More about: Tramlines
Did you know that McDonalds once made bubblegum-flavoured broccoli? That has nothing to do with Tramlines 2021...but I’m very aware it’s going to be difficult starting this write up without the generic 'it’s good to be back', simply because it really, really is. It's so good to be back.
There was trepidation in the build-up to Tramlines. Fans and acts alike waited with bated breath to see if the festival was going to go ahead at all. And then, around two weeks before opening night, it was announced that regardless of whether or not restrictions would be dropped, Tramlines would run as a pilot event regardless. With that, it was off to the shops for funky shirts, glitter and bucket hats.
The excitement upon stepping through the gates is palpable with the mainstage set up and looking fantastic thanks to the Be More Nulty illustrations that don its sides. Amps are getting checked, strings tuned, and beers bought as everyone there, in this moment, is locked in a fixed state of excitement. It's a good job they are. Because when if you were to strip back that festival deprivation, you'd realise that day one of Tramlines has quite a poor line-up.
With a predominantly indie festival, it’s no surprise that there are indie bands booked to play the bill; however, on Friday the main stage welcomes one after another: The Pigeon Detectives, Circa Waves, then The Kooks, who, let’s face it, may as well all be the same band.
The Blinders have a good set and manage to get the crowd going with heavy riffs and spoken word lyrics, providing a little more aural diversity to the day, but after that, the main stage is quite deprived of anything exciting. Even The Streets take to the stage to headline the Friday with a set that's somewhat lacking: they seem to have nothing to offer a crowd that aren’t off their face. It's good to be back. But this was a bad day of music.
T’Other Stage on Saturday starts with comedy from the likes of Andre Vincent and Joel Dommett who get the crowd warmed up before Sheffield Poet Laureate, rapper and philosopher Otis Mensah heads out under the lights and performs his poem ‘Ode To Black Thought’. His sweet-sounding voice permeates the tent as he professes: “I had a dream I went to see the roots”. The festival starts here.
Otis Mensah’s ability to hold a crowd in the palm of his hand by rapping in a way which is so poetic and peaceful whilst articulating stories of internal and external struggle is inspired. Afterwards, he describes his excitement to be back at a festival: “I thought it was gunna be quite small but there were people waiting which was amazing,” he told me whilst tucking into a tray of cheesy chips.
T’Other stage continues to deliver thanks to a performance by Georgia who comes out with all the energy of a compressed can of Red Bull on a rocket to the moon. She's followed by Little Simz, who also dominates the tent. Performing a mixture of songs from her previous projects Stillness in Wonderland and Grey Area, plus some tracks from her upcoming album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert keeps the crowd hyped for the entire set. The energy in the tent never drops as Simbi raps with utter coolness, but addresses the audience with the gratitude of someone deadly passionate about what they do.
Then it's back to the main stage for an eagerly-anticipated headline set from rock'n'roll’s Chuckle Brothers, Royal Blood. Firstly, I would like to wish Mike Kerr a speedy recovery from Covid: anyone who wears silver, heeled Chelsea boots has clearly lost their sense of taste. Their set however, is a banger from start to finish. The pair deliver riff-heavy, fast-paced music perfectly to a crowd who love every single second. Mike’s vocals are on point while Ben continues to prove himself as one of the best drummers in modern rock.
Sunday brings with it even more excitement as Phoebe Green kicks things off with what she describes as a "terrifying" set. “We did South by Southwest” she tells me afterwards, “But it was a filmed event so there was no one actually there. This is the first time we’ve been in front of an audience for like two years”. The crowd react well to Phoebe’s music as her and her band provide a dizzying array of smooth indie pop in the blistering heat.
Next The Fratellis take to the main stage in a set that is surprisingly lower down the bill than you might expect considering bands such as The Kooks—who have a similar catalogue—were supporting the headliner only a couple of days before. Nevertheless, the band churn out their hits to a nostalgic crowd and it's a lot of fun...even if Jon Fratelli has an awful taste in hats.
Ed Cosens performs a really good set of songs from his new solo album Fortunes Favour which draws in a really big crowd, with Holly Humberstone following him, delivering beautiful vocals throughout her 30 minute set.
By far and away the best act of the weekend is Dizzee Rascal, who takes to the main stage on Sunday afternoon. Dizzee—as one of the pioneers of UK grime—is absolutely no stranger to working up a crowd, which he makes look easy. Dizzee comes out and blasts through some of his harder rap songs such as 'Heavy' from Chase & Status album No More Idols, before ending the set with classic after classic. The entire festival erupts to the sounds of ‘Dance Wiv Me’ ‘Holiday’ and ‘Bonkers’...not to mention, he solidifies himself as the king of Tramlines when he drags a security guard on stage to complain about not being able to turn the bass up, before heading into ‘Bassline Junkie’.
The Big Moon rock The Library as is becoming tradition for them, while Everything Everything close T’Other Stage with a set that's anything but disappointing: Jonathan Higgs has a voice that sounds like it’s carved out of marble and the tent is filled with the electric atmosphere that the band lace all their music with.
One of the best things about Tramlines is how much there is to do outside of watching music: I discover this by heading over to The Open Arms tent to watch hip-hop karaoke. There’s nothing quite like witnessing a drunk guy in sunglasses that are too big for him and a funky shirt absolutely butcher A Tribe Called Quest.
I don’t imagine that anyone left Tramlines anything but satisfied. It would be good to see a more diverse line-up in the future as the acts (particularly those on the main stage) seemed to get somewhat repetitive after a while. Overall though, there’s not much else negative to say. The people there were all in good spirits, everything ran smoothly, the staff absolutely worked their arses off and the bands seemed closer and more human than ever before. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between musician and audience member but here—perhaps due to what we’ve all just been through—the acts on stage were just as happy to be there fans were.
Yeah, Tramlines 2021… it’s good to be back.
More about: Tramlines