“And the Sunday sun shines down on San Francisco bay” belted out Tramlines Festival as Paul Heaton closed the weekend; fittingly as torrential downpours rained down on the depleted Sheffield crowd. But the Steel City faithful refused to let the miserable weather dampen their spirits – particularly the heroes who had fought through the thick mud to be there until the end. I’m sure fellow festival goers would agree that The Beautiful South and The Housemartins legend was more than worth hanging around for. Mr Heaton was one of more than 100 artists who took to Hillsborough Park across three days of live music and entertainment – more about some of them shortly…
On this occasion and across recent summer performances, Paul Heaton has been joined by the superb Scottish singer-songwriter Rianne Downey in the absence of his usual partner Jacqui Abbott, who has been taking time off for her voice to recover. Together they treated us to hits spanning four decades – from the likes of Don’t Marry Her, Caravan Of Love, Song For Whoever, Perfect 10 and Rotterdam (or Anywhere). One thing about seeing Paul Heaton live is that you’re always thrown back by the sheer amount of bangers he has across his discography – they certainly made dancing in the pools of murky water a whole lot easier. The Blades super fan, who was performing in view of his side’s fierce rivals Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium, has such a warm and infectious personality that even Wednesdayites would struggle to dislike him.
Prior to the gig, Paul revealed online – in response to the “Cost of Greed Crisis” as he put it himself – he was leaving some dosh behind the bar of five local pubs for fans to “have a drink on him”. His set was excellent, of course, but there was no doubt that he’d won the city over before he’d even step foot on the stage. Bravo, Mr Heaton!
Other best bits from across the weekend came from Sunday counterparts the Sugababes, who had been moved up to The Sarah Nulty Main Stage due to demand – and boy, was that the right decision?! They genuinely smashed it out of the park with 45 minutes of unrivalled nostalgia; Push the Button, Overload, Round Round and About You Now were just mega. If you’d have told me a week ago I’d be adding Sugababes songs to my Spotify playlist… well, I’m not sure I’d have believed you.
But here we are – and I have no shame! The modest size of Tramlines makes getting around the site really easy, allowing revellers to catch as many bands as they possibly can over the weekend. This meant getting between The Leadmill Stage and the T’Other stage to enjoy The Beths and Black Honey only took five minutes, and allowed folk to take much-needed refuge away from the heavy rain. Black Honey’s murderous Charlie Bronson made the youthful crowd feral as their set was most-pit aplenty, while New Zealand’s The Beths brought the tone down a notch as they offered chilled-out indie rock tunes from their recent record Expert in a Dying Field.
Having arrived late on the Friday due to work, we were blessed with the welcome sounds of Aussie outfit DMA’s opening for headliner Richard Ashcroft upon walking through the festival gates. Despite the disappointment of missing out on the hilarious satirist Jonathan Pie, as well as Sea Girls and other great artists, endearing frontman Tommy O’Dell put on a colossal performance to get us in the mood. Tape Deck Sick, Delete and Lay Down hit the spot, but it was their cover of Cher’s 1998 hit believe that stole the show – a fitting start to the weekend’s affairs.
Ultimately, it would be Mr Ashcroft who gave us the best moments of the weekend, performing songs from his solo records and The Verve’s seminal record Urban Hymns. Swaggering on stage in a massive parka and bucket hat, he opened proceedings with 2018 number All My Dreams for its live debut before rallying through the incredible Sonnet and Lucky Man.
Despite starting to perform his solo song Hold On, Ashcroft stops his band ten seconds in before aborting the tune, insisting he “wasn’t feeling it” and how he is desperate to ensure no night is ever the same. Instead, we get stunning renditions of Break The Night With Colour and The Drugs Don’t Work which concludes his set as Ashcroft passionately punches the air in unison with his supporters.
He leaves the stage before returning for the moment the 38,000 fans in the audience had been waiting for: the Bittersweet Symphony encore.
What followed was five minutes of complete delight; The Verve classic is a song that you just have to see live at some point in your life. It might not be performed by the original group, but at 51, Ashcroft’s voice sounds immaculate and doesn’t fail in making the hairs stand up on your neck. A majestic performance.
To put it simply, Tramlines is an ace little festival – and well worth the two-hour trip down the M1 from Birmingham. With weekend early bird tickets priced from just £110 for 2024 – you’ll struggle to find a festival anywhere in the UK which offers better value for money.
We’ll certainly down be down – let’s just have a spot of dry weather next year, please?
Review and iphone photos Tom Oakley
Photographs: courtesy of Tramlines Festival – credits in alt text entries