Tripping the sound Tram-tastic

Tramlines crowd at Devonshire Green
Tramlines crowd at Devonshire Green

The sound of music will be heard across Sheffield this weekend.

Tramlines returns to encompass more than 70 venues, mainly in and around the city centre, but spreading as far as Endcliffe and Weston Parks.

Sister Sledge

Sister Sledge

Some 500 performers will take to main and fringe stages.

The festival has won national awards and has been hailed as an ‘urban Glastonbury’, the only one of its type to embrace a city centre. An estimated 95,000 people turned up last year.

But it’s not been easy to maintain a momentum that began as a free community event six years ago.

The daunting financial climate has seen a council grant drop from £84,000 in 2012 to £42,000 in 2012 to zero this year, although the organisers emphasise the invaluable practical support it gets from the authority.

Moreover, there is no big headline sponsor to help alleviate costs such as installing the main stage in Devonshire Green, the stewarding and programming.

One response was to sell part of the Tramlines business to another festival group, Count Of Ten. It has helped to broaden the financial base and to tap additional expertise and clout in securing performers.

But the key change was to charge for some performances. The decision had to be taken to “get bigger or go home”, said Tramlines director Sarah Nulty. “Although it has lost money, we did think there was a way of keeping it and making it bigger. The only way was to book bigger acts and to spend more money.

“The feedback last year was that people would rather pay more and have bigger acts than play less and have acts they didn’t want. That’s why we upped the ticket prices. We wanted to make a statement this year with the bookings.

“There will always be people moaning about paying, but it is such good value. I go to three or four festivals a year and pay a lot more than £28.”

That’s the cost of admission to the 13 Tramlines venues where admission is being charged over the three days.

The focalpoint is Devonshire Green, with a capacity of 7,000, where headliners include Ms Dynamite, Toddla T, Katy B, Public Enemy, Sister Sledge, The Beat, The Rifles and The Cribs.

But much of the appeal of Tramlines is the way it spills into places such as the Cathedral, Millennium Galleries, the Library Theatre, Leopold Square and the two parks as well as the obvious venues such as the Leadmill, Corporation, 02 Academy and City Hall.

Bands will perform on the Global Peace Stage in the Peace Gardens from 11am on Saturday thanks to a partnership with the University of Sheffield - the type of deal that has kept Tramlines on track and helped to maintain its profile.

Popular fringe locations that broaden Tramlines’ appeal include the Folk Forest in Endcliffe Park on Saturday and Sunday and the Blues Stage in the Creative Arts Development Space in Shalesmoor. Many clubs and bars in the city centre stay open until the early hours.

Increasingly, the festival has attracted interest from outside the region, to an extent that 43% of fans were from outside South Yorkshire last year.

“When we first started it was really a festival that was about Sheffield,” said Sarah. “While it is still about Sheffield, and it is a great reflection of Sheffield’s musical landscape, there are more people from London, Manchester, Leeds .. We get a lot of national PR.”

Brendan Moffatt, director of Marketing Sheffield, said: “Tramlines has definitely grown up.

“It has matured as a festival. One of the good things is that it has floated off as a private enterprise, not funded by the council any more.”

The festival began partly as a way to generate activity and business for bars and clubs at a traditionally quiet time of year, after the students had gone home.

Its success is now helping to attract students to Sheffield’s universities, said Brendan.

Tramlines has youth credibility and is a good showcase for what Sheffield is capable off. If you were thinking of coming to university in Sheffield, this weekend’s festival could be a decider.

Brendan added: “It is an important part of the major events calendar.

“It is growing up as a music festival and taking its place on the national circuit.”

- Tramlines preview, page 28.