I’ve just had my first ever Tramlines experience. There isn’t anything else out there like it. Sheffield opens up its musical doors to the nation for three whole days of free live music. Over seventy venues, including pubs, clubs, theatres, galleries, libraries, all playing host to some of the country’s finest bands and musicians. Here are the ones that I saw.
Playing to a relatively quiet theatre, first supporting band Arkham Karvers dish up some fanastic boy/girl indie pop. A few timing issues aside, they have all the right ingredients; a great front man, hints of (a happier) Glasvegas, reggae beats, The Clash, a smidgen of Reverend and a clutch of really well written songs. Ribbon has a great fucking chorus and to top it off we are even treated to a little Talking Heads. Smashing.
As the cosy setting of the Library Theatre fills up, one man stands centre stage and starts to sing a cappella and suddenly the place is hushed. This surprising voice is singing a song of love in the wilderness and brings to proceedings not just echoes of Seth Lakeman but also rapturous applause. This is David J Rock and his band; one minute its dust bowl ballads, the next horn laden Americana a la Mumford and Sons. Swooning falsettos, heavy bass and epic songs like Skin and Bones blow the tin roof off of the building …and that’s just the support.
See Emily Play is attracting all sorts of fans, just as girls with pianos do. Everywhere I look there is girls that want to play piano, girls that do, old ladies, families and boys who are in touch with their inner Tori. It’s a great turn outm and for an act that can be described as Chamber Pop, it’s then fitting that See Emily Play treats us to an accompanying chamber orchestra. With the auditorium (and its aisles) now packed and health and safety out of the window, Emily takes centre-left stage and pummels away at her keyboard. It takes a song or two for the band to truly settle into what must be the daunting experience but then comes song #3, A Loner like Me, which is bombastic and victorious.
A change of mood comes with the guitar based 60’s pop of What To Do and the DeVotchka-esque The First Time Someone Has Ever Broken My Heart, which really benefits from that orchestra. The real highlight here though is the totally stripped down version of The Train featuring just piano and cello. The intimacy of both those lyrics and that vocal feels like Fiona Apple and it’s this moment that makes me feel that maybe at times there was too much going on and that maybe a string quartet would have suited the occasion more. That didn’t stop the crowd wanting more though and closing on a big jazz number seemed quite a triumph.
Its quarter to one in the afternoon on Sunday and it’s the best time to grab a pint and prime position in front of the stage over at the Frog & Parot. Anytime after that and you’ll be crowd surfing to the bar. Sheffield’s Gilmore Trail treat us to a majestic half hour of instrumental and blissful epic soundscapes, taking in influences such as Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and with song titles like Clouds Over the Valley and Fires of Ashen Light, you’d think you were in Folk Metal territory, but judging from the crowd, this stuff is actually accessible to all. Hints of Rush appear three songs in and on their darker work, I’d swear down they’d been listening to Alcest. A euphoric triumph and a great way to start another day.
The cathedral is giving out free coffee and sellingg beers; funny then to see the church’s priest collecting empties from the pews. Up next here is Suede guitarist Richard Oaks’ new project. Artmagic is the band and Richard, along with vocalist Sean GcGhee (previously collaborated with Britney, Robyn, Alanis Morrisette and Imogen Heap) they wander somewhere between indie and pop. Forever In Negative sounds like Karma Police done by Take That and part of that is Sean’s voice. It’s pleasant. Good. Nice. Too inoffensive, but still all together enjoyable.
Off now to the O2 Academy where there are throngs of teens in black fringes, back combed hair and their Drop Dead T-Shirts. Just getting started are Barnsley’s Glacier. Despite the fact I have some pants older than Glacier; they play like pro’s and their set is slick. The brilliant Who Cares? (Not Me) has hints of Paramore, Blink-182 and most definitely Me Vs Hero. Sweat It Out is an altogether darker number sounds a little like Flyleaf. Glacier are a great and will get greater. Next up are Barnsley rock royalty, Seventh Son. Part of the original NWOBHM scene; as they take to the stage the youngsters flee, but as Spirit World rips the O2 a new one, they all come back in again to see what beholds them. Dangerous Kiss and The Last Witch In England are prime slabs of classic metal with most of the focus on the sterling work done by Dave Fox on lead guitar and Brian O’Shaughnessy who cannot keep still for a second; unconsciously flicking the hair and those Dio horns, foot on the monitor and mimicking every note on his air guitar. Every cliché in the book is thrown at the audience and they love it. Be sure though, this band are serious and on the finale of Heads Will Roll, you damn well know it.
Mark Jackson’s Criminal Waste of Talent take to the shoebox sized stage in the wrong corner of the Dove & Rainbow. Their brand of austerity shoegaze and Mark rambling’s can sometimes go over the odd punter’s head, but here, in the peak afternoon heat, it hits the spot with people singling along to their anthems of social deprivation (Greggs) and songs of what it is to be an unlucky bugger in the modern age (Shed, Long Day).
Not only a regular highlight at Tramlines but also a regular stage curator are Rolo Tomassi. Having gone through a recent line-up chage and currently putting the finishing touches to their third full studio album, Rolo Tomassi grace an at bursting point Baker’s Pool with forty minutes of their death metal meets Brian Eno math-core. Eva works that stage like no one else on Earth, and makes up her moves as she goes along. Her voice belies her minute frame; switching from ferocious to angelic at will. She is one of the finest and most original female rock vocalists out there and Tongue In Chic easily proves my point. Seeing a circle pit outside John Lewis is a stunning site to behold and is one of those special moments only Tramlines can bring. Set closer Party Wounds shakes the foundations of City Hall and brings a perfect near close to an amazing weekend. Leaving the live space I hear a spate of girls trying to mimic Eva’s growl.
And finally, Toba Caldera, who are leading a current trend in Barnsley for all thing dark, psychedelic and reverb soaked and over at The Royal Standard, they treat Sheffield’s indie lovers to a lesson in how we do it over at Junction 37. They just about manage to fit their amps onto the makeshift outdoor stage and even have mic problems but get over that by delivering an amazing late evening set. James and Nevyn are on fine vocal form and Darkest Mind is stunning as always.
Word on the street is that they’ll be releasing a split EP with a couple of other Barnsley bands over the coming months; and it can’t come soon enough.
Words: Jason White