I don’t think I’ve quite yet recovered from Tramlines Festival 2023, still very much soaking up the atmosphere, watching back the videos and scrolling through my camera roll trying to recreate the magic of Hillsborough Park on a wet weekend in July. In spite of the weather not favouring this year’s festival goers, those with golden tickets to Sheffield’s biggest party still had a blast of a time, exploring an eclectic mix of artists gracing a range of stages.
From the indie-rock anthems to thought-provoking comedy, emerging talents to seasoned rock legends, the weekend had something for everyone and left Sheffield on a real high.
This weekend saw a number of highlights, including a secret set from McFly, hilarious comedy from some of the circuit’s biggest names, and multiple memorable performances including The Courteeners, Richard Ashcroft and Reverend and the Makers.
Events like these really are the lifeblood of the music scene, breathing vibrancy and diversity into the industry. With a balance between emerging talent and established artists, they become the fertile ground for fostering new artists while bigger name acts provide intimate and authentic experiences for fans.
Tramlines Festival 2023 was a weekend of surprises, excitement, and fantastic music – so good, in fact, I’ve already got my tickets for next year.
The Leadmill stage proved to be a hot spot for some of the most exciting up-and-coming talent. Jetski kicked off the day with an energetic performance that set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Their catchy hooks and infectious energy had the crowd moving from the get-go, making them an excellent choice to start the festival.
Dead Pony took the stage later in the day and showcased their brand of Scottish sonic aggression, the band’s combination of punk-rock attitude and emotive lyrics cementing their status as ones to watch in the indie scene as they channel the likes of Wolf Alice and Queens of the Stone Age.
Hailing from Ireland was the folk band The Mary Wallopers, who’s contemporary Irish tunes had the crowd clapping and stomping along, creating a lively atmosphere beneath the big top before northern lads The K’s headlined the stage.
Having caught these at Bingley Weekender last year, we already knew they’re quickly gaining a loyal following for their stadium-ready sound and anthemic choruses, and Tramlines Festival certainly recruited some new members to The K’s social media following.
Meanwhile, T’Other Stage hosted a diverse range of acts that catered to different tastes. Jonathan Pie brought his unique blend of satire and comedy, offering a refreshing break from the musical performances. His witty observations and sharp humour had the crowd in stitches, making for a great interlude amidst the music-filled day. Jake and I really enjoyed getting into the festival early, grabbing a cup of Yorkshire Tea (obviously) and spending a bit of time here in the early afternoon as the field began to fill up.
Immediately after, Doncaster’s Rumbi Tauro brought her own flavour of soulful R&B and won over the crowds with her beautiful melodies and heartfelt lyrics, including a soul-stirring performance of Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better) among her original tracks like Bloodline and Refocus, which have gone straight onto my Spotify playlist.
The remainder of our time on Friday was spent at The Sarah Nulty Main Stage, with plenty of time to explore The Open Arms and Library Stage throughout the weekend.
I’ve seen The Enemy countless times over the last decade and regard them as one of my favourite bands of all time, but this was my first time seeing them in a festival setting giving a whole new dynamic to their performance. The band’s hits from the late noughties were met with roaring chants from the crowds, but this was by no means a trip down memory lane – The Enemy are very much a band still fuelled by fire and raring to go, and this festival appearance proved that.
It may not quite have been t-shirt weather at Hillsborough, but Circa Waves kept the energy high at the main stage with their sun-drenched indie-pop tunes, building a buzz that effortlessly made way for Sea Girls, who had – in my opinion – one of the best sets of the day. I have to admit I’d not heard much by them beyond a song or two on Radio X, but their tightly honed tracks and effervescent live performance converted me into a fan in an instant. That’s what I love about festivals, and Tramlines in particular, because it gives you the perfect opportunity to discover your latest sonic addiction.
Aussie trio DMA’s have been on my to-see bucket list for a good while now, and I finally ticked them off. I caught a glimpse of them at YNot Festival in 2017, but to be able to catch their full set fusing indie-rock with Britpop elements was sublime. From the earliest releases like Delete, to tracks like Silver from The Glow, it was a stellar set from start to finish, the cherry on top being their best-loved cover of Cher’s Believe – aka, the Live Lounge-esque cover to have graced our ears since Arctic Monkeys did Love Machine.
The highly anticipated appearance of Richard Ashcroft was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the day. As a seasoned performer and former frontman of The Verve, Ashcroft delivered a masterclass in rock and roll charisma. His emotive vocals and timeless classics completely captivated the audience as the sun set over Sheffield. If you listen closely, you can still hear them belting out Bitter Sweet Symphony.
On Saturday, 40,000 revellers headed back to Hillsborough for day two of the event, filled with even more fun, excitement and surprises. Again, most of our time was split between the Main Stage, T’Other Stage and The Leadmill stage, starting the day with homegrown band Vivas, later followed by Prima Queen’s blend of garage rock and punk spirit. We completed our discovery of emerging artists with HighSchool, a Melbourne band reminiscent of New Order and The Cure.
Providing an utterly uproarious performance at 2.15pm was none other than one of the biggest names on the comedy circuit at the moment, Liverpool’s Paul Smith, bringing his razor-sharp wit and side-splitting roasts to the eager festival crowd who had piled into the tent to see him. His interactions with the audience add an element of unpredictability to the performance, creating an intimate and engaging atmosphere where no two performances are the same. I’d go so far as to say that sometimes the simpler gags are the best, such as when one festival goer threw their phone onto the stage and almost immediately were engulfed in a wave of regret as Paul called his mum.
October Drift followed with a powerful and atmospheric set that showcased their talent for crafting expansive rock soundscapes. Their captivating performance had the crowd entranced, setting the bar high for the acts to come as Kiran Roy ditched the stage to get in amongst the crowd, climbing the infrastructure and creating a memorable experience for those in the tent. Having seen these guys at Tramlines on The Leadmill stage in previous years, it’s a joy to see them ascend the ranks and continue to prove why they’re one of the most exciting bands on the circuit. If you get the chance to see October Drift live, it’s a gig you won’t forget in a hurry.
At The Sarah Nulty Stage, Red Rum Club’s brassy tones had the crowds grooving along to their contagious rhythms. Channelling ‘Tarantino-esque’ wild western vibes with the help of a solitary trumpet, the sextet delivered a performance that was sure to leave a mark on Sheffield.
The next slot was down as a secret set – the first I’ve seen Tramlines do, taking inspiration from festivals like Glastonbury – with a band called Scottish Flies. While in the run up to the event I had suggested Scottish acts like Lewis Capaldi and Primal Scream, by Saturday morning, Tramlines had all but confirmed the slot through a series of mysterious social media posts to be none other than McFly. Obviously. Pardon the pun. And honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The band, known for their catchy pop-rock anthems, delighted fans with a set that brought a wave of nostalgia and sing-along moments for Five Colours In Her Hair, It’s All About You and Room on the Third Floor. Their charisma and crowd interaction made it a standout moment of the festival – and Staffordshire gang, if you’re reading this, you can catch McFly at Trentham Live this summer, read more about that here.
Kate Nash took the stage shortly after 5pm, with the talented singer-songwriter treating the crowd to a mix of her well-loved classics and newer material, all delivered with her signature charm and powerful vocals. Clad in purple latex gloves and a pretty pink floral dress, Kate absolutely dominated her performance, standing on the barrier in a pair of platform heels, supported by fans in their droves. But nothing, and I mean, nothing could have prepared us for the wall of sound that came alongside the lyrics “You said I must eat so many lemons, cos I am so bitter, I said I’d rather be with your friends mate, cos they are much fitter.” Iconic in every sense of the word.
Blossoms continued the Main Stage festivities, offering a vibrant stage presence and feel-good atmosphere, combining a catchy, synth-forward blend of Brit-pop and indie rock with the likes of Charlemagne and Honey Sweet, while newer material boasts a more 60s inspired sound. Frontman Tom Ogden embraced the festival vibes with an animated performance far more confident and authentic than when I first saw them in 2018.
Fifteen years after the release of St Jude, The Courteeners headlined the Main Stage with a triumphant performance. Their anthemic rock sound resonated with the enthusiastic crowd, who passionately sang back every word. The set was briefly interrupted by a medical incident in the crowd which was swiftly spotted by frontman Liam Fray, but once the fabulous teams at St John’s Ambulance had quickly acted, the hit-filled setlist continued. Liam even performed a couple of tracks acoustically solo – Smith’s Disco, and a cover of It Must Be Love, while the full band hammered out tracks like Cavorting and Not Nineteen Forever, making for an unforgettable finale to Saturday’s lineup.
Sunday morning brought a new wave of enthusiasm as determined festival goers braved the weather and mud to get back down to Hillsborough for the final leg of the event. Despite a late start and some acts unable to perform, Jake and I kicked off our afternoon with Omid Djalili. The comedian had the crowd howling with his masterful delivery of jokes, witty anecdotes, and sharp observations at T’Other Stage.
Later, Matilda Mann graced the stage at 3.30pm, captivating the audience with herhaunting vocals inspired by the likes of Laura Marling, Wet Leg and the film track ‘Juno’. Her stripped-back and intimate performance showcased her talents as a 23-year-old singer-songwriter, and provided a refreshing change of pace for the weekend.
Swedish-born but London-based post-rock quartet Junodef took the Library Stage from behind a plastic sheet, delivering a mix of engaging, atmospheric soundscapes to a backdrop of signature melancholic melodies.
Sugababes took to the Main Stage at 3pm, providing a powerhouse performance filled with their iconic hits from Push The Button and Hole In The Head to About You Now. The girl group’s blend of R&B and pop had the audience dancing and singing along, evoking a sense of nostalgia among fans young and old(er).
The final set we caught before succumbing to the weather was Reverend and The Makers. While the forecast may have failed to deliver a heatwave in the cold north, Jon and the band didn’t fail to offer a high-octane set that electrified the crowd. Their fusion of indie-rock and electronic beats created an energetic atmosphere, turning the Main Stage into a pulsating dance floor through hits like He Said He Loved Me and Heavyweight Champion of the World, while the lyrics to tracks from the band’s latest offering were repeated back word for word after Heatwave in the Cold North got its live debut at the festival last year. From the front to the back, the whole park was bouncing – with difficulty due to the mud, but bouncing nonetheless.
I was gutted to have to leave before catching Kaiser Chiefs and Paul Heaton, but sadly I did get rained off, as I didn’t think my camera would take much more of a beating – nor would my Dr Martens. Despite the rain and mud, the artists brought their A-game all weekend, showcasing their talents and dedication to providing Tramlines ticket holders with an experience they’re unlikely to forget any time soon.
Tramlines Festival 2023 proved once again to be a resounding success, offering a diverse and exciting lineup that both spotlighted emerging talent while giving fans the chance to catch some huge names. As always, the event catered to a wide range of tastes, and left attendees eagerly awaiting next year’s edition, with 40 per cent of weekend tickets sold in the first 24 hours of them going on sale. If you’re thinking about heading to Hillsborough next year, read more about why you should buy a Tramlines ticket here.