How to do Tramlines when you’re broken

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If you don’t know, every year Sheffield hosts a music festival that takes place across a whole range of venues around the city. Tramlines, which has had (I think) its seventh event last weekend is one of July’s highlights, with over 100,000 people every year visiting a range of venues to listen to bands-local, national and international.

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For the last three years, my Tramlines experience has been somewhat tempered by the various injuries to my arms. You might think that bad arms makes no difference to going to a gig, but unfortunately that’s not the case. My left shoulder, in particular, does not like me standing up and tends to ache after a very short period of time. Two years ago, I was still trying to do the festival the way I always had, going from venue to venue, trying to fit in as many bands, venues and experiences as possible. However, by the Saturday afternoon, I was standing in the Cathedral (which then was undergoing renovations) watching some band or other and I was in so much pain that I knew I couldn’t continue with the rest of the day. Last year, I tried to take it a little easier, but I still over-planned what I thought I’d managed to do.

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This year, with not only having had my shoulder operated on, but also having fractured my other elbow, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hit Tramlines hard. In addition to the bad arms, my knees are still really sore and bruised from my fall, and I have a bit of a dodgy hip and back, which just seem to be par for the course, going on most people I know! So I wasn’t expecting to go mad at travelling all over the city, nor getting to everything I might want to. In fact, I didn’t even look at the programme properly until the night before, because I didn’t want to set myself up for loads of disappointments.

This actually stood me in pretty good stead, as a few things had changed this year. One of the biggest changes was moving the main stage from Devonshire Green to the Ponderosa, which is a much bigger space. On the Friday night, I had been watching bands in the Cathedral and City Hall, with a quick diversion to the Millennium Galleries. All of those venues were indoor and in town which made things easy-and I was able to sit on the floor (although getting up was hard) in both the City Hall and the Cathedral. I had hoped to go and see the Charlatans at the Ponderosa (the Friday night headliners). However, as I watched the discussion on Twitter and Instagram, I saw lots of people complaining about the toilets at the venue, the poor sound quality and various other issues. I can’t remember, but it might also have been raining. As I didn’t want to break myself on night one, and as I was perfectly happy with the bands that were on in town, I decided not to head over to the Ponderosa but to stay put. In an ideal world, I would have loved to hear the Charlatans, but I wasn’t so gutted to miss them that I regret my decision.

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On the Saturday, I started a little later – recognising that I didn’t need to get to an event at the earliest possible start time in order to have the full tramlines experience. I leisurely went into town via Devonshire Green, Barkers Pool, City Hall, Peace Gardens and the Cathedral again. I then realised that I hadn’t brought my painkillers out with me, and I was in so much pain that I knew I couldn’t continue for the rest of the afternoon and evening without them. I had to go home for a pit stop. This is okay, it meant I got to have a cup of tea and a sitdown! I then had to make a choice between seeing Martha and the Vandellas and Slow Club. I would have really liked to see both acts, but they were on at the same time. One of the joys of Tramlines is the endless clashes! As the weather was quite nice, I decided to wander down to the Ponderosa to see Martha and the Vandellas, figuring that Slow Club are local and there are always opportunities to see them.

The Ponderosa site was much, much bigger than the Devonshire Green one and I could see why they’d moved it-even then, it was absolutely heaving with people which made me wonder how we’d ever all fitted into the old site! There were queues everywhere: for the toilets, bars and every single food stop. It was clear that there were not enough toilets or food stalls for the number of people-in fact, there seem to be fewer then there had been at Devonshire Green in previous years. I didn’t need to use any of these, I wasn’t planning to stay there for very long – but I understand the frustrations of those that were there all day. I tried to get a space that was quite far away from the really crowded parts, but this didn’t really work-where I stood, people just kept charging past and knocking into everyone and both of my arms would get knocked into. I knew then that there was no way I was going to stay around for Basement Jaxx, the headliners, as things would only get worse from that point onwards.

Martha and the Vandellas were alright. Social media response to them was very mixed, but Martha was quite entertaining if a little bizarre. The fast songs were great-when they tried to do slower songs, less so. The sound quality seemed fine to me, so they presumably fixed the problems from Friday night. I grabbed the tram and headed back into town where I went to the Cathedral and the City Hall yet again – partly because those venues had interesting sounding bands on and partly because I knew there would be enough space to not get crushed, something I couldn’t guarantee with pubs, the Leadmill or any other venues.

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The Sunday, it absolutely chucked it down with rain the whole day. I had intended to go to the folk forest, but I really didn’t fancy wading through mud as well as being in pain. For that reason, I also decided against returning to the Ponderosa. I had wanted to go and see the Buzzcocks and Neneh Cherry, both programmed in the afternoon, but having not enjoyed being at the Ponderosa on the Saturday very much and knowing that longer jaunts would mean I would probably want the toilet or bar, neither of which seem to be viable and, again, not fancying getting muddy, I decided that would just be too difficult for me to manage. I ended up back in town at the various venues there and I didn’t stay for the whole evening even though ideally I would have liked to. After a few hours, I was just in so much pain that I knew I was defeated.

This probably all sounds very negative-pain stops play and all that, but actually it was fine. I knew I would never make everything I wanted to see, you never do at Tramlines anyway! I also knew that my injuries would limit my experience and mean I couldn’t get to many places (I would have loved to support my friend Shaun and the Everly Pregnant Brothers who were hosting This is Heeley. I would also have liked to go to more of the smaller venues as I have done in previous years). I was a bit disappointed that there was no Buskers’ bus this year, as had that been available, I would have used it to go to more venues. I did like they put a bus on between the folk forest in the Ponderosa, and would have used that on Sunday had it not been raining-but something that also stopped in town would have been great. I did miss the main stage not being in town a little bit, because it would have been easier to nip between venues if it had been. I also wish that the Devonshire Green second stage had acts on later than it did. On the Saturday, Slow Club finished around 8 PM whereas in the past, acts had gone until around 10.

However, I still had a good time. I managed to see a range of different acts, and I managed not to further injure myself too much, which was the main aim! Hopefully for Tramlines 2016, I’ll be in better shape to enjoy its in a bit more of its fullness and I really look forward to doing so.

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Top tips for doing Tramlines with an injury:

  • Look for venues with plenty of space. Seating might not always be doable, but at least find somewhere where you will be comfortable enough and not get knocked into!
  • Remember your painkillers or other treatments. I forgot mine and couldn’t go on without them until after I’d had my pitstop.
  • Pick your battles carefully. You won’t be able to do everything, so figure out what is most important to you. If there’s a band you really want to see, accept that seeing them might mean you are not able to do as much other stuff as you want to depending on how difficult it is. If you are torn between two acts, practicality may well be the deciding factor.
  • You don’t have to have the same experience as everyone else. Just because some people manage to go all over town or find every cool venue possible doesn’t mean you have to. Just because some people start at midday and go on into the small hours doesn’t mean you have to. Do as much or as little as you want to and are able to. You’ll still get your money’s worth after all!
  • Check social media for how venues are doing. The annoying thing is that there isn’t one consistent hashtag. People will use #tramlines, #tramlines2015 (or whatever year it is), the names of venues and bands – this year there was also the hashtag #discovertramlines. Some venues update their status on the hashtag #tramlinestraffic, which is also worth following. Social media updates can be annoying, because you get lots of people moaning and bringing down the vibe, and you also get lots of people buzzing about bands and venues you’re nowhere near and won’t be able to go to! However, twitter, in particular, is useful for finding out if a venue is going to be too packed or difficult for you to manage.
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