Friday, 26 July 2013

Dad Days Out: Tramlines


In a weeks' time, my wife will be churning out* our third child. Being a dad of soon to be three has proven to be the most satisfying thing I've done in my life - if utterly terrifying. 

With a range of ages from 4 and half, to newborn, keeping the kids occupied has gradually become my raison d'etre, bête noire and pièce de résistance, depending on the weather - sometimes covering all three within a single day.

I have the good fortune* to live in Sheffield, the capital of South Yorkshire, a city the offers extensive opportunities for family mirth and merriment. Some of them are obvious, bold and famous attractions like the Botanical Gardens, some are temporary, fleeting chances for a knees up tucked away in the local park for a weekend. All of them deserve their day in the sun - and if a small blog can help towards that all the better.
The object of this blog is to share the fun on a weekly basis, and to preserve for posterity the good times had by the clan Macqueen. Hopefully running a blog will be the catalyst for discovering new things to do, places to visit and curiosities to fascinate over. If that turns out be the case, then surely that's something worth sharing.

What is it?
If you don't know about it, Tramlines is a bit different to the usual music festival. It Co-opts most of the city centre, staging concerts all over, from publice spaces like the Peace Gardens (hosting an international stage featuring breakdancing championships, African dancers, free to all with a family flavour), Pubs, Bars and music venues hosting all manner of bands and DJ's, coupled with a big outdoor stage holding the headline acts. It's an inclusive, northern version of the Camden Crawl on an epic scale.

The organisers make a real effort to cover all the bases - with family specific entertainment on offer in places like Endcliffe Parks 'Folk Forest', while at the other end of the scale, you can ditch the kids and get down to drum and bass until 5am, all on the same billing.

So what did we do? 
Despite my initial reservations over the net effect of the new admission charge, this year Sheffield thrummed along to tramlines festival. Last year, it offered our eldest, three year old daughter (here on in to be known as Maude) her first taste of a festival atmosphere, and as a responsible parent, her first chance to witness Mathcore Metal, in the form of Rolo Tomassi.I feared that with Rolo's gig moving indoors to a 'proper' music venue (the O2 academy) that somehow it would be too intimidating to little ones - here's the first lesson of the blog: never try to double guess kids. She had a whale of a time.

Waiting for and watching bands at the O2 Academy

Taking our miniature rocker to a real music venue was great fun. From slightly concerned looking door staff (probably expecting to see me do a swift U-turn), bar staff handing over orange juice with extra straws and ice, and the rest of crowd doing a double take at the tiny gig goer, it was a blast.

 First, we saw the Wet Nuns, Sheffield's next big thing. They put on a splendid performance, with plenty of childish on stage antics keeping Maude amused.  We nipped out to get something to eat, and returned to see our principle attraction, Rolo Tomassi.

Unlike the previous year, where a perch on the periphery was close enough for a timid toddler, I was compelled by my shoulder borne offspring to get as close to the stage as I possibly could. I knew this to be a bit risky - Rolo are the kind of band that inspires a pretty active moshpit. I decided that a position close but to the side of the stage was for the best - and this was proven a good choice - we were within about 3 feet of 30+ sweaty topless boys, merrily knocking each other flying for the duration of the set - much to Maude's delight.

I compel you to go and listen to some of Rolo's music on the web - they are far from the usual fare latched onto by the average 4 year old. I'm convinced that the reason for the interest lays with their lead singer, Eva Spence. She's a petite, 'girly' looking singer, far from the conventional aesthetic you'd expect. She bounds onto stage, the very picture of feminity, bounces about a bit, before launching into some ear splitting, animal like, roared vocals. The crowd went nuts, Maude began mosh about on my shoulders, and the world was a better place.

Eva Spence, Doing what she does best.
Having much enjoyed the short seven song set, and the surrounding crowd having enjoyed watching Maude throwing horns at the stage*, we caught our breath, and then headed to the main arena over on Devonshire Green, to see the Selecter.

Unlike my attempts to get in and see the Sunday headliners at the last minute the previous year, there were no queues, and we walked straight in. Under cloudy skies, but with air so humid it was like breathing custard, we settled down for some 2Tone ska action.

Again, Maude was captivated from the start - the sight of a 'big band' with brass sections, two vocalists, and a full backing band seems to always go down well with kids. We danced along to all their hits, joining in with all the audience participation - again, much to the pleasure of the surrounding audience*. The encore, bringing the curtain down on our weekend was warmly received - with the Selecters' newest fan tugging on my sleeve to excitedly tell me of the band announcement that 'They're going to mix it up dad!'

Watching the Selecter at Devonshire Green
Lights out, exit stage left, and all we had to do was jump on a handily placed double decker, and roll our way back to the suburbs. We'd watched a solid 5 hours of music, and straggled back into the house at around 10pm - not perhaps a parenting triumph on a school night!

What would I do different?
The size of Tramlines meant that I missed loads of things out. If it all goes ahead again next year, then I would certainly:

Go on the Buskers Busses - double deckers scoot you around the city, while you are serenaded by acts from the festival - possibly even by some relatively big names taking the chance to warm up before their gigs.

Go for the whole weekend - due to a variety of commitments, I could only really go in on the Sunday with Maude. Next year I think she'll be demanding the whole weekend, or I'll have hell to pay.

Get around - this is the 4th time I've been to tramlines, and I've still not even scratched the surface - there are 70+ venues, and god knows how many acts. This year, apparently there was 'Elite British Wrestling' on in the library theatre - who wouldn't love to have stumbled over that!

Get babysitters and go out for grown up party once the sun goes down - there's so much on, and so much good beer, it seems a waste not to!

Any bad bits?
For a multiplicity of very legitimate reasons, this year the organisers had to start charging for some parts of the show for the first time - a very reasonable £6 to access the main arena and some of the premium venues.

One concern to me was the flat price - no concessions - everyone pays. A few emails later showed the organisers hadn't really considered the price impact on young families. I was told that having considered my concerns, they would admit under 5's for free - though i appear to be the only person they told!*

For me, one of the joys of Tramlines is the opportunity to take smaller kids along to a 'real' festival, to experience the crowds, sights and sounds of a 'big' show. This year, it seems that families largely kept to designated 'family entertainment. The organisers make a brilliant effort to lay on family shows, but the outcome this year was to keep families away form large sections of the festival.

The idea of having parts of the festival free, and other areas paid for works better on paper than in reality - rather than keeping it inclusive, I fear it created divides. In many ways, I'd rather that (street entertainment and buskers aside), that the whole festival was ticketed, and children admitted half price / free - that way, everyone would know where they stood.

I have read complaints from others about having family picnics seized at the gates, and having to pour kids drinks away. Again, the issue with this is largely one of communications - I can accept restrictions, as the festival will have sold premium catering spots etc., but it's better for all if you are made aware of them in advance. Nothing rankles a parent on a tight budget more than unexpected costs

Despite the grizzles, I had a fantastic time, as did pretty much everybody I saw. The entertainment was wide ranging, the atmosphere was great, and the city felt, well, like a city - other Sheffield residents will know that this is a good thing!  

In short, I can't wait for next year.
*our third sprog by c-section, this is litterally churning.....

*it's not really fortune, we chose to live here. so there.

*METAL!!! honestly, i didn't coach her to do it, i swear.... This also pleased other gig goers, leading to me being lauded as the "Best f**king dad EVER!" by one hairy fellow stood to my left.

*This includes the thirty-something lady who after cooing at us for 15 minutes announced that 'her uterus was melting. Ewwww.

*Sadly the admission policy change wasn't communicated anywhere, and Tramlines chose not to respond publicly to any questions on the subject. Although well attended in general, it seemed to be that there was a  lack of young families in the main arenas at the festival - and I think that's a shame. I'm also aware of some families who purchased tickets for the whole family, not knowing the actual admissions criteria. That's the kind of thing that, understandably, narks people.


I'd love to here your feedback if you've read this far! Plus any ideas for future blogs & days out are very welcome!

Photo Credit - Stuart Moulding for the Rolo Photos

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