July in Sheffield – means only one thing really:
I know, there are plenty of other things going on in the city but, for thousands of music lovers and almost as many performers, most of July is spent preparing for the festival and then recovering from it.
It grew from an idea by Matt Helders (The Arctic Monkeys’ drummer) The Reverend (Jon McClure – Singer of Reverend and The Makers) and Toddla T (Thomas Mackenzie Bell – Sheffield producer, composer, and engineer who is married to Annie Mac). The first festival was held in 2009 and was a free festival. And it continued to be free until 2013 when a charge was introduced. Six pounds for the first year.
I have never bought a ticket; not just because I’m mean, though that is part of it, but because there is quite enough going on without a ticket. Okay, you get to see some big acts: The Libertines, Toots and the Maytals, Primal Scream… and that’s just this year. But there is another side to the festival. A side that’s not too well publicised but is very much alive and is certainly kicking.
All local bands and acts, all performing in dozens of venues, pubs and clubs and cafes all around the city. And it’s this part of the festival that I immerse myself in each year. I can honestly say, without bias, that the talent on show on the fringe equals and often exceeds that of the main stages. It’s not a surprise that I identify with these guys: thousands of pounds of equipment hauled around the city by friends and family; organisation on a staggering level as everything remains fluid for the entire weekend.
I concentrated on mainly one venue this year: The Crucible Corner. Never before involved in the festival but this year organised wholly by the part-time but dedicated staff that work there. All the equipment was supplied by them (in no small part by my son who did all the sound and performed a few times in various guises). It was a terrific effort and, although I went to other venues, I kept coming back to ‘The Corner’ and seeing yet another astonishingly talented young person. Here you can see Jack Chapman performing songs from his new EP Heal This Way. Jack is a singer songwriter but decided to introduce his songs to the public by way of a full band. This was the first time a band of this size has performed inside the ‘Rotunda’, the glass dining area of The Crucible Corner.
Another regular at ‘The Rotunda Sessions’ (every other Monday night open Mic) is Harrison Rimmer. A bundle of energy, entertainment and talent. Harrison’s set had the audience singing along, shouting and gasping. His table top performance is a must see. The sets for the open mic nights are three songs and off; for Tramlines it was a forty five minute set. This guy held the audience, entertained the audience for three quarters of an hour. Just a small guy with a guitar and enough energy to light the streets of the city. If you get a chance to see Harrison then don’t pass it by. You won’t regret it. Harrison also has an EP out.
Like I say, there are plenty of people filling The Ponderosa and Devonshire Green and The Peace Gardens. The outside, ticketed event was in full swing but we kept ourselves to the fringe venues (which are strangely played down on the festival’s official site; no idea why). We dipped into Crystal to see Bayonet and then popped into Record Junkee to catch another set from Mr Chapman.
In between Crystal and Record Junkee we nipped back to The Crucible Corner for a sneaky pint and had the pleasure of watching this guy: Jack Weston. A powerful guy with a powerful voice who plays guitar without taking any prisoners. Yet despite all that power he has a voice of an angel (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so). Jack plays under the name Kid Conventional and has a fabulous EP out called ‘I Will Never be an Astronaut’. Great single off a great EP. He also played down at Endcliffe Park at The Folk Forest as part of Sheffield’s Sgt Pepper Project. We were gutted we couldn’t make that but heard that it was something else.
Sophie Simonds gave us a treat on Friday night. She opened the Rotunda Tramlines Sessions and didn’t disappoint. Apart from amazing vocals and backing, Sophie also plays the Sax. Word had spread that the Corner was involved this year and the turnout started good, giving Sophie a great audience, and built over the weekend to an incredible size. I have never seen so many people in The Crucible Corner before.
Can’t leave it without mentioning these two guys either: Deaf Crows. I’m ridiculously biased because it’s my good friend Jack Chapman on guitar/bass and my son Aeddan on drums. A two piece rock/blues band that has an awesome reputation around the city. One of the most popular bands around always being asked to play. Not without reason either. They have a set that comprises some amazing songs of their own: South China Sea; Bones; Ruby Reds plus a few covers from bands as diverse as Fleetwood Mac (the old one) to Dead Weather. If you get the opportunity to see these guys then don’t pass it by. They’re at The Frog and Parrot on Thursday 3rd August.
Another great treat came from Harriet Rose Grant. Harriet’s been writing, playing and singing for a few years now. I saw her for the first time at The Greystones in The Backroom supporting Nick Harper. Quite an impressive start. Harriet has a great voice and her songs are hauntingly delicious. She sings from the heart and had the audience in her palm for the entire set. Coincidently, she’s playing at the same gig as Deaf Crows on 3rd August. So, if you’re free, get yourself down to The Frog and Parrot for a gorgeous bit of chillin’ with Harriet followed by an audio onslaught from the Deaf Crows boys.
In all, over the two and a half days of the festival, thirty bands played at The Rotunda Tramlines Sessions. That’s thirty amazingly talented people or bands in just that one venue. A few more of them listed below:
A big thanks to everyone concerned for giving me, my family and my friends an amazing weekend of memories.
But there’s more to it. I spent this blog talking about Tramlines instead of my own writing for a good reason. There is a link here that joins all makers of art. Musicians, Painters, Sculptors, Writers, all of us. And the fact that these thirty acts all contributed to a fringe event. Their time, their effort, their talent. And all that merchandise that they have, Albums and EPs and singles, they are all the product of hundreds of hours of work. And the ability to produce that stuff comes from thousands of hours of honing those skills to the point where products of that quality can be produced. Not just cassette tapes of yourself in the bedroom or (in my case) a pile of notebooks with scribbled down disorganised ideas. These are fully formed pieces of art. They contain our DNA.
With reference to my own endeavours with fiction, without wanting to be too negative about all this, I’m still emulating that poor old bugger, Sisyphus (a great track on Kid Conventional’s EP). There are a lot of writers out there all trying to attract the attention of not many publishers and agents. Add to that the subjective nature of all art and the obvious fact that you have to find ‘the right person on the right day who is in the right frame of mind’ and you can see how fraught this whole process can become. This is true of all those acts. Every one of them has a dream. Some are philosophical about it, some are simply driven and some will, inevitably, fall victim to disappointment and, in a few sad cases, might become quite ill. It’s not an endeavour to be taken lightly or written off as a ‘nice hobby’.
Having watched and listened to the music over these three days I came to realise something else: that, despite the vast music collection I have at home, on vinyl, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, MP3 etc, I could actually survive quite easily on the music supplied by those thirty individuals and bands that performed in that one venue over that one weekend. The corporate business of music doesn’t have us by the throat; we can all make our own art just as good and often much better.
We are all richer than we realise.
A big thank you to Alex at CXG Media for all the photos and also for his amazing commitment to the weekend at Rotunda Sessions does Tramlines.