rsz_trmlns_nokia_red@ Sheffield City Hall Ballroom, July 20 2013

Traditionally, Tramlines was a local festival in Sheffield that was free of charge. For the first time in its history, a fee was charged to attend any of the activities and like any major decision to change the boundaries of a festival’s market, you can imagine there’d be a fair bit of protest. 

But looking back to previous line-ups, has the festival ever had a such a sweet selection of bands all within Sheffield’s City Hall Ballroom? Bands such as Enochian Theory, I Like Trains, The Enid, The Pineapple Thief, Anathema and Amplifier? You’d think not.

From the outset, it’s clear that not only was the City Hall the perfect venue for the bands involved but drinks were reasonably priced at £6 for two pints and, most importantly, the sound was extremely impressive.

The latter became quite clear to everyone when new progressive rockers Enochian Theory dazzled the gradually gathering audience. Movement and Inversions – from latest (and greatest) album to date Life…and All it Entails – showed just how powerfully the band pinpoint and progress their melodies to magnificent climactic choruses with beautifully written lyrics. Enochian Theory have already shown us that they’re a quality ‘prog’ band, but what’s more is that these guys are still a prospect (an exciting one at that) and should have many more successful years ahead.

Aside from the cheery festival vibe that took over the streets of Sheffield for the weekend, what was also refreshing about Tramlines was the diversity of the line-up, even from just within the City Hall Ballroom. I Like Trains followed up from Enochian Theory with their uniquely sombre blend of electronic post-rock with a slight post-punk edge. The Leeds-based band are rather like a drifting shipping vessel passing through the calm and chaotic episodes of a lightning storm, slowly gathering their verses with clever percussion and beating electronics controlling the pulsing and retreating tempos of their sound. Second track Mnemosyne showed the hypnotising quality of frontman and guitarist David Martin, whose deep and – at times – almost spoken word vocals potently resonate behind the truly mesmerising guitar work.

One thing was clear, guitars are certainly not riff machines for I Like Trains and nor do they need to be – the overlapped melodies meet with such intricacy to conjure a stunning ethereal vibe. I Like Trains pulled in the biggest crowd up to this point and it’s quite easy to see why as the quintet ended their set with the extraordinary Reykjavik.

At the start of July, it was announced that British progressive rock act The Enid would be playing Tramlines. The band have had a respectable cult following over the years and with original member Robert John Godfrey at the helm – but gradually passing on compositional duties to the younger generation of the band and actively looking for a successor following his Alzheimer’s diagnosis – it’s clear that the band are changing, whether fans would like it or not.

Newest member and frontman Joe Payne has been the focal point to The Enid’s transformation into yet more unchartered territories and judging by the performance they gave at Tramlines, it’s impossible to deny that The Enid are not only master performers, but embody the progressive spirit. Onstage, the now six-piece made ease of seemingly impossible transitions and worked cohesively in unison as they blasted through their passages of symphonic brilliance and eye-watering choruses, with the graceful Who Created Me merging perfectly into an ecstatic rendition of Witch Hunt. Payne has a celestial voice and unique energy that has added a completely new dimension to The Enid.

Alongside the dreamy backing vocals of Max Read and wailing solo work of Jason Ducker, Payne clearly has a special melodic chemistry in the band and experiencing it is joyful for any long-time follower of the band and purely spellbinding for anyone who didn’t know what was coming.

The Enid finished their set with the dance-driven Dark Hydraulic which drummer Dave Storey pounds a beating rhythm alongside the lean bassline coming from Nicholas Willes. The performance was made complete by Payne’s haunting operatic vocals, weaving beautifully over the euphoric 1994 track.?? For any band from anywhere, of any style and substance, it would take a lot to successfully follow The Enid.

With all respect to The Pineapple Thief, it admittedly felt like a bit of a drop from heaven when they arrived but, nonetheless, the Somerset alt rockers gathered a good crowd. Although the British act were definitely one of the more conventional rock bands of the day, there seemed to be plenty of stalwart fans to give them that much needed boost. Give It Back went down particularly well, exposing The Pineapple Thief’s fruity off-beats, intimate lyrics and edgy riffs whilst later in the set they got into their stride with highlight track Last Man Standing. All in all, a decent performance from TPF warmed up the increasing numbers of people in the Ballroom for a special acoustic performance from renowned Liverpool act, Anathema.

Historically, Anathema have been a changing entity. From the doom-laden days of The Silent Enigma to the acoustic emphasis of last year’s Weather Systems, the band have roused music fans of all inclinations. The setup for the gig was acoustic, looking to favour the new material, with Danny and Vincent Cavanagh the only members present other than guest singer Anneke van Giersbergen who accompanied the brothers. However, it didn’t mean that Anathema were going to play a full set of Weather Systems – the duo rearranged an array of classics from their back-catalogue.

Deep – from 1999’s Judgement album – and A Natural Disaster were gorgeously rehashed to staggering, eye-watering effect. The use of loop pedals on Untouchable (Pt I and II) provided the percussive foundation for Danny to string a catchy beat while both brothers dazed the Ballroom with mind-blowing acoustic work.

Van Giersbergen’s presence only added to the icy atmospherics every time her vocals were introduced, bringing that extra sensitive edge to Vincent and Danny’s heart-warming words. As their hour-long show came to an end, the band closed with Fragile Dreams, leaving heartstrings tugged and mouths gaping at what was a precious performance.

Before activities in the Ballroom came to a close and scores of drunkards poured onto the streets and inevitably stumbled onto the nearby ‘shuggy’ ride, Manchester’s Amplifier offered the crowd something to remember.

Fine grooves and edgy tunes awaited those with the patience to stick around. The Wave really began to show Amplifier’s true live potential before Extra Vehicular shone in all its proggy glory and the real cherry on the cake of their spacey, alternative sound was planted with an epic rendition of Interstellar.

A huge crowd watched as Airborne ended the stage’s activities for the day. Simply sticking to the confines of the City Hall Ballroom all day was a ‘no brainer’ for anyone attending Tramlines for the music, but afterwards, local Sheffield rockabilly and country act The Slingshots provided an after-party of knees-up fun, performing from the back of a van with their raucous country and blues tunes!

Tramlines was clearly well organised and, as a result, it delivered the perfect platform for these monumental progressive bands for all to enjoy. You’d have to think that at just £6 for a day ticket, there’ll be twice as many there next year, even if the line-up is only half as good.

Calum Robson