Review: Tramlines Festival '17

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 This year’s jamboree yielded its most imaginative and diverse bill to date. Pivoting inner-city events at Devonshire Green, Ponderosa Park, Into The Trees, Academy 2 and The Folk Forest, the three-day fiesta attracted a laid-back crowd.

In the last years, Tramlines has evolved from a seventy-venue free festival, to a streamlined version across a smaller number of arenas, encompassing both niche and populist styles, providing a range of big hitters and up-and-coming regional talent. It has a welcoming, warm ethos and has assumed the role of a figurehead for the entire city.

On Friday, the main stage at The Ponderosa hosted a typically ragged set of indie-rock, by The Libertines. Navigating both the blustery weather and technical difficulties, the famously volatile quartet treated fans to a spirited, chaotic mixture of classic, sing-along anthems and new material from their forthcoming fourth long-player. A frenzied gallop through ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ proved strangely cathartic, and received the biggest cheer of the evening.

Meanwhile, at Devonshire Green, Californian rappers The Pharcyde overcame initial sound difficulties to take the crowd back to the 90’s heyday of US hip-hop. Their set was playful and emotionally satisfying. From, ‘Passin’ Me By’, ‘Oh Shit’ and ‘Pass The Pipe’ to ‘Runnin’’, it was a thrill to witness a masterclass in sunny B-boy vibes, that reconciled purist Daisy Age rhymes and chart-friendly hip-hop. 

On Saturday afternoon, a rousing, sun-drenched performance at The Ponderosa by reggae legends Toots & The Maytals, demonstrated the enduring, cross-generational appeal of their soulful roots reggae standards. The group’s 74-year-old leader Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert radiated the boisterous energy of a man half his age. Dipping into both the urgent rhythms of ska, and the looser sway of reggae and rocksteady, their infectious set proved to be a joyful encapsulation of Tramlines’ inclusive, affirmative ethic.

Housed within the charming 'Folk Forest' over at Endcliffe Park, were Yorkston Thorne Khan, a delicious confluence of Indian music, chamber folk, psych-blues and jazz. The simpatico exhibited was exceptional and bewitching. Thorne played a slipstream of thrumming, dextrous bass lines. Yorkston sang and played guitar with an affecting, plaintive grace. Meanwhile, Khan enchanted with his contributions on vocals and the sarangi (a bowed stringed Indian instrument similar to a sitar, but smaller). A highlight was their lovely rendition of Ivor Cutler’s ‘Little Black Buzzer’, which conjured up the swollen-throated, dusty epiphanies of Adem to my ears. 

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Headlining the main Ponderosa stage on Saturday night, were the Scottish veterans Primal Scream, an act who have weathered numerous ups and downs over an interesting career. Opening with the gospel-tinged euphoria of ‘Movin’ On Up’, the quintet raced through a brilliant execution of crowd-pleasing hits from their enviable back catalogue. The wiry, ever-youthful Bobby Gillespie, proved to be a canny, charismatic conductor, strutting and leaping with effervescence and abandon. Their track ‘Come Together’ sent the acid-house contingent home, with delirious smiles on their faces. 

Sunday’s programme opened at 'The Folk Forest', with Sheffield’s very own Little Robots, a female blues-folk trio whose wispy melodies captivated emotions. 

Another local act, Buffalo Skinners, beguiled the audience with their endearingly old-fashioned, homespun brand of Americana (think, The Mavericks meets, The Rockingbirds), while the animated though humble South London rapper Loyle Carner turned up the heat at Ponderosa with choice material from ‘Yesterday’s Gone’.

As the rain returned on Sunday evening, a reinvigorated assembly of revellers reconvened in the mud at Ponderosa. Anticipations were high to see the closing set from Devon’s finest synth-pop troupe, Metronomy. Dressed in piercing, white outfits, Joseph Mount led his finely drilled combo through a heartfelt set, that had the crowd in raptures. They’ve always seemed a cultish, chameleon-like band, unsure of direction, but hellbent on trying out ideas like clothes in a fancy dress shop. Their thrilling  jumble of near-hits, slick party bangers, and indie-electronics left the audience dazed and amazed. It was the perfect conclusion to an inclusive, heartening festival, that supplied a plethora of far-reaching musical flavours.

Michael Sumison