If you’re in Sheffield over the weekend of July 20th-22nd, you’re likely there for one thing – Tramlines Festival.
And while you may feel the allure of Noel Gallagher, Stereophonics and Craig David pulling you over to the main stage, loyalists to the weekend will probably advise you stray off the beaten path a little, because the real festival happens on the Fringe stages.
Showcasing the best emerging and established talent in the country throughout the city’s heaving bars, clubs and venues, the Fringes of Tramlines have a special energy to them, turning the regular boozers of Sheffield into a cacophony of cheers and clattering live music.
Crystal Stage is a spot on the Fringe that’s cultivated a serious following over the last few years. Situated in Crystal Bar, an unassuming club in a 19th century scissor factory, their Tramlines offering has consistently been one of the wildest you can experience over the weekend.
At the heart of Crystal Stage’s ethos of unleashing incredible new acts upon the unsuspecting festival-going public, is Neil Hargreaves – Crystal Stage organiser, cultivator and banner-wielding vanguard of the Fringe Festival circuit.
As the festival approaches and the wheels are set in motion to turn Crystals into Fringe frenzy once again, we sat down with Neil and asked him about some of the best acts playing the stage this year.
October Drift – Cherry Red
‘Nothing is going to stop this band. Last year they toured non-stop including an unforgettable slot on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury Festival, and following that up with headline tours, more festival appearances and touring pretty much the whole of Europe with Editors. Exquisite songwriting and lyrics combined with a live show that genuinely seems to burst out of their hearts. I’ve seen the band put so much into their live performance that they’ve toppled like dominos afterwards with exhaustion. They’re going to the very top of this game.’
Dead Naked Hippies – I Wanna Know Ya
‘I’m a relative newcomer to Dead Naked Hippies but already totally hooked. They’re right up my street with how very messed up and dirty they sound. Their songs seem to come from a dark place and that’s a good thing. This particular track of theirs I Wanna Know Ya is an instant hit and reminds me of everything from Fat White Family to Dream Wife to Estrons – it’s all in there for me. There’s so much anticipation from the festival goers for their slot at Crystal.’
Conor Houston – The International
‘This artist is elusive to the point that he’s booked to play Crystal Stage this year and we’ve not been able to contact him at all as he just doesn’t exist other than when he unexpectedly drops a new track or turns up to play live somewhere. For me his music oozes all the tastiest ingredients of classic pop music and live he seems to just whip up and absolute frenzy with the crowds he plays to. (hoping he’s reading this and pops up at Crystal for his slot!) That’s the absolute magic of Conor Houston’
Faerground Accidents – Woeful Small Town
‘I used to adore a Sheffield band called Artery back in the day (still do). Little did I know that when I saw them live I was stood next to Faerground Accidents lead singer Bo Mar, and watching Faerground Accidents lead guitarist Muzz in action as a core member of that band. Speed forward a few years and this project of absolute psycho pop freaks (their own description of themselves) appears in Sheffield to form this intensely protective and loyal group of followers that are similarly seemingly detached from mainstream society. I know John Robb at Louder Than War champions this band hard, as does Adam Ant (who the band have done tour dates with) amongst others. This is one of my favourite tracks from this band.’
Avalanche Party – I’m So Wet
‘I’ll own up to being terrified when I watch this band live on stage. There’s something very powerful that exudes from this band when they’re up there doing their thing and I can’t put my finger on it. It’s exhilarating and thrilling and a bit scary. There’s a movie out currently called Hereditary that’s supposedly the most exciting thing to see at the moment. I’d disagree (although massive fan of that film) and simply point to Avalanche Party.’
Scarlet – Anyway
‘So there’s this band from Liverpool called Scarlet who I found a few years ago on Soundcloud. I was doing some kind of boring admin work on my laptop with Soundcloud playing in the background and on comes a demo from Scarlet. My mental tick-list of ‘energy’, ‘catchy songs’ and ‘stand out vocals’ were all ticked off pretty much immediately and I became a fan of the band. Just shows you that bands should definitely tag their songs correctly on all the platforms to get out there into people’s ears and bring about opportunity eh?! Anyway – Scarlet are a band Liverpool should be proud of. Their lead singer Jessie has a really great and distinctive vocal and the band are really terrific live.’
Frazer – Something I Need
‘Pure absolute unashamed indie pop this one. Frazer are a band from ‘up north’ who are signed to a label headed up by the mighty Paul ‘n n n n 19′ Hardcastle and who make fun danceable pop music for the radio. This is their only release to date having recently dropped this one out after a couple of years working on recording their debut album and doing the odd live appearance. I love the vocal on this one too, it’s a really strong delivery. The lead singer Ashley will be no doubt crowd surfing with his guitar at Tramlines Crystal Stage this year celebrating that the band are finally out into the public arena at last.’
Alvarez Kings – The Other Side Of Madness
‘The thing about Alvarez Kings for me is that they construct really classy sounding compositions and the production values are always bang on the money. This band seems to spend the majority of their time touring America and so are still to fulfill their potential in England (that’s even if they want to – I’d be perfectly happy playing New York and L.A if I were in their shoes!) Absolute class band and they’re as polished live as they are on recordings. I’m really happy they’re playing Tramlines Crystal Stage this year as it’s been too long since I heard their songs live whilst they jolly it up in the States!’
Liberty Ship – Learning To Fly
‘Bizarre story this one – I first came across these boys backstage at Sheffield City Hall whilst I was talking to comedian Peter Kay, and whilst chatting I looked over his shoulder to see this crazy pile of 13/14 year old lads all wrestling and throwing each other around. Turns out it was the Liberty Ship boys who were playing on the bill of this big charity event. As if that was bizarre enough an introduction, Abz from East 17 then walks past, nods at me and says ‘alright mate?’ followed by S Club 7! Anyway – these boys have so much experience now having toured with Reverend & The Makers, The Libertines etc as well as big festival appearances. They’ve grown a lot since I first met them and it’s been a joy watching them turn into this mature rock n’ roll band who are thrusting forward now. Someone should snap these lads up.’
The Moods – Carnival
‘This collective bring a heady mix of Reggae, Hip-Hop, EDM and beats and they blend it all into one, combined with some strong political statements on some of their tracks, and just having fun on others. They’re Manchester based and the North West has taken to them in a big way. They also have one of the very best soulful vocalists in John Horrocks too. I used to love his previous band, and since he became a Mood he seems to have found a natural home. ps They’re a 10 piece band so they’re going to be a mighty (but fun) challenge to squeeze onto the stage at Tramlines Crystal Stage!’
My additional sneaky addition – Extra Time / Penalties Choice!
Club Drive – Spare Time
‘Sheffield’s not seen enough of Club Drive at all since they arrived as a band. That’s a shame so we invited the band to play Tramlines Crystal Stage this year and they’ll be taking a prime time Saturday night slot with their energetic pop vibes. I have known about the band for a while but first had chance to see them live at The Great Escape in Brighton where they took a cold crowd and fired them up in no time. Really impressed with what they do live. Their recordings speak for themselves really. They’re just total ear worms and come with a summer party/festival vibe! The great thing about music is that it comes in many flavours, styles, colours, genres and I for one am not embarrassed to admit I love it all! Club Drive are going to be my full on Saturday night groove this Tramlines Festival and I’m ready for it! As a certain Sheffielder Alex Turner once said ‘Get on your dancing shoes’.’