From small acorns grow mighty oaks, so the saying goes.
Talking to James O’Hara about co-founding Tramlines, though, you could apparently paraphrase that as ‘from the minds of two 25-year-old morons an absolute beast was born!’
Of course, James was being tongue in cheek and self (and mate!)-effacing when describing himself and Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders in this way when recollecting their pitch to Sheffield City Council for a music festival for Sheffield.
Because it’s clear from my chats with all our If You Ask Me contributors that Tramlines has been something all the co-founders have been passionate about from the start, and continue to be today.
And the event has only been able to grow into that beast – or the music equivalent of Edinburgh festival, as James also puts it – because of that passion, not to mention will power, good will, dedication, and a lot of hard work.
I remember the very first Tramlines very well with Reverend and the Makers headlining, but also seeing lesser known bands in bars around the city entre like the Forum, Frog and Parrot, and The Washington. Since then I have attended several festivals to dance and sing along like a loon to a whole host of artists from Sister Sledge and All Saints to The Libertines and Dizzee Rascal, as well as enjoyed trips to the Folk Forrest at Endcliffe Park.
(I have missed a few festivals over the years due to a mate’s wedding and also when I – whisper it – cheat on Sheffield and go to Splendour, the one-day festival in Nottingham).
But equally I’ve also joined friends who’ve travelled from across the country to attend, including people who moved away from Sheffield years ago but return to the city for Tramlines every July.
This is an important point because the original economic driver, as all our contributors acknowledge, was getting city centre bars and leisure venues through the summer months after the mass exodus homewards by university students.
But it was also to raise the profile of the city’s music scene, after James looked at festivals in other major cities and thought ‘why haven’t we got one?’
It’s been a smash hit on both levels.
As Richard Eyre from the council says: “The financial impact of the festival has been huge. Many businesses openly state that Tramlines keeps them going until the return of the students in September. The hotels are full and the whole city comes alive to every imaginable genre of music.
“It has also renewed confidence in the music scene across the city with a significant growth in live music and venues.”
While I admit to being one of those grumbling early on about ticket prices being introduced and then going up every year, I also felt artists should not be expected to play for free either. So the reality is indeed that the team have to charge, as James says – and as he and Timm Cleasby affirm, the Tramlines business model is now a sustainable one, too, with Timm highlighting the ‘good solid foundation’ of the festival attracting the interest of agents and artists from all over the country and the world.
So, the festival that was set up to get city centre bars through the summer has achieved so much more.
There are bars that are open now because of Tramlines – and in that sense, Timm’s ending line seems the perfect way for me to end, too, because the festival has indeed, economically and in terms of profile-raising, ‘raised the bar’.