Tramlines 2021: from indie to grime and everything in between over three days of music and mayhem.

Tramlines, Sheffield’s biggest music, art, and comedy festival, saw 40,000 music fans a day attended the sold-out event at Hillsborough Park from July 23 to 25. This made Tramlines the largest festival to return in Western Europe, and it delivered everything it promised and more. After being starved of live music during the pandemic, fans were reunited with each other and the artists they love.

Starting on Friday, The Sarah Nulty Main Stage had a wealth of talent on the lineup to get the weekend off the right way despite bands coming out a little later than other days in the festival. This only meant that there were more music fans through the gates raring to go. By the time The Pigeon Detectives came out, the crowd was growing larger by the minute. They opened with ‘I Found Out’ followed closely by ‘This is an Emergency’ and played an energetic set.

Matt Bowman of The Pigeon Detectives

Like so many acts who played after them, they took the time to thank fans for coming out to what was their first festival experience in years. At one point, they revelled in the lack of social distancing, pleased to see lots of “sweaty skin touching,” and it was clear that the attendees were not holding back jumping and dancing squished together in a crowd in the heat. To help with the crowd hydration, frontman Matt Bowman explained that the band had requested many water bottles on their rider to throw out to the crowd but were given cans instead. This didn’t stop him from launching them out to the audience but warned fans to watch out so they wouldn’t get hit in the face.

Other acts that stood out on the Sarah Nulty Main Stage on Friday included Circa Waves and The Kooks. Rather unsurprisingly at a festival held in Sheffield, the indie staples were essential, and Friday was definitely the indie day. Circa Waves, the earlier of the two bands, played an 11 song set that oozed with professionalism but was raucous nonetheless. Opening with ‘Wake Up,’ ‘Get Away,’ and ‘Movies.’ They had the crowd gathered at the barrier eating out of their hands and closed out their set with ‘T-Shirt Weather,’ leaving the audience baying for more.

The more came in the way of the aforementioned The Kooks. This year, they celebrate 15 years of their debut album Inside In / Inside Out and have a headline tour coming early next year to do so in style. This was their opportunity to crack out all the golden oldies from that album, and of course, they did, including fan favourites ‘Always Where I Need to Be,’ ‘Sofa Song,’ and ‘She Moves in Her Own Way.’ There was even a little downtime from all the dancing where Luke Pritchard played a solo acoustic version of ‘Seaside.’ No surprise to anyone, they closed the set with their breakout hit from 2006 ‘Naive.’

Luke Pritchard of The Kooks

At this stage in the evening, the audience was quite possibly all indie-d out, which was ok because the hugely anticipated set from headliners The Streets was imminent. They came out triumphantly like heroes returning from battle and began the set with ‘Turn the Page’ from the hugely successful Original Pirate Material. The mood was high, and so were the expectations to celebrate the coming together against all odds. During the set, Mike Skinner encouraged fans not to get too wild because they had a whole two other days of the festival to go, and after a considerable break from live music, they were probably out of practice.

Like many artists over the three days, they used the opportunity to share music written in lockdown. In this case, it was the popular song ‘June 21 (Who’s got the bag)’. Although The Streets produced a good set, it was not the set of the weekend; that honour came down to a tie between two artists, one from Saturday’s lineup and one from Sundays. Although for those with enough energy, there was an afterparty where Skinner DJ’d, held at the Student Union club Foundry.

Mike Skinner of The Streets

After a restful night’s sleep, it was time to enjoy Saturday’s offerings which turned out to be a great day for female artists, who dominated the bill. Early on in the day, Lauren Hibberd wowed audiences with her set on the Sarah Nulty Main Stage, playing to a small crowd gathered down front and centre. She played about seven songs, starting with ‘Bleugh’ and finishing up by questioning ‘How Am I Still Alive?’ It really set the day up for how it would go on, and when later in the day, Lucy Spraggan walked out onto the stage, things only got better.

Lucy Spraggan is a local to Sheffield act, known amongst the locals and further afield due to a stint on X-Factor. She opened her set with a song that she explained was about Sheffield, ‘Lighthouse,’ and went on to sing ‘Run To The Hills.’ The crowd clapped along, and when she announced she was playing an old song, there were cheers. She explained that she had stopped playing this song, but since Covid, she had decided to play whatever she wanted. In this case, it was ‘Tea & Toast,’ and the crowd was hyped by the time she got to her cover of the day, which was none other than ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ by The Proclaimers.

After spending so much of the day over at the main stage, it was time to take in something different at the T’Other stage. Which lead us to Little SImz, and thank god it did — her set was unreal, and we weren’t alone in thinking it could all be some kind of fantastic dream. As the set started, she ran over to a member of her backing band, asking them to pinch her. “Just making sure this is real,” she said.

The set begins with the brilliant ‘Introvert’ from her upcoming fourth album, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.’ She also previewed a song called ‘Little Q’ about a near-fatal stabbing that left the victim in a coma for two weeks. An insightful track that questions what situation the perpetrator must be in to have got in that position, that he is as much a victim as the person being stabbed. Both are let down by the system and society they grew up in.

Little SImz

Almost as impressive as Little SImz is, her band comprises very talented musicians that compliment her range of songs and vocal stylings. Which, by the way, are vast and extensive; no two songs are the same. She briefly came out at the end of her set to meet fans which was no surprise as even with her confident stage persona, it was possible to see her gratitude and humble aura. She was a tough act to follow, setting the bar for all acts unreasonably high.

By the Sunday morning, those who had been at Tramlines all weekend had just as much energy as when they first came through the gates on Friday. The buzz from the night before had carried over to the new day, and crowds of people gathered at each stage, ready to rock. Early on the Main stage, The Fratellis impressed with a super tight performance of some of their greatest hits. Everything was polished, from their energy-building entry onto the stage to the well-choreographed three backing singers, with their bouncy blond locks knocking out the moves as they sang. Of course, the set’s highlight was ‘Chelsea Dagger,’ but that was no surprise.

Over on the T’Other stage, you could sit down, catch a breath and have a laugh with comedians on from lunchtime through the afternoon. Amongst others was the hilarious king of one-liners and puns, Milton Jones. He captured the audience’s attention wonderfully and performed his distinctive humour to a packed-out tent of fans and passers-by alike. Once fuelled up with laughs and revitalised by the little rest, fans could head back to the Main stage to catch some more live music. This meant that they could see another local act, The Reytons, who had the whole audience in the palms of their hands.

Milton Jones

Starting with a cool video on the big screens encapsulating the town they love, Sheffield, The Reytons played a blinder of a set. It included a few live debuts: ‘Red Smoke,’ ‘Broke Boys Cartel,’ ‘Antibiotics,’ and ‘Jealous Type,’ which had the audience dancing and singing along. People obviously couldn’t wait to experience these songs live. The boys who have their debut album out in September, Kids Off The Estate, are ones to watch out for. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, a quick zoom over to the T’Other stage brought music fans The Snuts.

Before Tramlines Festival even begun, The Snuts secured their place on the ones to watch list for many people. The crowd filled the tent entirely and overspilt outside by the end of the set. Opening with ‘All Your Friends,’ they came in at about 100 mph and kept energy levels up throughout. The crowd erupted into dancing, jumping, and some small circle pits formed. Some were so overtaken with joy they lost themselves, went slightly over the top in their celebrations complete with flares, and were escorted out by security.

However, the vast majority of fans had a trouble-free time and were now adequately pumped up to head back to the main stage and check out Dizzee Rascal, who proceed to blow everyone’s minds with a stand-out performance. He did such a fantastic job you would think he was the headliner. His set rivaled Little SImz for the top spot, but in the end, they drew. Dizzee played tracks from the good old days like ‘I Luv U’ and ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ to his well-known hits like ‘Holiday’ and ‘Dance Wiv Me.’ He even added a little theatrics during the set by pretending they were getting shut down because they had too much bass. They left the stage and returned with security, who acted to the audience that he was stopping the show before Dizzee and crew launched back into the insane performance.

Dizzee Rascal

He was having so much fun that he played ‘Bonkers’ twice to close out the wonderful array of songs he’d squeezed into his allotted time. Though he quite possibly ran over somewhere in the second rendition of ‘Bonkers’ telling the audience, “I’m about to get into trouble for this.” Unfortunately, it was a hard act for Supergrass to follow, and although they had a good run-in, it was clear that Dizzee had stolen the show.

Supergrass did put on a good show, though, and played a fun set that included a couple of intermissions and songs like ‘Going Out’ and ‘Alright.’ Although the set was a long one, they even had time to fit in an encore consisting of ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and ‘Pumping on Your Stereo.’ All in all, fans were left in high spirits to make their way home after a long, satisfying weekend.

Tramlines was Highwire’s first foray back into the festival world since the pandemic started as it was to so many others, and it was a great one. Artists and audiences agreed that it was a huge success, and full of anticipation, flocked online to buy tickets for next year’s installment of this unique and diverse event. We certainly can’t wait to do it all again.

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