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Review: Tramlines 2012 (the whole weekend)

Tramlines 2012. It was a long experience as somehow I thought I could manage to get as many bands as I could if I did half-sets.

I probably shouldn’t plan gig attendances while surrounded by chemicals in the analytical lab.

In the spirit of inside jokes (I.e. the quest of the perfect name for a label), here’s my caffeine-fuelled review.

Friday 20th – That pile of straw came with a present Record

Although the weather pointed more towards “drizzle and showers” than “sunny festival time”, the atmosphere was starting to buzz, with drinks being consumed heavily. The Frog & Parrot pretty much started the celebrations early (although The Green Room had a smashing gig on Thursday…).

First act on the main stage was The Violet May. They had a fierce set, where ‘Mother’s Milk’ is always a good freak out (I could see some teens moshing) and ‘TV’ is a simply hypnotic song (I blame that bass riff). The surprise of this solid set was the collaboration with Mike Hughes, who previously rocked in Lenders in the Temple and now has his own folk solo stuff. The song was called ‘Temple Blues’ (I always thought it was called ‘The Rapture’) and this was the highlight of the set, so out of the blue, so powerful; an already strong song galvanised by the energy of a full band.

It probably is my religious upbringing, but the music of Dead Sons sounds heavily influenced by religious imagery (‘I am the Lord’!). In an interview that we did last year, they mentioned that their songs’ meanings are up for the listener’s interpretation and that always injects a bit of universality. Their set was fierce too (new track ‘Ghost Train’ sounds immense) and they are always good for a heavy (but not overbearing) slice of music.

A slight confusion in schedules meant that no photos of Reverend & The Makers’ set are to be found in this review. My bad. The live show of this congregation of musicians is always a treat (big respect to skinman Ryan Jenkinson, he’s a pro). Another surprise collaboration happened in this set: Tim (from Bromheads) took the stage to sing his part in ‘Bandits’ (a fave of mine) and Steve Papa Edwards for ‘Open your window’. Good set!

Sheffield Library’s Theatre is a strange treat to the senses: it always fulfils the idea I had of British gigs in the 60s and 70s. Dunno how true is that belief of mine, but what I do know is that See Emily Play’s set with the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra was simply wonderful. Managed to hear ‘Four feet from the door’, with the orchestral arrangements seamlessly attaching to the song. The place was way overcapacity (I had to dodge people on the steps towards the stage) and those lucky to see all the set had a good time.

Drinking in church is not a strange concept, as wine is part of communion. What is strange is switching from a sip of wine to pints of ciders and glasses of wine, but that’s the Church of England for you (we love you, brothers!)t. Robert George Saull‘s set is sombre and hard hitting; apocalyptic like the Revelations, morose like the psalms. If this set felt the darker part of the Bible (what, there are lighter parts?) then Oxo Foxo‘s set was definitely the opposite. ‘Starfish’ is such a perfect tune and her voice and loops were suited perfectly for the natural reverb of the place. A cover of ‘Baby I love your way’ was more of a introspective lament than a celebration and the Whigfield cover (‘Saturday Night’) was excellent. So much that a column of girls in the back of the Cathedral‘s nave were doing the choreography perfectly.

The Forum‘s midsized stage is great for interaction with the fans, even if the bouncers feel the need to stop people from jumping too much (spoilsports). Seize the Chair‘s music is not for people who want to keep a morose stance with arms crossed, but for people jumping or at least swaying rhythmically. There’s never a quiet moment with this band. ‘Deborah’ and ‘You Who?’ are this reviewer’s choice of tracks, but the set was so good I’m probably talking bollocks. Kill it Kid were groovier set, with their sort of blues being dirty in sound and slower in pace. That Wurlitzer organ sounded like Heaven. The night ended in The Washington, were Asbo A Gogo were creating a set for those still with energy (and nimbleness) left. A pint of cranberry juice for me, then.

Drink count: Pint o’cider, cranberry juice (in honour of Hot Fuzz).

Regrets: Not joining The #Pork Brigade jumping like Mexican beans in Seize the Chair‘s set. If I didn’t have a camera, I would’ve joined them. Also: missing Jody Wildgoose and Splashh.

Saturday 21st – Miserable Bastards eat sautéed asparagus Records

The people at The Wick at both ends sorted everyone with the white wristband (I.e. photographers) a lovely breakfast. The fish was delicious, the mushrooms were even better and I ate my body’s weight in asparagus.

Blue Lip Feel opened the main stage with their rock music, heavily re-transmitting the super sounds of the 70s in a fleshier sound. ‘Glitterbox’ and ‘Material Bones’ were the heavy hits with the audience (who managed to snag a free EP). The crowd was already big before this set and it increased gradually as the setlist moved forward.

It was the turn of Hey Sholay and the photographers’ pit was like a relay race. Only one song, so everybody could get a chance to take a good shot and it worked just fine. A band with perfect stage presence (and the stage skills to create a tangible presence to the audience), Hey Sholay was perfect. ‘Burning’ and ‘Wishbone’ are always welcomed, but opening with ‘Devil at the back door’ was a touch of brilliance. Closer ‘The Bears The Clocks The Bees’ is one of their best tracks and lent itself to a huge crowdsurfing that took singer Liam Creamer to the other side of Devonshire Green (well, almost).

Club60 curated Vintage Underground at Sheffield’s City Hall. Deep in the maw of this building lays the Ballroom, a stunning sight by itself. What Club60 did was give the space to a vintage fair (Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair), a vinyl café (LP Record Store), two music stages and have a headphone gig stage. It was a good place to cool down. Unsung National Heroes were your choice of band if you want your music in some sort of funk meets Balkan music. It’s a cocktail of influences, a rather rich one and their vivacious grooves had some people swaying and a lil’ kid dancing in the floor.

Another dose of Sheffield Cathedral for the lost soul? Don’t mind if I do. I catch 50% of Black Gold of the Sun‘s set and the religious setting is the perfect setting for the psychedelic folk this band weaves out in thin air, whether by the world-weary voices, the sways of violin notes or the poignant exhalations of a pump organ.

Mike Hughes deals apocalyptic folk. Hey, man, I’m just reading the description on Twitter! Again, what better setting than church for this man? It’s a quiet, acoustic effort, with the Cathedral’s natural resonation serving as the multieffect pedal that modulates Hughes‘ voice. ‘Temple Blues’ is a perfect song, stripped or electric, and ‘Girl in the watchtower’ is rich in imagery (and less disturbing than the Bible).

Did I mention I was in Catholic school? Fun times.

The sun is on full “scorching sensitive skins” mode and the New Music Stage beckons. The sweet sounds of Mazes emanates from the amplifiers and PA, marking the moment that Summer has truly arrived to Sheffield. There’s something about their music that screams “care-free” and “sunshine”, so even if I only catch half a set, smile gets pencilled in. I think some new material was played (second track, the one that was very droney…).

After a quick dash downhill, I arrived to the Hubs, where Everyone an Army unleashed their fierce progressive rock. Although underattended, they devoted their entire energy to put a strong show. New songs ‘Clio’ and ‘Sang Real’ are always a strong serving and, hey, it’s the only time I’ve seen someone telling off a heckler by landing stomach first on an amp while still playing bass.

Esben & The Witch. Ooh, this one is going to be hard to describe. I loved them live before but this time around, I felt confused. I don’t think it was a bad set at all, and their sounds are always full of enigmatic ideas (Rachel Davies’ vocals are simply mesmerising). Something didn’t click and the more I think about it, the more confused I get: nothing was wrong at all with the show (in fact, I had goosebumps while in the photo pit). What gives? Suggestions accepted.

Maybe it was exhaustion. All those bands, all that running around, all that mediocre reviewing. Best possible choice was the Busker Bus. It’s always a fun experience and this time it didn’t disappoint. Just climbed in the first one and it was Blue Lip Feel playing (I mistimed and missed Firesuite‘s set). The band and fans took the top floor and the 6 song set felt more of a road trip between friends than any sort of formal show (loved the inflatable shark). The acoustic version of ‘Glitterbox’ was pretty good and a cover of The Rolling Stones was a nice change of pace.

The Busker Bus trip was soothing, so maybe a second dose would make things better? Aye, it did. Red Hot White (with a singer sporting a leg cast) pulled a double whammy of funk, seamlessly integrating Stevie Wonder‘s ‘I wish’ with the Bee Gees ‘Stayin’ Alive’ (Sorry about joining in with a crap falsetto). They left in a hurry at the Fat Cat. Can’t beat a pint of Easy Rider! If I drank, I would’ve join them.

Firesuite at the Hubs was emotional. There’s something in their sounds, hidden beneath the furious drumming and the distorted reverberation that touches those sensible fibres. ‘Rabbit’, with its sudden start, is disconcerting at first and ‘Red World’ has a lovely e-bow ambient that adds an unearthly sound. ‘Amity’ is always a treat live and ‘Beneath the roses’ is cathartic (for both good and bad feelings).

So, a day of half sets, running between venues and terrible writing (mine). Home beckoned but a persuasive influence convinced me to drop by the Sheffield Library Theatre. Remember what I said about the place being what I imagined 60’s gigs in England looked like in my head? It was that mental image, displayed live when The Hosts arrived, all smartly dressed and playing their music in a very precise manner (including a fan that busted some moves – that was pretty cool). It truly was a trip back in time and they thanked the rounds of applause with an encore, which culminated with one of the cardboard pieces of the lightning rig hitting the keyboard. Strange happenings, wonderful rock music.

Drink count: A funky cocktail at Wick at both ends, several pints of water and enough whining juice to make Holden Caulfield ashamed.

Regrets: Not watching Don’t Sleep Dream, Nat Johnson and Velodromes 2000.

Sunday 22nd – God laughed so hard about your plans, He created a parallel world Records

A wiseman said “Saturday night is when you sin and Sunday is when you regret. Sinning is often done very loudly, angrily, bitterly, violently.” He was right.

Salvation came in a cup of Tamper coffee and 2 acoustic bands playing outside the coffee shop, in a set called Tamper not amper. One was Summo and the other was Bayoné. It was a friendly affair, even if the cars slowing (and listing) were less than friendly to the crowd that overspilled from the pavement to the road. Missed Nai Harvest, though.

Another pair of half-sets brings: Great Deeds, who mix jazz with punk, deftly confusing a few in the audience and enthralling the ones waiting for their schizophrenic sounds (‘Chainsaw’!) Only downside from their gig was the ejection from the bouncers of a couple of fellas whose only sin was to bring a few pieces of paper promoting a gig with Wolfhunt. Oh, well.

The other half-set comes courtesy of Oblong. ‘Mothership’ sound like the condemnation of a “Momma’s boy” sort of character and ‘Chasing rainbows in a stolen car’ is a “prog rock for people with longer attention spans”. Both songs were cool and classic ‘The Knife’ got a good spin.

Thanks to a very good Samaritan, I get a lift to South Yorks. Quite the art experience (curated by Kid Acne, natch), it had a bit of a video installation, a well stocked bar and a presentation of Zebra Face, an animated series made in Sheffield. Band wise, there was a different slice of music presented and managed to catch Blobby Band, who blobby blobby blobby blobby BLOBBY! Blobby ‘Blobby blobby’, ‘Blobbymian Rhapsody’ & ‘Blobby will Blobby us apart’. O sea, estuvieron chingones y lo mejor fue la participación con la audiencia. No sé quién está en los teclados, pero canción que le pedían al vato, canción que tocaba a la perfección, con ese toque de comedia/parodia que es arte y a la vez, entretenimiento.

Sorry, for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself.

Smithereens were a fun show. Pulling some serious rock faces while playing an expansive rock was a blast and for a few moments, it felt like the spirit of the band Hum was onstage, creating that spacey math rock that sometimes feels like a figment of the imagination. Cool headband too. Beware of the ‘shark’, though.

It was an interesting set, the one that Cats:For:Peru played. All new songs, recorded that same week, so it was basically a test run of the finished product. The evolutionary tendencies of their music means that no song resembles any of the ones from previous releases nor do they look like they are related at all. ‘Duck in the Oven’ was the only familiar sound and it’s always a great tune live. Out of the new ones, there’s one about people getting drunk (not in a funny way) and one that required people to stomp and clap (extremely catchy one).

A second dose of Firesuite at West Street Live resulted in pretty much the same setlist from the day before being played again. Execution was pretty excellent, and ‘Rabbit’ still sounds immense (August 6 can’t come sooner). Slightly under attended, totally powerful. ‘Amity’ always brings a lil’ tear. Thanks for the memories (good and bad).

A quick dash to Soyo rendered a twisted ankle and two songs by Screaming Maldini, with their baroque pop being always this close (__) of becoming hard rock (but in a friendly manner). They always deliver a great show and by the amount of applause in the completely packed room, this was no exception. Really have to recommend you get ‘Life in Glorious Stereo’.

Pork! The people of Mad Colours repeat this mantra wherever you go (human sacrifices can’t be far) and I sincerely don’t know how they still had the energy to perform like they did, as they’ve gigged twice in the same day (with same results). ‘Antique Guerilla’ still feels like XTC on hyperspace. More bodysurfing happened and bass player Del almost got his boxer shorts nicked ( a Budweiser fan!).

The camera battery died and I was going to stay for The Hot Soles, who always put one hell of a show, but then I got a call from a friend, who suggested I check a band called SexWäve. I agreed and took a bus to some weird place in Fulwood. There were probably 11 people around and the band played with their backs to us, with a floodlight against the audience, making them all look like shadows. It’s hard to explain what they sound like (and I can’t find mp3s on line to post here), but suffice to say, it was a sincere display of raw music, with some rockstar posing and a groovy bass riff that stuck in my head for the 2 minutes the last song lasted. I wanted to speak to the band, but once they finished, they calmly placed their instruments on the floor, yelled “Gouranga!” and ran away.

You’d have to be there, I guess.

Drink count: A stout at Rutland Arms, Lucozade (¡guácalaaaa!) and Pepsi (which bans me from the Olympics, allegedly).

Regrets: Not watching Idle Hans, Low Duo, Canyon Family and The Hot Soles.

So, in a nutshell: it was a pretty enjoyable weekend. Sure, there were some trouble with public transport on Saturday (bus route 52 vanished, taxis got taken over by The Horde) and some stage times got shifted around a lot, but I’m still always impressed on how this festival is pulled off. The Busker Bus is always a personal highlight and although I couldn’t make it to the Folk Forest, that’s always a safe haven from the madness of the city. Stick around in the upcoming days for less rambling, better written reviews. Hope you enjoyed the weekend as much as I did!

Entire photo set (if you please) is here.

Words & Photos: Samuel J. Valdés López

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