That’s what Billy Bragg tweeted, after his set at the Leadmill, which brought [my] 2015 Tramlines to an inspiring and emotional close. Mine too. It was bloody brilliant.
For me, Tramlines isn’t about the headliners – we didn’t get to the Ponderosa this year, not because there weren’t some great bands on, but because what we love is stumbling across and being delighted by bands we’ve never heard of, and enjoying the music in the multiplicity of venues around the city centre. To go from dancing to ska and afrobeat in the Peace Gardens to drinking Moonshine in the Cathedral (how deliciously transgressive is that) whilst listening to ‘experimental finger-style’ acoustic guitar, or rocking our socks off in the City Hall ballroom – that’s Tramlines.
I don’t know what the total numbers were, but the crowds around town were astonishing. So many performers, looking out at us all from the various stages, seemed genuinely stunned by how many of us there were, and by our enthusiasm, our willingness to jump about, dance and cheer. Maybe I’m naive, maybe I only see the best because I love my city and I love this festival, but there didn’t seem to be, despite the crowds and the fact that there had, most certainly, been drink taken, the level of ugliness that one might normally see on a Saturday night in town. I saw no aggression, only people being communal, enjoying the music together, being excellent to one another, and partying on.
My Tramlines this year was:
- Friday night: Awooga, Lone Wolf (City Hall); Rawshack, Beth Frisby (Millennium Gallery)
- Saturday: Bongo & the Soul Jars, Soulcrates Syndicate (Peace Gardens); Jim Ghedi (Cathedral); Smiling Ivy. Hot Diamond Aces (Cathedral); Blessa, Slow Club (Devonshire Green); Ultimate Painting (Cathedral)
- Sunday: Chris Cooper Band, Downtown Roots (City Hall); Lewrey, Blossomer (Cathedral); Stealing Sheep, Billy Bragg (Leadmill)
Not a bad weekend’s worth of music and I reckon I got my weekend ticket’s worth by the time we headed home on Friday.
Best bits? Beth Frisby was fab. The various ska/afrobeat bands in the (sunny) Peace Gardens were ace, joyous beats making us all dance. Downtown Roots were a blast, channelling Hendrix and Muddy Waters. Stealing Sheep stole my heart. And then there was Billy.
It was late, I was tired, my (wet) feet hurt. But I went home that night not sure whether to laugh, or cry, because Billy made me do both. He was everything I’d hoped for – he was funny, passionate, ranty, utterly professional (didn’t miss a beat when the lights went out on stage during one song, and dealt well with the odd minor heckle), and gave us – again – that weekend ticket’s worth singlehanded. I got right to the front, thanks to the nice bloke who let me through. And the young lads who’d been obliviously hemming me in and blocking my view earlier? Contrary to the grumpy views being expressed by some of those whose view they were blocking, they were there for Billy, they knew all the words, they were singing their little hearts out. He gave us the love songs, the quirky, funny, self deprecating love songs. He gave us Levi Stubbs’ tears, and mine flowed. He gave us the protest songs – and lord, they are as pertinent today as when they were written. He gave us A New England. And he gave us Between the Wars and I cried again and someone in the crowd gave me a hug, just because.
Billy said that the enemy is not doubt, or scepticism. It’s cynicism. Cynicism stops us believing that we can change things, that it’s worth bothering to try. Cynicism stops us believing the best in other people, or the potential in ourselves. There wasn’t much cynicism in evidence last weekend, and especially not at the Leadmill on Sunday night.
To quote Caitlin Moran (in How to Build a Girl), ‘Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a thick black carapace begins to grow – like insect armour. This armour will protect your heart, from disappointment – but it leaves you almost unable to walk. You cannot dance, in this armour.’ If we want to dance, to laugh and love and share, let alone if we want to change the world, we have to shed that armour and risk being disappointed, risk being disillusioned and let down.
Billy said that we, in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, had ‘recharged his activism’. I am damn certain he did the same for us.
Tramlines, Sheffield, thank you for last weekend, and I can’t wait for next time. Early Bird weekend tickets for 2016 on sale now, you say? Hell, yes.