This year, Tramlines had streamlined from four outdoor venues last year to three, concentrating the main acts into the Ponderosa, Devonshire Green and the Folk Forest. This was no downgrade at all; I had a hard enough time choosing the best acts to see at just two of the stages.
The main stage opened with Liberty Ship, a local four piece who seemed pretty pleased to be kicking off the festival. The rock and roll throwback of their music might not set the world on fire but their enthusiasm was infectious, particularly in their new single ‘Cast Away’.
The walk up the hill to the town centre is one I endured regularly whilst commuting to the university, and despite a whole year of it, I was embarrassingly sweaty as we begun to hear the bassy thuds of Matic Mouth across West Street. We had made the ascent to see The Pharcyde, the Californian rap group that came to prominence in the 80s. Now down to two of the four original members, Bootie Brown and Imani, they were supported by DJ Mike Relm. I enjoyed their vagarious sampling and the duo are good dancers, having worked as dancers before creating the group. The crowd, a younger audience than the main stage, got more into it when the duo played their top hits, ‘Passin’ Me By’ and ‘Runnin’’. Their biggest cheer, however, came when they played ‘Dirty Harry’ by Gorillaz, which Brown features in.
Back in the Ponderosa, I found myself queuing up to the side of the main stage amongst other photographers as the Libertines began their set. The crowd, clad in black and red band t-shirts, screamed as they strummed out the intro to ‘The Delaney’. I had never been in a photo pit before and fiddled nervously with the settings on my camera as the next eight photographers were ushered up to the stage. As I walked out in between the screaming crowd and the car sized amps I made a mental note to bring ear plugs next time.
As I moved to the back of the crowd, I thought the Libertines started well. I’m familiar with most of their songs and particularly like the smouldering guitar lines in ‘Gunga Din’, but the vocals were quiet and, when heard, perhaps a bit too relaxed. The Labour leader seemed a theme for the night, with Pete Doherty announcing he had ‘a boner for Corbyn’ in between rants about southerners and squatting, and an ‘oh Jeremy Corbyn’ White Stripes riff was impressively inserted into ‘The Good Old Days’. But they soon moved onto a piano ballad and slow tempo songs that gave an end of night feel to halfway through the set. The drummer, Gary Powell, rolled his eyes as Doherty staggered around the stage, and tried to get the crowd clapping along, but the performance fizzled out into the quartet hugging triumphantly after what I felt was a very mediocre set.
Tramlines often surprises me with songs I never expected to hear live. Last year, I heard ‘Bohemian Like You’ and ‘Milkshake’; this year was no exception. The first time I hear the Hot 8 Brass Band was whilst watching the feel-good film Chef, about a middle aged professional chef who gives up fine cooking to run a sandwich truck with his son across America. I came away from it with two new interests: Cuban sandwiches and brass band covers of Marvin Gaye hits.
Unfortunately, this afternoon at the Ponderosa, there was no ‘Sexual Healing’. Instead we were treated to what felt like a half hour long New Orleans jam session. Part of me regretted choosing the clarinet over the trombone as I found myself smiling at the enthusiastic performance. Their arrangement of ‘Ghost Town’ was spot on and I could have watched them all afternoon.
This year a new venue was erected in the Ponderosa, in between the main stage and the food stalls (Scranlines, geddit?). Nothing more than a gazebo and some oversized deck chairs, the ‘Into the Trees’ site was home to various DJs and a crowd that ebbed and grew like a tide as the main stage acts came and went.
In between Hot 8 and The Age of L.U.N.A, I listened as Sheffield DJ Leroy seamlessly remixed disco tunes as funky as, and as old as, some of the bright vintage jackets dotted amongst the crowd.
As we were leaving I was struck by the impressive voice of Daniella Thomson, from The Age of L.U.N.A. (Live Under No Authority, in case you were wondering), before we once again headed up the hill to see another local band: Alvarez Kings. A kind of more mature sounding 1975, they’re close to sounding like a generic pop rock boyband (Lyrics: ‘the second that we got it right we got it all wrong / so I told you I told you I told you to move on’) but some funky electronic moments added another dimension to their dynamic performance.
On Saturday evening, I found myself conflicted between Primal scream and All Saints. Neither of which are groups I expected to see any time soon but both have songs I can hum along to without quite remembering their titles, and I knew I would enjoy either band.
We arrived at Primal Scream as the sky turned ominously dark. Either lots of people had flocked to see All Saints or the rain had deterred all but their more devoted fans. Dressed in a bright red suit and bathed in mustard and ketchup lighting, Bobbie Gillespie stood out as he took centre stage and burst into ‘Movin’ On Up’. Gillespie sang each song perfectly and was supported by the crowd on just about every song. By the end of ‘Come Together’ I was wet and cold and smiling – Primal Scream were definitely one of the high points of the weekend.
The next afternoon began with the fast, rhythmic rhyme of Akala. His lyrics are incisive and, important for their often-political message, comprehensible. Grime can often descend into a heavy beat and shouted choruses but Akala’s performance, accompanied by live drums, was emotive and awe inspiring. Akala has been performing for over a decade and as just released an EP ‘Visions’ – a heavily political, furious collection of an introduction and four chapters that accompanies an actual comic book of the same name.
It was a hip-hop afternoon at the main stage, as Akala was followed by Loyle Carner. I thought Akala would be pretty difficult to follow but Loyle Carner’s thoughtful tone captivated me at once. I hadn’t heard of Loyle Carner, and I was struck by his introspective, crafted lyrics. The stage, set out as an old living room, was shared with DJ and producer Rebel Kleff, and Ben sat down as he sung ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ and ‘Damselfly’. It’s quite easy to see why his debut album, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ has been shortlisted for a Mercury Prize. Listening to it, I struggle to pick out a single line that will do him full justice and I can’t; listen to the whole album.
We return, anoraked, in the afternoon. Despite the best efforts of the staff and a few bales of straw, the field is muddy and I have to tread carefully to avoid embarrassment. Others are more foresighted than me, with wellies and big mac ponchos, handed out earlier in the weekend.
For someone not well acquainted with house music, the House Gospel Choir provided a good introduction. The lead singer energised the crowd as they sung along, accompanied by a band, to house standards such as ‘Hey Hey’ and ‘Deep Inside’.
Finally, culminating the festival, Metronomy took to the stage. Half the band were dressed head to toe in angelic white, contrasting with the funky shirt and glittery top worn by bassist Olugbenga Adelekan and drummer Anna Prior. Metronomy’s brand of slightly retro electro pop is instantly recognisable but I thought it wouldn’t be headliner material; I was wrong. My personal favourite, ‘Love Letters’, was electrified and bassed up suitably, and this did the song justice (tonight, Joe Mount assured us, the letters were addressed to Sheffield). The crowd joined in with hits ‘The Bay’ and ‘The Look’ as the rain briefly abated. Metronomy aren’t the most charismatic band, staying fairly still in their five-piece layout and not saying much between songs. This was outweighed however, by their impressive visuals, with gently lit candyfloss smoke and smart glass keyboard stands. I get the feeling Metronomy are quite geeky, focussing on the music more than jumping around the stage, and I like that.
I found myself humming the irritatingly catchy keyboard opening to ‘The Look’ as I walked home, soaked, needing a cup of tea, but very happy to have been a part of Tramlines 2017.
Super Early Bird weekend tickets for the Tramlines 10th Birthday are now on sale for £25+bf They can be purchased at www.tramlines.org.uk