Tramlines was sold — but has it sold out?
Plus, Pulp return to Sheffield
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
You can tell festival season is well and truly upon us by how bad the weather has suddenly got. Sheffield’s turn in the rain will come next weekend when Tramlines takes place from Friday, 21 to Sunday, 23 July. The festival started life back in 2009 as a free city centre festival designed to promote Sheffield’s music scene — but is now it is a huge ticketed event at Hillsborough Park which attracts around 40,000 people. Thousands of people will still attend this year no matter what happens with the weather, but the festival is now a long way from the ethos that inspired it. Today we ask, has Tramlines been a victim of its own success?
As well as that we have a beautiful cottage in Loxley, the first reviews of the Crucible’s new production of Miss Saigon, and the UK’s best cyclists come to Sheffield.
Catch up and coming up
Our theatrical weekend read by Victoria examined the controversy around the smash-hit musical Miss Saigon and asked if the Crucible’s “reimagining” of the show worked. You can read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 1,518 paying members. On Tuesday Victoria’s first editor’s edition looked at, among other things, magic mushrooms, rough Sheffield pubs and London Road takeaways. And in the second I took a tour of the “dark Sheffield” under our feet and asked whether the rivers that were covered up in Victorian times should be brought back to the surface. An extract from that first piece is below.
This Reddit thread in r/Sheffield was started by someone trying to compile “a list of the roughest pubs in Sheffield for a potentially risky pub crawl” and has attracted almost 200 comments. It’s got everything: scandalous and unverified gossip, strong opinions based on nothing and people trying to one-up each other’s expertise about something of no importance. (“A Greene King pub? A chain? You've never been in a pub mate.”) One of the most popular comments, for good reason, is the simple poetry of: “I watched a woman eat an entire meal of mash, peas, sausage and gravy with her hands in the Penny Black.”
Next week we’ll send out two more including one about the past, present and future of Sheffield General Cemetery, and another about the sad story of Katie Bell, a Sheffield woman who was recently sent to jail for internet trolling. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield based on subscriptions rather than clickbait, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months up front (23p a day).
Editor’s note: The Tribune finally has an office! After two years of me working from home full time, Victoria and I have taken the plunge and will be at the Union St co-working space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you wish you can visit us at our new base and send us mail there as well (18-22 Union Street, Sheffield, S1 2JP). We’ve only been there five days but it already feels great to have a proper place to work rather than my front room. It does however cost money to hire — so any help you can provide us would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
The big picture: Still common 🎸
Britpop legends Pulp’s first gigs in Sheffield for 11 years on Friday and Saturday night went down a storm. Friday was the first time I’d seen the band since their famous headline slot at Glastonbury in 1995, a mere 28 years ago. But despite the intervening decades, lead singer Jarvis Cocker has lost none of his mesmerising star quality. This stunning shot of the start of Friday night’s gig was captured by Sheffield photographer Will Roberts, who is the founder of Vox Multimedia.
This week’s weather 🌦
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say our changeable pattern shows no sign of breaking with another mixed week ahead as low pressure stays close by.
Monday 🌦 A little calmer from the west, with showers set to spike through the middle of the day ahead of a sunnier evening. Highs of 20°C.
Tuesday ☂ A shallow low from the west increases the cloud and brings a patchy light rain risk later in the day. Light south-westerly breezes and highs a cool 18°C.
Wednesday 🌦 With the low clearing east and high pressure building in the Atlantic, a cool north-westerly flow sets up with sunshine and heavy showers. Highs of 19°C.
Thursday ⛅️ A better chance of avoiding showers as the high to the west inches closer to western UK. Still cool though with highs around 19°C.
Friday 🌦 The brief ridge may keep us dry again, but it won't last! A chance of overnight rain, but otherwise it's similar with highs again around 19°C.
Outlook ☔️ The high to the west is expected to be squashed with the arrival of a new low to the northwest, bringing unsettled weather for the weekend with suppressed temperatures.
The big story: Tramlines was sold — but has it sold out?
Top line: Sheffield’s annual summer festival Tramlines returns this weekend, a very different beast from the free city-centre event it once was. It's been three years since the weekend festival was sold by its local founders to a huge company in London. Not everyone is happy with the changes the new owners have made.
Who owns Tramlines? The mythology of Tramlines is that it is the product of a “late-night brainstorming” session between well-known Sheffield musicians, including Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys, who collaborated with local venue-owners and music promoters to create a festival that would celebrate the city.
By 2017, there were already rumours circulating that the festival was going to move away from the city centre, a shift that ended up happening the following year. Non-profit organisation Music City Foundation tried to crowdfund £1.2 million “to buy back the festival for the people” and keep it where it was, but this came to nothing. At the time, Music City Foundation director Winston Hazel raised concerns the festival could be sold to a private investor.
Two years later, this sale materialised, although the deal wasn’t finally completed until the following year. Tramlines was sold to Superstruct Entertainment Ltd in London, which is now the second-largest festival promoter in the entire world, with more than 85 festivals in Europe and Australia.
What’s changed? Tramlines wasn’t able to take place in 2020 for obvious reasons so the 2021 event was the first under new management. Straight off the bat, a deeply unpopular new policy was introduced: the no-reentry rule. At the first event, it was purported to be a measure to reduce the possible spread of Covid-19 but, the following year, it was announced that “significant additional benefits” meant it would be sticking around. These included less demand on police, less litter in the surrounding area and a “noticeable improvement in road safety”. On the other hand, festival-goers were furious, as were local businesses that would no longer benefit from a boost in footfall and trade, to the point that the local MP got involved.
If festival-goers couldn’t step out, they were forced to buy food and drink from vendors inside the Tramlines site. Unsurprisingly, last year, there was an uproar over the price of drinks — £6.20 for a pint and £7.50 for a single spirit and mixer. “It used to be a celebration of Sheffield and boosted everyone involved. Now it just seems like it's another LiveNation cash grab event,” wrote one disappointed resident on Reddit. (Interestingly, Superstruct is led by James Barton, formerly president of electronic music at Live Nation.)
Why sell it? The Tribune spoke recently to Tramlines founder James O’Hara, who said selling Tramlines was “a tough decision” but that the original team had “probably taken it as far as [they] could”. “A lot changed after Sarah [Nulty, Tramlines co-founder and festival director] passed away and I think a fair few of us felt like it was the right time for various reasons.”
Ultimately though, Superstruct was offering a “change your life” amount of money. “When you start these things, you never think you will sell them and you certainly don’t start a free festival thinking you will sell it,” James said. “But someone’s got three kids, someone’s got two — these sort of offers come along and change your life and secure your family’s future. When you’re in your twenties, you don’t really think like that, you think you will live forever.”
His view: James, for his part, has loved watching Tramlines continue to grow since the sale, especially as he can now “just go and enjoy it” without worrying whether something will go wrong. While he concedes the event is now “more mainstream”, he still thinks it’s “unbelievably good value for money” for a weekend of music. “If you start something like Tramlines, you’re always going to be open to criticism because people have a sense of ownership. It began much more DIY, free and in the city centre, it’s fundamentally a different thing now.”
Our take: It’s understandable that people mourn the Tramlines that once was, and this year’s line-up feels safe and uninspiring. Thankfully, the “fringe” events this weekend are keeping the festival’s old cheap and cheerful spirit alive. Dan’s planning to go to Pax in the Park in Heeley so he can watch the mighty Henge on Friday night, and will probably also end up at Devonshire Green for the Sheffield Beatles Project on Sunday. As previously stated, Victoria will be trying her luck at getting into Clamlines and will likely check out the performances at Hatch.
Home of the week 🏡
This Loxley cottage is in need of some internal modernisation but is within walking distance of Dam Flask reservoir and has stunning countryside views. It is on the market for £400,000.
Tribune Tips: If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
Our media picks 🎧
The BBC drama which affected a generation of viewers 🤯 With Instagram’s new Threads app in the news, this piece on the BBC website looks at the famous film of the same name which saw Sheffield nuked one Sunday evening in 1984. The author speaks to star Reece Dinsdale, who says the harrowing drama is still one of the things he is proudest of. I know I’m biased but I still think our story from 2021 by Nicholas Booth is the definitive Threads piece.
Slick machine of a musical rather than a radical rewrite 🇻🇳 The first reviews are in for Miss Saigon and the consensus seems generally positive. This review in The Guardian said it was a “visually captivating” production that stopped short of making radical changes to the musical. The Times were even more glowing in their review (“Who needs a helicopter, this is a hit,” said chief theatre critic Clive Davis). The Telegraph were equally impressed in this four-star review.
The story behind Mile End 🎸 With Pulp in the news, this blog about the story behind one of the band’s lesser known songs caught our eye this week. With forensic attention to detail, the writer tracks down exactly which horrible London flat Jarvis wrote the song about when he was a destitute musician living in the East End in the late 1980s. The 1995 song appeared on the b-side of Something Changed and was also featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack.
Things to do 📆
Cycling 🚴 On Wednesday, 19 July, the Sheffield Grand Prix returns, bringing some of the country’s best cyclists to the streets of the Steel City. The annual event will take place as usual in the heart of Sheffield’s city centre, with each lap of just over 1.4km sweeping past famous landmarks such as the Crucible Theatre and Sheffield Town Hall before finishing outside Browns Restaurant on Union Street. The action will take place from 5.00pm-9.30pm.
Exhibition 📚 Starting today, Sounds of the Stacks is a site-specific installation which will temporarily transform Level 2 at Western Bank Library into an interactive sound environment. Walk through the stacks and explore a collection of low-volume compositions made with sounds related to the building. These sounds range from the quiet turning of pages and the rattling of book trolleys to recordings of organs from the National Fairground and Circus Archive.
Talk 🗣️ On Thursday, 20 July, join historian Martin Naylor on a virtual trip around Sheffield in 1903. Through the use of archive photographs, you’ll get to know the bygone buildings and locations of the city as they used to be. From Pinstone Street to Fitzalan Square, Martin will highlight key events that have occurred over the years and discuss the fascinating people who lived in the city. The free 45-minute talk takes place at Weston Park Museum at 1pm.