So Tramlines Main Stage has upped sticks and moved again. After leaving Devonshire Green for a brief stay at Ponderosa it’s gone further afield to Hillsborough Park. This seems to have upset some people and the online arguments seem to be ongoing. Record numbers and a line-up that must surely have the Leeds Festival organisers thinking ‘Why didn’t we do that?’ certainly justify the move. 4 stages (Library, Leadmill, T’Other and Main Stage) all self-enclosed on a site that feels like a festival, not just a stage in a park (which is how Ponderosa felt to me). And if you’re committed enough you can still flit between Hillsborough and The Fringe stages and back again although admittedly the trams being on strike did make it more arduous than it had to be. A few tweaks are required, the queues for bars and toilets were unacceptable but apart from that I would say it was an undoubted success.
My weekend kicks off at The Main Stage with local heroes Milburn. The summer is having a night off as the rain falls but I think we all found it seriously refreshing. It’s hard to talk about Milburn and not mention Arctic Monkeys but I’m guessing if Joe Carnall has got his hair cut today no-one would give a shit. For that reason alone give me Milburn any day. Musically if I’m honest give me Milburn too. Refreshing, pure unadulterated indie-pop/rock of the highest order with some real old gems thrown in too. Milburn are going back on hiatus for a while after Tramlines. I really hope it’s not for 8 years again. I’ll miss ‘em.
It’s hard to believe Stereophonics have been going 26 years now. Last year’s ‘Scream Above The Sounds’ sounded as fresh as anything they’ve done and front man Kelly Jones just hasn’t aged. At all. Not one day. Stereophonics know how to please a festival crowd. Just go search for the 21 song set list and you’ll see what I mean. The thing I heard most on the way out was ‘I didn’t realise how many of their songs I loved’. The band are as tight as they come, 26 years’ experience filtering through every chord, Jones’ voice is immaculate and, something I always forget, is that that boy can shred with the best of them. The outro for ‘Sunny’ is up there with any guitar hero you wanna name. ‘Traffic’ is scintillatingly beautiful, ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’ magnificent as always and a breakneck, punk infused ‘The Bartender And The Thief’ is just an absolute triumph with bodies and beer flying everywhere. Stereophonics leave nothing on stage. They truly deliver and yet make it look effortless. They are simply one of the best live acts this country has to offer.
Saturday finds me at The Main Stage again ready for Bang Bang Romeo, a band who deserve a much later time slot, as their set proved. Still a sizeable enough crowd are there to witness this Doncaster powerhouse. Anastasia Walker’s voice will always be the talking point but this should never detract from just what is happening on that stage. The band belong on Main Stages (a record crowd for an opening act at this year’s Isle Of Wight Festival is evidence enough). Somewhat uniquely for a relatively new band they aren’t genre specific. I’ve never read a review yet that truly encapsulates their sound. I certainly can’t. Recent singles ‘Shame On You’ and ‘Natural Born Astronaut’ border on pop/rock, ‘Chemical’ a soulful ballad, ‘Invitation’ and ‘Adore Me’ balls out rock but all with an unmistakable Bang Bang Romeo feel.
Their stage presence is stunning, Ross Cameron’s guitar searching every soul out, Richard Gartland’s drumming knocking those found souls back down into the pits of hell. Fleshed out live with Raymond Loverock on bass (a better bass player you simply will not find) and Richard Cook on guitar and keys they fill any stage you put them on. All this being fed through Stars’ mesmerising performance. They are going to be one of the biggest live draws for many years to come. If they can transfer that sound, that feeling, that energy onto record (debut album is due in the Autumn) they will be a global phenomenon.
More local talent follows with Redfaces’ jangly indie anthems. A polished set but lacking any real edge. They seem to have been around for ages and it’s easy to forget they are still so young. Plenty of time for them to find a sound and take off. They’ve got the talent. Two years ago I said something similar about Sheafs and they’ve matured into serious contenders. It can be done.
Some light relief next from The Everly Pregnant Brothers, the most Sheffield band ever. Now I’m sure some people think that taking an established song and turning into a comedy gem is easy. It isn’t. You need not only the comedy chops bit also the musicianship to truly carry it off. TEPB have it though. They know their craft. Kicking off with ‘Me Chip Pan’s On Fire’ (as featured on The Last Leg) they’re on to a winner. It’s skiffle basically. Very funny skiffle. Tributes to Henderson’s Relish (‘Hendos’ to Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’) and a very non family friendly ‘Rovvrum’ (Amy’s ‘Rewind’) follow. (The ‘tried to make me go to Leeds’ moment is unprintable but joyous). The band do look genuinely moved by the response they’re getting and the whole set is rounded off wonderfully with the coolest Lord Mayor on the planet, Magid Magid, joining them for ‘No Oven, No Pie’.
Time to head for the Fringe, namely Bungalows And Bears and Cora Pearl playing only their third gig. The main downside to this year’s fringe is the weather. Every venue is a veritable sweatbox. Bungalows is one of the cooler ones but it’s still hard work. So far Cora Pearl have just the two singles under their belt, ‘Hope Machine’ and ‘Graffiti’, both absolute belters but on the evidence here there is even better to come. Hard driven but laid back rock skilfully delivered and with an excellent cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ thrown in for good measure. Definitely ones to watch.
Next up was a late addition to my Tramlines agenda (you have to have an agenda for Tramlines – it’ll go out the window at some point but it gives you some kinda clue as to what you’re doing) with Bang Bang Romeo doing a live session for the legendary Mr. Christian Carlisle at BBC Radio Sheffield. Another pearl of a set. Being this consistent is a major talent in its own right. Stripped back and chilled and still truly wonderful.
One final flurry finds us at the sauna that was The Washington for Kiziah And The Kings, a band that, after some years of searching it must be said, have finally found their sound. Easy, cool, soulful reggae stylings. For once the music really suits the temperature. It’s the best I’ve seen the band play. ‘Heard It All Before’ alone sounds like a Northern Soul classic. Cracking way to end day two.
Sunday was all about The Fringe starting off at The Frog And Parrot with Murder At The Seaside. Every Tramlines they seem to have added personnel. An acoustic duo a few years back, then a trio and now a fully-fledged 5 piece electric combo. They write alarmingly good songs and with the dual vocals of Sally Johnson and Heather Cassim have something that makes them a cut above. Their harmonies are exquisite.
Time to brave Crystal and the glass roof that I’m sure seemed like a good idea at the time. Once again Neil Hargreaves at Aggressive Management has pulled out all the stops with his line-up. Many, many of the bands who played Crystal this weekend won’t be playing in venues of that size again, the next trio of bands being prime examples. First up former Bottleman Billy Bibby and his Wry Smiles. Consummate professionals as always with a wealth of top notch indie rocks gems. Always a joy.
The place filled up (and it was pretty full to start with) before Liberty Ship took to the stage. Another local band who have really cornered the market in indie pop. I’ve watched the band grow up from young fresh faced lads into a band worthy of anyone’s time. Still ridiculously fresh faced and young but with several years’ experience behind them now. I can’t think of any band this young who have such a catalogue of sublime songs that are delivered so well. Latest single ‘Which Way’ is up there as single of the year. It is just perfect. And live it takes on a whole new life. It’s quite possibly my highlight of the whole weekend. Their energy on stage is palpable (although singer Lewis told me after he wasn’t dancing, just trying to find the air-con).
When it comes to energy on stage though there’s not many that can touch October Drift. They are a force of nature, their music a wall of gorgeous noise that there is just no escaping from. Singer Kiwi is sometimes part Ian Curtis, sometimes part Iggy Pop, especially when he strips down to just black jeans and Doc Martens and starts scaling any part of the pub he can. All four members give it everything, the band just a blur at times as they thrash their instruments, and the crowd, into submission. That takes some doing at the best of times. In those temperatures it was death defying. It’s a spectacle. It’s something very special indeed.
Café Totem was next, and as it turned out last, on the list for Leeds 4 piece The Strawberries. We’d saved the hottest for last. There was just no air. I believe stifling is the word. Strawberries have had a bit of a line-up change in the last year and are better for it. Joe Connolly firmly established on bass now has given Ethan Sherwin the chance to shine on guitar and he does it so well. Psychedelic wah-wahs dancing all-round the stage backing up Sam Neil’s blues tainted vocals. Joe is a seriously accomplished bass player, another that makes it look effortless, which has freed up drummer Ben Heath to show his beat perfect class. They are just a great, tight band. New single ‘In Your Dreams’ just soars with a new found maturity. Not gonna lie though, I was so glad when last song ‘Laburnum House’ kicked in, I just couldn’t take the heat anymore. It was that heat and the best part of three days on it they made me decide to call it a day there and then.
I got home to an email from the Tramlines organisers announcing a there is to be a permanent memorial to Sarah Nulty on Devonshire Green. Virtually every band (especially the local ones) whether on the Main Stage or Fringe dedicated their set to Sarah. If it hadn’t been for Sarah Nulty then Tramlines wouldn’t exist. Simple as that. I have been going to Tramlines for several years now. All over the City this was the best one yet. It was truly magnificent. There can be no finer tribute to Sarah than that. This is her legacy and it is beautiful.