Looking through the Tramlines programme, I was astounded by the quantity and variety of what’s on offer during what is thought to be the UK’s largest inner city music festival. The Folk Forest at Endcliffe Park, this year bigger than ever, and with a lineup which offered a wonderfully left-field take on ‘folk’ (Gwenno, Teleman, Jane Weaver and Field Music among loads of other great acts) has expanded their festival within a festival along the Porter Brook all the way to Shepherd Wheel, with the very first ‘Waterwheel Stage’.
A collaboration between the Folk Forest, Heritage Song (me), Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Friends of Porter Valley, and with financial support from the Arts Council and Year of Making Sheffield, the full day of music and spoken word brought together the community in a shared love of Shepherd Wheel and the Porter Valley. As well as wonderful entertainment all day, the FoPV ran a refreshment stall with delicious cakes and drinks, and the Hangingwater Allotments offered mouthwatering cakes and provisions.
Running with the Heritage Song ethos of making everything we do site-specific, the line up of acts each fitted the venue in their own way.
Opening the day’s entertainment: Keith, one of the two SIMT engineers who look after Shepherd Wheel each weekend. How apt that someone who spends so much of their time working at this place should open the event. As one visitor tweeted…
Who knew that the engineers at SIMT were so talented?
Keith did a wonderful job of warming up the crowd with his eclectic mix of traditional and modern folk, (and a Kinks number!), beautifully played and sung.
Next up, creating a really special atmosphere in their 19th Century costume, local theatre group Deny Edwards Players appeared as if transported from the past to sing excerpts from their 50th anniversary production of The Stirrings of Sheffield on Saturday Night.
Stood out in front of the grinding hull, they drew an intrigued mix of fans and passers-by as local families, joggers and dog walkers wandered over from the Whiteley Woods path to hear their powerful renditions of Stirrings ‘greatest hits’. Their run at the Library Theatre in Sheffield starts on tuesday, so get your tickets now (we’ll be there on Wednesday)
I dusted off my flat cap to play a short set of site-specific tunes picked from my recent local heritage musical walking tours of the Porter Valley. As well as local ‘classics’ The Grinders Hardships and The Jolly Grinder, I sang about local stories such as the Edwardian newspaper article about a summer Sunday night in Endcliffe Woods (The Rising Generation), and a tune dedicated to the stepping stones of the Porter Brook called, imaginatively, Stepping Stones. I enjoyed playing to an appreciative audience, as we huddled beneath the porch to shelter from the rain showers. Keeping the tone relatively ‘light’ for me (I chose to skip The Cruel Mother adaptation I occasionally sing to tell the story of the Shepherd Wheel pond drownings) a highlight was singing my friend Mike’s anthem for the Porter Valley, Down the Porter, which you can listen to here, in a slightly 80’s setting I recorded for my Porter Songs 1 album…
Pete Green is a Sheffield-based writer, poet and musician who I’ve wanted to see perform for a while. A cancellation made a slot available for him, and he very kindly agreed to play at short notice. The fact that his new Album was officially released that day added to the serendipity.
In Pete’s words he “…writes about coastlines, islands, edgelands, walking, music, love, sex, railways, football, whisky, underachievement, and getting lost”. His exploration of the ideas of changing places, and traces of lost histories chimed really well with the site. Poems Songs such as Dimished, Dream of Firsby Station and When I Close My Eyes I See the Sea expressed a kind of ‘Sheffield Saudade’, a reaching out for a missing something. My favourite moment was his reading of an excerpt of his new long-form poem Sheffield Almanac, soon to be published, which drilled into the heritage of Sheffield’s crumbling industry, and its complex relationship between past, present and future.
Nat Johnson had decided to have a year off performing at Tramlines, but she has such a soft spot for Shepherd Wheel and the Porter Valley that she gladly made an exception in order to perform with her band at the Waterwheel Stage. Wow, what a coup. Like all of the acts, her performance far exceeded my expectations (despite me knowing how good her music is) She turned up, plugged in, and set free a beautiful set of thoughtful and playfully ethereal songs. At one point, a song or two into the set, I put my sunglasses on to hide the fact that I was welling up a bit. That’s how perfect her music was in that moment for me. Her connection with nature, life, thought and creativity is deep and very meaningful, and it’s clear to see why she attracted such a large following of lovely fans up to Whiteley Woods. In fact, at one point even a local heron swooped by a few times to have a closer listen. Charming the birds from the trees, then.
The Urban Forest temporary poetry collective arrived at Shepherd Wheel just in time to catch Nat’s performance, and followed it with readings from their brand new anthology of poems written for their poetry trail that day. Led by Oliver Mantell, the poets…
Linda Lee Welch…
shared their diverse responses to the area with some stunning spoken word. Thought-provoking, passionate, witty, individual, and varied, their roaming community of creatives gave the audience a moment to rest, close their eyes, listen and reflect. See a map of the poems (yes, that’s correct, isn’t it great) here and look out for the anthology for sale now in local book shops.
Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay rounded off the day with a rush of magical music. Combining two guitars (one 12 and one 6-string) they’re quickly amassing a collection of breathtaking duets. There’s a vastness to the sound they make together and the guitar parts are carefully intertwined, sounding simultaneously together and distinct. As well as intricate, multi-layered textures, they weave haunting melodies and driving rhythms through their pieces. Here’s a great example of the special sound they create:
Considering they’ve only been playing as a duo for less than a year, it’s staggering how well they’ve gelled, and exciting to think what they’ve yet to produce. They each have solo albums out now, and are currently recording their work together, which I’m looking forward to hearing.
So, the first of many perhaps? A huge thanks to everyone involved, and I hope to see you there next year!