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Tramlines Festival Review: Episode Three – Return of The Tramlines.

The first scene in Episode Three of the Star Wars trilogy takes place in an arid, desert environment. Tramlines takes place in Sheffield so that was never going to happen, and day three opens to a steady, south Yorkshire drizzle.

For the sake of completeness I felt compelled to take-in at least one artist from the BBC Radio Sheffield Introducing Stage at The Library. I’m glad I did. It was a charming little spot, the stage was a bandstand, the seats were hay-bales, and there were numerous well established trees to shelter under. There was also a captivating set from local singer-songwriter Anya Lace. She had a disarming, charming manner, struggling with her capo, or letting her jewellery get in the way of her guitar playing. She had a lovely voice and sang plaintive songs like No One Can Say Why We Ended and High Wire – songs about poor relationship choices and toxic individuals. By the end of her set I just wanted one of her friends to go up and give her a big hug.

Anya Lace

Gaff prone hospital radio DJ Ivan Brackenbury is the alter ego of comedian Tom Binns. You may know him from his guest performances on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown. Today he was making an appearance on T’ Other Stage. The premise of his act is simple – pick a medical condition, give it to a patient, construct a scenario, and then play an inappropriate song. The more elaborate the set up, the bigger the pay-off. ‘This one goes out to Derek on the Eye Ward who’s finally been able to go private and get his cataracts done after his Aunty Lorraine died and left him some money in her will’. Cue song lyrics – ‘I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone’. Get it? Don’t worry if you didn’t, it’s quick-fire, scatter-gun comedy, there’ll be another along in a second.

As I moved from T’ Other Stage to the main stage, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. I partly blame The Coral for the bad weather. They started with Bill McCai and Pass It On, then played a couple of songs from their excellent new ‘Seaside Town Concept Album’ – Coral Island. Lover Undiscovered contains the line ‘brightens up the grey skies’, and Faceless Angel begins ‘Faceless angel hitch-hikes through the rain’. Following those with Jacqueline which starts, ‘You left before the rain came down’ I could see a pattern developing. My sodden state appeared to be a direct result of The Coral‘s lyrics. It’s was as if they were controlling the weather with their words. My clothes may have been wet, but my spirits were not dampened, only raised. The musical masterclass of the whole weekend came when The Coral played Goodbye off their self titled debut album. The musicianship displayed during this psychedelic juggernaut was truly astonishing.

The Coral

Discovery of the day were Glasgow alt-rockers Dead Pony. Fast paced, grunge-tinted, punk infused tunes like 23, Never Me, Bullet Farm and Zero raised the temperatures in the Leadmill Tent and had the damp, energetic crowd steaming (in the raising water vapour sense, not the really pissed sense). As energetic as the crowd was frontperson Anna Shields who bounded around the stage moving like a young Zack da la Rocha. The bands sound and performance reminded me very much of The Mysterines, who I believe Dead Pony have supported.

Anna Shields, Liam Adams – Dead Pony

Liveliest crowd of the day award went to The Wombats, who just edged out Sports Team, and local favourites Reverend & the Makers during an anything but sleepy afternoon matinee session. Sports Team were up first and lead singer Alex Rice worked the crowd up into a lather with raucous renditions of songs from 2020 album Deep Down HappyCamel Crew, Kutcher and Fishing – and newer songs like R Entertainment – before culminating inevitably with show stopper Here’s The Thing. Ben Mack typically took the role of enigmatic keyboard player (copyright – Chris Lowe) to the max. I doubt that through the entire set he burnt off enough calories to work off a twiglet.

Alex Rice – Sports Team

‘Keep your bowels open, if a man falls we pick him up, and when The Reverend says bounce – we bounce’ were the last instruction from the manager of the Royal Oak F.C. as he introduced Reverend & the Makers to the main stage. Sound advice, heeded by most as they bounced their way through a set of groove-laden, indie bangers like Shine The Light, Bassline and Silence is Talking. Being a football fan I could completely relate to new tune Problems – a song prefaced by singer Jon McClure pointing to nearby Hillsborough Stadium saying, ‘every time I go to that place, there’s a feller comes over to me and he doesn’t stop moaning – this ones for him – we’ve all got problems mate’. Jon should try sitting in the Upper Bullens at Goodison Park. There’s an album’s worth of material in there.

It felt as if The Wombats won the battle of the afternoon bands due to a combination of factors. Maybe because the week contained birthdays for both Matthew Murphy and Tord Overland Knudsen they appeared to have an extra, enthusiastic spring in their step – an enthusiasm returned by the crowd. Maybe because they have a tremendous catalogue of join-in-able, indie-pop tunes with beats that make you move involuntarily. How can anyone keep still during Techno Fan, Kill The Director, Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves), or Let’s Dance to Joy Division? Maybe it was because they had a cast of giant, accident prone, visually restricted Wombats on stage causing additional joyful mayhem. Put together, all the ingredients created a splendid Wombat soufflé.

A trombone playing Wombat.

One of the bands I was most interested in seeing at Tramlines were Leeds post-punk/funk outfit Yard Act. On the night, some were disappointed by the bands performance, but not me. Singer James Smith openly admitted that he had got to Hillsborough a bit too early and had over-indulged in the free-hospitality. This lead to a succession of entertaining between-song incidents where our hero: got embroiled in an argument over a 50 pence piece; told the crowd where to get the best chips in Sheffield; and finally delivered a self-analysing, existential monologue that Hamlet would have thought was ‘a bit much’. I liked it immensely. What I liked even more were the songs. Alcohol, adrenaline, and angst delivered punk/funk tunes like The Overload, Payday, Land of the Blind, and Fixer Upper lit-up the Leadmill Stage. Yard Act were a cocktail of unequal parts Gang of Four’s punk/funk, Half-Man Half-Biscuit‘s lyricism, and The Fall’s cussedness. Intoxicating.

James Smith – Yard Act.

Part way through Madness‘ set I felt that they were just going through the motions. You can tell how well things are going at a festival by how far back the mayhem reaches. At the beginning of their set that mayhem was not stretching too far back from the stage. There was nothing wrong with Madness‘ performance, perhaps people were just flagging after a long weekend of merriment, but there appeared to be a fair amount of mid -audience lethargy going on. I was all set to write a piece comparing Madness to those American artists who do summer season’s in Vegas trotting out the same old staples to the tourists, when something mystical happened. Suggs took a break from singing and gurning, and guitarist Chris Foreman stepped up to the microphone. ‘I’m going to sing you an old Sheffield Folk Song’ he said, before embarking on a karaoke version of Don’t You Want Me. Well, Hillsborough erupted. I’m sure you could hear the crowds ‘Don’t you want me, ooh, oh, oh, oh’s’ in Barnsley and Rotherham. Trick done, Madness finished their set in fine style with their biggest, sing-along, crowd pleasers – Baggy Trousers, Our House, and It Must be Love. A well rehearsed walk-off was followed by an encore of Madness and Night Boat to Cairo. At the back of the crowd kids were skanking and middle aged ladies were pretending to play inflatable saxophones. The sun even came out. Madness had restored a balance to The Force.

Ian Dunphy

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