Tramlines delivers pleasure to performers and audiences alike

Tramlines 2021 review

By Trevor Eales | Published: Fri 30th Jul 2021

around the festival site (Saturday)

Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th July 2021
Hillsborough Park , 70 Broughton Rd, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S6 2AS, England MAP
£130 weekend
Daily capacity: 30,000
Last updated: Tue 20th Jul 2021

This was my first visit to Tramlines, designated a covid test / research event by the government but puzzlingly taking place a few days after the same government seemingly re-energised their campaign to infect as many of the UK populace as possible with the coronavirus. So, in addition to queuing for the usual photo / press passes there were daily covid passes to be collected once proof of vaccination and daily health checks had been completed. Press areas and front of stage pits were designated as ffp mask zones while 40,000 festival goers, having proved their covid free or vaccinated credentials enjoyed their unmasked freedom. I suspect that this was my introduction to the new normal but I’m not complaining; it was just good to be witnessing live music again. Great credit must go to the organisers for their determination to make the event happen and in overcoming  extra pressures that being part of the research programme inevitably brought.
Walking into the main stage arena for the first time was a slightly surreal and daunting experience; suddenly being faced with a sea people with little apparent thought for the proximity of others. Various thoughts ran through my head; how would people react; would the unleashed excitement and atmosphere of the crowd spill over into chaos?

Friday: Tramlines 2021

I missed The Blinders opening performance but as Yorkshire favourites The Pigeon Detectives took to the main stage everything erupted; bodies hoisted on shoulders, multiple flares were simultaneously lit, bathing us in a multi-coloured miasma, while chants of, “Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire,”  filled the air. If this was merely a prelude, things were going to get wild. Reality proved rather different though, as The Pigeon Detectives audience response proved to be the most enthusiastic of the day. There’s nothing particularly special about them musically; it’s typical indie guitar fare with choruses but in Mat Bowman they have a front man with real energy and charisma, almost the antithesis of the passive / static postures that are the norm for the genre. Their 30 minute set was over far too soon but they’d brought Tramlines to life.

Circa Waves, and The Kooks followed and delivered pleasing well received sets, setting a pattern for the weekend of performers genuinely enjoying the pleasure of being back on a stage and expressing their gratitude and delight at being in front of people. There was a real sense that occasional rustiness or bum notes didn’t really matter; just being on a stage in front of an appreciative audience was what counted. Following the initial flurry of mayhem the audience that evening  was fairly subdued. One sensed that everyone was trying to feel their way back to relative normality, unsure about what it was safe to do or of really letting themselves go.

The Hara: Tramlines 2021

Away from the masses in front of the main arena, The Library Stage offered more intimate offerings and pleasing new discoveries over the weekend. I’d heard Billy Nomates album and found the general sound combined with social commentary interesting so was keen to see her live. Unfortunately she just presented as “Ms Sullen,” effectively delivering a 30 minute karaoke as she spoke / sang to backing tapes with little audience engagement and zero charisma. The Hara, who preceded her were the complete antithesis; a great visual rock band overflowing with energy. For me, the musical highlight of the day!

The Streets had seemed a rather a dour choice to headline the first night at a festival in almost 2 years; and so it proved. Their set, drawn with a heavy emphasis on Original Pirate Material album was politely received without really bursting into life. Perhaps it was down to Mike Skinner himself repeatedly exhorting the crowd to limit their excitement to 8 out of 10 and save themselves for Dizzie Rascal. It seemed like a weird case of self- depreciation going too far.

This hadn’t been the most exhilarating day of music but the sea of smiling faces at the end of the night told their own story. Music, the festival, and people were back; and it felt good –very good.

Lauren Hibberd: Tramlines 2021

Saturday started slowly as crowds gradually drifted into Hillsborough Park. The first performer to make an impression was Lauran Hibberd. Dressed in a pink bridesmaid dress, playing in front of a banner proclaiming, “Who the f*ck is Lauran Hibberd,” she delivered a collection of off kilter pop mixed with rock riffs. I found it quite engaging but sensed that many in the audience didn’t really share that appreciation. Lucy Spraggan followed, performing her earnest and at times thoughtful songs. There were plenty of her devoted followers front of stage lending support, sometimes singing along, but as with the previous act she didn’t really reach the more casual listener further back in the park.
From here on the main stage was home for some indie guitar; The Lathums and The Sherlocks played to a swelling and far more receptive audience. By the time that Blossoms took to the stage at around 7 o’clock, the field was bulging and they performed to easily the biggest and most enthusiastic audience of the day.

Meanwhile, it was time to take a trip to “T’ Other Stage” to hear some different sounds. I’ve recently enjoyed listening to Little Simz, and managed to catch the beginning and end of her set. What appeals about her recorded output is the light and shade and subtlety that she brings to the hip hop genre. I enjoyed what I saw and there was no shortage of energy but that range was missing – maybe it came during the 20 minutes or so that I missed.

Georgia: Tramlines 2021

Georgia, who played the same stage a little earlier was simply stunning; a one woman force of nature. Playing drums, keyboards, programming, while singing / rapping and rousing the audience, her slightly retro take on dance culture, with a voice reminiscent of Robyn at times, was simply euphoric. I’m not sure how she’d translate in an open field, but playing to a tent holding 6 or 7,000 she delivered a performance worthy of headlining.

As the weekend progressed it became increasingly obvious that the core audience at Tramlines was there to hear melodic indie guitar music (and Dizzee Rascal; more on that later.) Personally I thoroughly enjoyed Royal Blood’s headline performance on Saturday night but they were clearly not to everyone’s taste. From the moment that Blossoms departed there was a steady exodus so that by the time the Brighton duo took to the stage perhaps 20% of the crowd had left. They delivered a set heavily featuring the raw rock riffing of their first album alongside numerous tracks from their recent dance tinged offering. I was concerned that the increased production and programming of their current work may not gel, but live the two sets of material worked seamlessly together. It was a performance of intensity and musicianship rather than showmanship, even including a drum solo – the first time I’ve heard one of those at a gig for a long time!

The day had witnessed some impressive performances and there was a great, relatively laid back atmosphere as everyone seemed to become more at ease with a festival environment once again. It was also a day that benefitted from a little stage hopping to fully appreciate the diversity that Tramlines had to offer.

Although music is inevitably the primary focus, it’s always important to get the basics right at a festival. Food was fairly typical fare although perhaps a little limited in range; there were burgers, noodles, pizzas & pasta, chicken bars, and rice based vendors. Most were selling meals for £8-10 and the few I sampled were palatable without providing an urge to return for more. Bars were selling the usual fare from around £6 with cans of Red Stripe appearing to be the beverage of choice judging by the numbers carrying them around. For the more discerning, a craft and real ale tent was selling draught beer; I’m no connoisseur but the few I sampled were very agreeable. Queues tended to grow before and after the more popular bands so it was a case of picking your moment to try to avoid long waits. Loos were clean although queues for portacabins developed at times. There were plenty of urinals but it was disappointing that supplies of hand sanitiser ran out early each evening and didn’t appear to be replenished.

Whether it was the sunshine and heat, or The Fratellis billed as special guests early on Sunday afternoon I don’t know, but by 1.30 the main arena was full. The recent addition of brass section and backing vocals to their line- up has really added depth and variety to their sound and it works. There’s still space for Chelsea Dagger and others from their breakthrough Costello album but covers of disco classic, Yes Sir I can boogie,  Dion’s,  Runaround Sue alongside other self- penned material give the feel of a band for all seasons, seamlessly drifting between soul, disco and rock n’ roll. They were an unexpected pleasure.

Late afternoon brought more pleasant surprises on The Library Stage. I’d seen The Pale White a few years ago. My memories are of just another young indie guitar band but they’ve developed into a powerful 3 piece with a pounding rhythm section, some incisive guitar and a sound that’s far more rock than indie. I intended to walk over to take a few photos before heading elsewhere but stayed for the whole set.

Baby Queen: Tramlines 2021

I’m certainly no talent scout; especially when it comes to pop music, but very occasionally you come across something that stands out – something special. That happened on Sunday afternoon when Baby Queen walked onto the Library Stage. Her own bio describes her sound as grunge – pop and it isn’t far wrong; but that descriptor doesn’t do her justice. This was a bouncy, energetic performance that showed self-confidence, vunerability, nervous energy and above all charisma, with songs unafraid to tackle issues like mental health and addiction head on. Perhaps most astonishing was that this was only the bands second gig. The first was at Standon Calling two days earlier where the NME gave her performance a similar gushing review. Talent doesn’t always translate to commercial success and I’ve no idea whether her live performance is matched by recorded output but based on this performance, Baby Queen deserves to become a name we hear much more of.

And so to Dizzee Rascal: All I really want to say is, “Bonkers, Bonkers” but I suppose I should explain. I’m probably in a minority of one among forty thousand when I say that musically he didn’t greatly impress. Artistically, playing “Bonkers” twice consecutively for audience response hardly does much for artistic credibility but this was a performance all about entertainment, audience reaction and participation. What isn’t in doubt is that he played to the biggest audience of the weekend and received by far the most ecstatic response. Any lingering inhibitions about just letting go and enjoying the moment were swept away. To put it simply; he stole the show!

Supergrass were left to close proceedings and I felt sorry for them before they even walked on stage.  While Saturday night had seen a proportion of the audience drift away after Blossoms, what happened immediately after Dizzee’s departure was more like a tsunami or as if someone had called for an emergency evacuation of the park. It’s probably little exaggeration to say that around 80% of those under 30 left at this point. They clearly had either no knowledge or no desire to experience Supergrass. Parkland that had been bulging with 40,000 people very quickly held around half that number. Supergrass duly came on to perform professionally to those of us who remained but if they had seen what had gone before them, it must have been very disheartening to look out on so many empty spaces. Those who left early no doubt did so with a feeling of euphoria, leaving those remaining with a rather flat end to the weekend.

Ultimately though, the relative merits of different performances are minor elements in in bigger picture.  Tramlines 2021 success story lies in the pleasure the event brought to the audience, the feeling of worth that playing live once again gave to performers and the overwhelming feelings of release and joy that it generated. Huge credit must go to those who worked to tirelessly to make it happen.

review by: Trevor Eales

photos by: Trevor Eales

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