The Big Review: Tramlines 2019

Tramlines XI

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Friday

Tramlines is all about tradition. As a veteran of eight out of the eleven Tramlines festivals that have taken place since it all began in 2009, I have a pretty firm grasp on the heritage and customs of Sheffield’s premier festival. First off, it must rain at some point. That is a given. And so… to Friday.

I suppose Sea Girls were a fitting opening act for Tramlines 2019 (we missed the actual opening act Cora Pearl) as by the time the London indie band had begun, Hillsborough Park had become it’s own sea of plastic pint pots, mud and sad looking umbrellas. The band ploughed on regardless however with All I Want To Hear You Say and Damage Done sounding particularly soaring.

Circa Waves let me down a little with their overly polished third album but they are on genuinely top form here and it is clear the band have become accustomed to massive crowds and huge stages. Even newer songs such as Time Won’t Change Me sound better live than on record. Bigger. More powerful. The biggest cheers are reserved for the tracks that made the Liverpool lads famous however. Stuck, Lost It and Fire That Burns sound massive and T-Shirt Weather is an incendiary set closer. Again, this is also quite fitting as the idea of T-shirt weather seems ridiculous as my preposterous yellow poncho flaps forlornly in the wind.

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© Joshua Atkins – Fanatic

Last year, Tramlines bagged Welsh heroes Stereophonics, they followed that in 2019 with the addition of the inimitable Manic Street Preachers. By this point, I was onto my second lot of loaded fries and had sampled a few pints of Camden Hells Lager (what of it) so I was pretty ready for action.

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© Giles Smith – Fanatic

The ’90s legends come racing out of the blocks with a colossal rendition of Motorcycle Emptiness and a magnificent work through of You Stole the Sun from My Heart (perhaps the bands most underrated song). From there it is hit after hit with only an unnecessary cover of the Guns ‘n’ Roses screech fest Sweet Child O’ Mine feeling like a misstep. A Design for Life closes the Manics set in one of those unique ‘I was there’ moments that Tramlines seems to specialise in.

From there, I ran wildly to the Leadmill Stage, poncho flapping ridiculously behind me like the world’s worst superhero, to catch the start of The Futureheads. A band that have always been close to my heart. You’ll struggle to find a better set opener all weekend than Beginning of the Twist and this marks the start of an aural assault that will leave the hysterical Sheffield crowd reeling. Tracks like Yes/No and Area are perfect for a live setting and the band are clearly enjoying their return to the limelight after so long on the sidelines.

It is the big songs that really hit hard with Heartbeat Song, Decent Days and Nights and Skip to the End all pounding through the Leadmill Stage with the intensity of a thousand suns. Also pounding at this point was my bladder to the extent that I actually had a little cry at one point, but I somehow made it to the end of the set without having an accident and was able to bear witness to the singular experience of seeing Hounds of Love live, one of my favourite ever songs. The crowd is split down the middle for the customary sharing out of the backing vocals and the band relish the opportunity to play what is, in my opinion, the best cover version ever.

And that is the end of my night. Some of you may notice there was another headliner playing that evening in the shape of Two Door Cinema Club but I didn’t see a single second of them as I was drunkenly chatting to people who were polite enough to put up with me for half an hour or so.

Saturday

I woke up on Saturday, hungover, tired and with a dog sleeping next to me. To clarify, I am talking about an actual dog, I’m not just being horribly misogynistic. After taking the dog for a walk (again, not a euphemism), we began the long process of trying to make it back to Hillsborough Park for American comic Reginald D. Hunter. After lots of arguing and messing about with taxis we arrived just in time… to discover that Hunter was running late and that he wasn’t on yet. This did mean that we caught about 15 minutes of an impromptu extended set by British comedy veteran Al Barrie and he delivered an enjoyable expletive ridden rampage of one liners and cutting asides.

We accidentally end up watching a couple of awful songs from The Everly Pregnant Brothers, Sheffield’s premier ‘comedy’ act who sing about chip pans and pork pies in a way that confirms every negative stereotype that anyone has ever had about Yorkshire, before heading off to the T’Other Stage for a glimpse at London indie pop quartet Anteros. And I’m glad we did. Laura Hayden makes for a compelling lead singer and the band sound great on a stage were the sound quality would be perfect all weekend.

Sadly, the day takes another downturn when we settle in at the Main Stage for She Drew The Gun, a Liverpool band that I had rated highly due to their excellent single Something for the Pain. Festival main stage sets should ideally be musically excellent and lots of fun. If you manage to hit one of those two criteria then you are probably doing OK. She Drew The Gun emphatically fail at both with a dirge of a setlist that mostly resembles somebody moaning to the sound of a washing machine falling down the stairs.

Luckily, Miles Kane is on next and he clears the cobwebs with an energetic and crowd pleasing set covering his whole solo career with Inhaler and Come Closer receiving the best reaction. He also throws in a, quite frankly, brilliant cover of Donna Summer’s disco classic Hot Stuff. That is how you play the Main Stage at a festival.

Quick shout out to Cassia who played a really enjoyable, Vampire Weekend-esque set on the Library Stage which perfectly soundtracked me eating an ice cream.

I like Reverend and the Makers, I really do, but their Main Stage set this year is a carbon copy of their Main Stage set last year and it will probably be the same when it inevitably happens again next year. Having said that, Bassline is a banger and the massive crowd go wild throughout, so who am I to judge?

I catch the first few tracks from West London based band Sports Team in between my 87th and 88th trips to the toilet and charismatic lead singer Alex Rice puts on a great show with a spirited run through of their great single M5 being the highlight. I squeeze in some more loaded fries before heading off to Johnny Marr. Or Johnny Fucking Marr to use his full title.

The Smiths legend is on fine form and wrings the best sound quality out of the Main Stage all weekend. When you can call on a back catalogue that includes Bigmouth Strikes Again, How Soon Is Now and This Charming Man you know you are on to a winner. His rendition of the forgotten Electronic track Getting Away With It is a personal peak for me but there is no doubting that the singalong for set closer There Is a Light That Never Goes Out is the most transcendent moment of the set and indeed of the the whole day.

The Courteeners. Hmm. They released one genuinely brilliant album over ten years ago and a handful of other decent songs since and yet they regularly find themselves playing to some of the biggest crowds in the country. I’ll be honest. I don’t get it. The start of their set is plagued by sound problems and it isn’t until Take Over the World that they really hit their stride. Bide Your Time is still the classic it has always been and it’s nice to hear The Opener again (replete with it’s shout out to Doncaster). The set kind of loses its way from there however with the meandering Lose Control giving way to the snooze fest that is The 17th and forgettable new song Hanging Off Your Cloud.

Liam Fray (sporting a ridiculous jacket and a shit haircut) seems genuinely chuffed to be headlining a festival, which is nice, and they do at least pull it together at the end with a bruising Not Nineteen Forever before the always triumphant traditional set closer What Took You So Long, but The Courteeners wont have changed anybody’s mind with this set. Their legion of fans will have gobbled it up though and that is (rightfully) all they care about out.

Sunday

I know this is going on a bit now so I’ll get through this as quickly as possible. Happy Mondays. A great way to open a festival on a Sunday morning. Crowd was loving it. Shaun Ryder seemed to have a grasp on where he was. Rowetta sounded amazing.

Phil Jupitus is a welcome addition to the Leadmill Stage and while his riff on different ways to savagely murder Nigel Farage goes down better than his poetry, it is a good set overall.

The Rifles have the luxury of playing The T’Other Stage so the sound is perfect throughout and the band deliver a career spanning, hit laden set that includes a blistering performance of Local Boy and a heartwarming Romeo and Julie but doesn’t feature, arguably their best song, Robin Hood which is a shame.

The Rifles

Peter Hook & The Light is perhaps the biggest shock of the weekend. There is always the worry with something like this that it’ll just sound like Joy Division/New Order karaoke but Hooky actually makes for a great band leader. His voice holds up throughout and his band are absolutely incredible. The atmosphere for tracks like True Faith and Blue Monday is understandably electric and you simply won’t find a better set closer anywhere than Love Will Tear Us Apart. The crowd shuffle out still chanting that last song in what is undoubtedly one of the festivals most memorable moments.

BlackWaters on the Library Stage are far too shouty for an old man on a Sunday afternoon and we fare little better with Rag ‘n’ Bone Man who confirms that he is a musician for people who don’t really like music. It’s not terrible, it’s just… nothing. And, if anything, that’s worse.

Thank God for Good Cop Bad Cop then or should I say thank Joe Carnall Jr. The Milburn singer is on fine form in full detective get up and the songs from his self titled debut album take on a different power live than on record. When You’re Not Winning sets the tone for a hypnotic live show that sees the exceptional single Silk and Leather matched by Taste the Danger, End of Level Boss Part 1 and Times New Roman. Carnall even throws in a Human League cover in the shape of Love Action for good measure.

A resplendent Joe Carnall Jr.

And so… to the best performance of the weekend. Doves have been sorely missed during their hiatus and they remind everyone why they were so seminal in the first place with a flawless set that couldn’t have been any more perfect if I’d handpicked it myself.

Pounding probably gets the best crowd reaction but The Cedar Room is a personal highlight. Realistically however, it is impossible to rate one song above the other. Each one is delivered with a passion and skill and that is unmatched across all of Tramlines 2019. Snowden fills up the whole tent, Kingdom of Rust is as vital and insistent as ever and Black and White Town surely leads to a seismic event to dwarf that which was allegedly caused by Two Door Cinema Club two nights earlier.

There Goes The Fear is the perfect set closer and there goes the festival. Doves cap off a great day of music and another splendid weekend. I don’t feel quite as broken this time but Tramlines 2019 certainly delivered.

Loaded fries. Waking up with dogs. Ruined trainers. Arguments about the Courteeners. Camden Hells. Over zealous security checks on entry. Great music. Sleeping on sofas. It must be Tramlines…

See you all next year!

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