Tramlines – Nurturing Emerging Talent With Community in Mind

Team Tramlines picking up their Emerging Artists Award at the 2023 UK Festival Award from sponsor, Amplead Apply to Play's Gavin Barnard (left)

Following their win as Best Festival for Emerging Talent at the 2023 UK Festival Awards, we caught up with Marketing Manager, Charlie Barton to get the low down on how the festival, firmly rooted in Sheffield, gives opportunities to grassroots artists and what benefits that delivers to the local community.

Tramlines has changed radically over the years, but has it always had grassroots artists in mind?

“Tramlines started back in 2009, way before I started working on it, and it was a different event back then. It was a multi-venue event which was in the city centre, and the whole ethos behind it was, ‘let’s throw a party where everyone in Sheffield can play’ and that was from your bigger artists to all of the new local talent that was within Sheffield. So yeah, since day one, it’s definitely been a part of the life and soul of Tramlines. We then moved to Hillsborough Park in 2018 and it took a year or two to kind of figure out it was a completely new event. It changed, it had to change, so we wanted to continue what we had in the city center as much as we could in the park itself. Yeah, it’s been a part of Tramlines since day one.

Charlie Barton, not pictured at the UK Festival Awards as we clashed with her birthday.

“We can’t have as many bands as we’d like because there’s only a certain amount of space and a certain amount of time. But yeah, the team that have been a part of Tramlines since day one; that’s, uh, Tim who’s operations director, he’s been working on it since I think 2012, Sarah Nulty, who was the festival director. It was a big, big part of what she wanted for the show. And that’s something that we as a team now still continue to do.”

Bit of an important legacy there, I guess.

“Yeah, a really important legacy.”

When did emerging bands and Apply to Play become a specific element in the festival?

“We launched the Apply to Play scheme when we moved to Hillsborough Park. There wasn’t a dedicated stage at the time, it was opening slots on various stages. But yeah, in the last two years, we’ve made sure that the library stage could be a place for that, a place for discovery. Before, 2021 it was a stage for newer bands, but that were already kind of on their way, whereas in the last couple of years we’ve really wanted to give that stage solely to really new artists that are trying to find their feet and just let them kind of go with it. But yeah, the Apply to Play scheme has been a part of it since since we moved.”

Where do most of the entries come from, are you still seeing a big Sheffield cohort?

“Yeah, a lot of them come from the South Yorkshire region. We do get a lot from Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and further afield. But yeah, most of our applications will be from South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire kind of area. We don’t exclude applications from other parts of the UK, but we do like to have a focus on South Yorkshire.”

That focus seems to extend to using local suppliers too.

“Yeah, definitely. It’s a really important thing for us to be working with local suppliers, whether that’s people that provide furniture, whether that’s crew, but also local organizations like Peddler Market, which is in in Kelham Island and the Leadmill. Otis Mensah, he’s a supplier, but he’s a local, he was Sheffield’s poet laureate in 2020. I think it’s really important for us to be working with local people.”

Which are the stages that now focus in emerging talent?

The Open Arms

“We have the library stage and we have the Open Arms, which is where we host Speakers Corner and Slam Bars, then we have the early Leadmill slots. Our stage three, our third biggest stage, that is where we host some of our local musicians and bands that are kind of already on the local scene, where we work with the Leadmill. They will program some of those slots with us.”

You mention Slam Bars, there’s also Pattern and Push who you work with, tell us more about their work.

“Yeah, so Pattern and Push and Slam Bars we started working with in 2022. Slam Bars as part of Hive South Yorkshire, which is an organisation that works with young writers. They work with young artists who want to get a foot in the door and offer them a safe space to express themselves.

“Pattern and Push are a local organisation that run a talent competition for people who may be at risk of gun crime, gang violence, things like that. It’s all about kind of positivity. They want their artists to have that within their music and the competition is there to guide them through songwriting, putting music out, working in a studio, things like that.

“We started working with them, it started off as the winner of the competition would come and perform at Tramlines. And then actually we decided, you know, there’s a whole host of incredible artists there that really deserve a performance opportunity. And so we gave them a whole day on on the Saturday of Tramlines on the Library Stage. They will have a pool of artists that they’ll book for Tramlines, but there’s also the talent competition side of it, um, which we fund through the Tramlines Trust.”

That segues nicely, tell us more about the Tramlines Trust

“The Tramlines Trust is a something we set up two years ago, so that we could support local organisations, grassroots community groups, things like that, through funding grants. We raise money on site, and then local organizations can apply for a grant, and then we divvy that funding out at the end of each year.”

So people watching the new talent pay for a ticket, which helps the Tramlines Trust, which helps the new talent come in for more people to watch. It’s almost a virtuous circle you’re creating.

“Yeah. People can choose to donate or not, we raise money on the guest list, so all of our guest donations, we do charity merch and things like that. So what’s happened now is we’ve funded Pattern and Push to run the competition so the next, newest artists can come and perform on a Tramlines stage. Yeah, it’s full circle.”

Are there any, notable successes yet that you’ve seen and people that are coming back on to a bigger and better things.

“What’s really nice to see is, and I think this is the really important part of what we’re trying to do and how these partnerships with local organizations can be really meaningful. You actually see the impact come to life.

“For example, we there’s an artist called Rumbi Tauro. She came through our apply to play scheme, and Auguste Charles. Auguste Charles in 2021, Rumbi Tauro came through in 2022. So August, he was amazing, we decided we wanted to rebook him for the 2022 show and he played on the T’Other stage, which is our second biggest stage. It was really amazing to see and the crowd that he drew was big; it was really, really nice to see that. Since then he’s gone on to tours and things like that, it’s really nice to see that development of an artist.

Rumbi Tauro

“Rumbi had a similar story; she came through apply to play in 2022. She was amazing, she was also part of Pattern and Push, she had connections to them. She came back and played on T’ Other stage last year in 2023, as well as doing some sets on the the library stage. It’s really nice to to see that happen at this age, she was 16 when she came through on Pattern and Push. I think in 2022 she performed on the library stage with Pattern and Push, and she was picked up to have a sync deal with for a with a film, I think. I can’t remember what film it was. (We later land on The Full Monty remake)

“I think to be able to watch that happen and, you know, we’re not a festival with loads of space and so we can’t, well, I’d love to be able to offer more opportunities to more artists, but I think, ot watch that happen for the artists that do come through, whether that’s 10 or 15 per year, I think if it gives that confidence and those opportunities to those artists, I think quality over quantity is the way.”

The charity partners you work with perhaps don’t always see a career in music as their ultimate aim; what does success look like for your emerging artist initiatives?

“It’s an interesting question, I guess it’s hard to measure. We not hear from them musically again or anything like that, but it’s giving that person the confidence to connect. Their aspiration or their hobby or their kind of dream with a real live audience. Being able to offer that to people.

Harri Larkin

“Yes, it’s hard to measure because it’s very personal, isn’t it for those artists? So I think being able to do that, and give a platform for those artists, those young people to develop confidence in a safe space. Like for Harri Larkin, it was really nice to see the confidence it gave her, the kind of boost for her mental health”

Finally, who from the recent Apply to Play artists is your tip for the top?You’re, you’re, you know from, from all the artists that you may have

“Good question. I think. Rumbi, yeah, Rumbi Tauro. She’s really, really good, she still does a lot of stuff locally in Sheffield, but to watch her go from when we first saw her in 2022, to seeing her performance on T’Other stage last year, watching her grow and really come into herself a bit has been really nice to see. And she’s got an incredible voice, she’s really lovely; I’ve never met her, I’ve just emailed her loads.”

From the city centre to a city park, Tramlines certainly has changed in appearance since 2009; what remains at its core is a desire to support Sheffield, not just its music scene but local businesses and community organisations that use music as a positive force to change and improve lives.