Circa Waves, Sophie Ellis Bextor, and The Streets, performing at the Tramlines Festival Sheffield on Friday 23rd July 2021

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

When festival season descends upon the summer, it is usual to seek out your wellies, find as much waterproof clothing as possible and prepare yourself for fun in the mud and rain. But this is no ordinary festival season; Covid-19 has seen to that. So instead of the usual preparations, this year our thoughts have been consumed with Covid vaccinations, NHS apps, Lateral Flow Testing, Covid Passes and daily health checks.

And only when those issues were satisfactorily addressed could the fun begin at this year’s Tramlines Festival, whose organisers through sheer hard work managed to deliver a line up over three days of great music and fantastic artists.

With the crowd being reminded of the unique thrill of loud live music, the Sarah Nulty’s Main Stage welcomed Circa Waves to take those first tantalising steps into a post-Covid music world. This Liverpudlian four piece have been kicking around since 2013 and have been filling summer festival slots with their breezy guitar bangers since then, and Friday afternoon was no exception.

When the band launched into their opener, Wake Up, from their 2017 album Different Creatures, there was an immediate rhythmic sea of fans jumping to the ever present bass drum beat. With front man Kieran Shudall commanding the crowd and conducting mid song mosh pits, it was as though time had stood still.

There was the high tempo poppy Young Chasers and the crowd indulged in mass sing alongs to fans favourites, Fossils and Stuck In My Teeth. Bringing a complete package of excellent fast paced alternative rock tunes, they also showcased a couple of songs from their latest album, Sad Happy, released last year. New song Jacqueline features a juddering riff whilst Be Your Drug is a heart thumping stomper.

Their whole set was pretty much a whirlwind of their usually upbeat and fast paced songs and when they ended with the song that kicked things off for them, T-Shirt Weather, the crowd showed real emotional appreciation.

Then it was a quick detour to the T’Other Stage Live to catch the set of the lockdown Queen, Sophie Ellis Bextor. During the spring of 2020 Ellis-Bextor’s kitchen became a haven of hope and optimism. Her Friday night home discos, at which her children were also heavily involved, featured lively covers of hit dance songs and jazzed up originals which became an internet sensation and cemented her in the lockdown memories of the nation. So it was absolutely fitting that she graced the stage at the Tramlines Festival.

Ellis-Bextor was dressed for dancing and dance she did. Opener Take Me Home got the crowd’s attention before Wild Forever and Over And Over had them singing along. Her songs which are indelibly linked into the deepest recesses of your memory were mashed up such as Lady (Hear Me Tonight), Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) and Sing It Back which the crowd were happy to oblige. The infectious Get Over You stuck around long after the song had ended before she delivered a staggeringly good version of Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer).

The inevitable track closed the set; Murder On The Dance Floor, her biggest hit that charted for twenty three weeks. And as she said her farewells the crowd wholeheartedly agreed that it was great to see her live again.

Rounding up Friday’s great day of music, art, comedy and cabaret was The Streets. Front man Mike Skinner had retired the group in 2011 when he was fighting depression following the death of his father and took a hiatus to deal with his diagnosis of ME. But ten years on his garage beats and everyday working class lyricism feels as though he has never been away.

Hoping to tour the band’s latest album, their only new material since 2011, this was the perfect opportunity to treat the crowd to some songs from None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Alive. Some of the songs were already familiar to the crowd because Skinner had streamed a concert during the pandemic to raise money for struggling artists and so there was an air of familiarity that allowed them to sing along.

As the first truly British rapper to really grab the attention of the mainstream audience it was easy to see why when he opened with the hard hitting Turn The Page with its sequence of daunting, yet harmonic synths, which was followed by another garage triumph, Let’s Push Things Forward. Skinner quickly built up immediate steam and announced The Streets musical evolutionary intent.

Don’t Mug Yourself saw him fling a few scratches on the decks before he looped into the speed garage anthem before he slowed things down with Never Went To Church, a heartfelt tribute to his late father.

There was the moody Everything Is Borrowed, the sombre pop ballad Dry Your Eyes and Blinded By The Light left everybody humbled. Tracks from their latest album such as Freedom Day, Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better and I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him were obviously affected by Skinner’s pandemic experience and with the crowd screaming appreciation of mega hit Fit But You Know It, the space was filled with everyone joyously singing and jumping up and down.

Finishing the set with new song Take Me As I Am, Skinner opened a bottle of champagne and saluted the crowd. It was hard to decide who was more pleased to be at Tramlines but certainly Skinner’s smile lit up the stage.