarating main stage performance by the (fairly self-explanatory) House Gospel Choir, we were then faced with another one of those “we can only be in one place at one time” conundra. Indie synth-poppers Metronomy on the Main Stage? The Coral over at Devonshire Green? Or a belated trip to the Folk Forest, some distance out of town, to check out Omar Souleyman, an artist that we’d heard a lot good things about, but nothing actually by?
Figuring that we could kinda guess what Metronomy and The Coral were going to sound like, we opted to satisfy our curiosity instead and off we duly trotted to Endcliffe Park. We were glad we had, too – clad in traditional dress complete with red-and-white keffiyeh, Souleyman’s brand of Syrian folk turbocharged with technoid rhythms ensured Tramlines 2017, for Songwriting, ended on a suitably bouncy note. Despite the rain…
Words: Russell Deeks Pictures: Rash Yaman