There’s high hopes in happy valley

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FOR starters it has to be said it is not Tramlines mark two. Or even baby Tramlines.

Where the latter is an all-consuming, city centre – and more – three-day urban festival in every venue worth its licence, Sheftival aims to be something very different; a festival of sport, music and culture.

It happens across several stages in three main areas and includes plenty of music but, falling in the middle of the London 2012 Olympics, it inevitably has a huge sporting feel, not least as much happens in or close to facilities used by the likes of Sheffield Olympic star Jessica Ennis, who’ll be going for gold during Sheftival.

Saturday and Sunday is when the music element kicks in and – like the Games – covers a lot of disciplines, from raggae to rock, pop to hip hop.

There’s a lot of synergy between music and sport, not least in that both demand passion, dedication, a dream and an element of destiny.

Among the many musicians playing the first Sheftival, few will acknowledge that more than Noisettes ball-of-energy Shingai Shoniwa.

She’ll bounce around the Tramlines Arena main stage from 9pm on Saturday belting out the likes of Don’t Upset The Rhythm – a rather different scenario to the legal aspirations her father had for her.

“What he really wanted me to be was some kind of ambassador, somebody who brought people together,” Shingai says.

“Because he was from a fighting generation he wanted me to be involved in a generation that allowed people to understand one another more. That’s what I’m doing in a way anyway, even if it’s not with the tag of lawyer.”

Besides a stock of songs awash with punk spirit, romping soul and hard-edged pop, Shingai is a powerful vocalist with a natural ability to whip up a crowd, something she first learned during a stint with the Lost Vagueness cabaret crew of Glastonbury festival fame.

“As far as other exploits I’ve done, whether it be training in theatre or circus stuff, they’re all tools I still carry in my box.

“The idea of putting on a proper show seems to be missing from a lot of young bands. We always go that extra mile to give the crowd a night they’ll never forget. I love artists like Hendrix and Bowie who fussed over their hair and took time choosing an outfit.

“We’re not trying to be trendy – we want to make music for everyone – but we put effort in to every aspect of being in a band.

“As long as it leaves people going home with a big smile or feeling they got their money’s worth I’m a happy bunny.”

Another band in good shape for Sheftival is obLONG (geddit), one of the draws on the Jettyside Live Stage on Saturday. They’re match-fit after featuring in Tramlines and last weekend’s SLAMFEST in Rotherham.

And local heroine Sarah Mac figures twice this weekend when she finds The Busker’s Barge on Saturday and Jettyside on Sunday.

Another of Sheffield’s bright hopes continues to be The Crookes who have just released the second album we hoped they would make.

A change of guitarists has added a dimension that is helping them to build on the reputation of a first album that saw them play everywhere from T In The Park to Tokyo.

Hold Fast sees a greater spring in their step and a desire to shrug off their ‘posh boys’ tag.

“The first album we’d been building up to for three years,” says singer George Waite. “We’d never had a label before so felt pressure to take it seriously and be like a ‘proper band’.

“After a while being a serious band gets on your nerves.

“We never got into it to act seriously.

“The second album is partly a reaction against that. We wanted to have a bit of fun. A lot of the time we live in complete isolation, like hermits. We spend a lot of time writing songs because if you rest on your laurels you forget to write the next album.

“So for nine months we’d been writing and not really touring. We’d been getting cabin fever. It’s always the strangest feeling to come out of your cave in Highfield and go 1,000 miles across a continent and have 1,000 people sing along to your songs.”

Thankfully, the quartet play closer to home when they follow veteran festival joy-makers Dodgy and precede Lightning Seeds at Tramlines Arena, having figured strongly in the namesake festival two weeks ago.

The Crookes, who met while at Sheffield University, remain loyal to their adopted home city, it seems.

“We’ve lived here for six years and are all from different corners of the country,” says George. “The only other thing to do is move to London where the streets are ‘paved with gold’. We’ve been there enough times to know they’re not.

“I really like living in Sheffield. It’s a perfect environment for our band. From a practical touring point of view it’s perfect. The musical heritage and lineage is amazing; to go abroad and be lumped in with those bands, even if we’re not deserved of that association, is still really special for us. A lot of cities have similar pasts but there’s something special about Sheffield.”

With Hold Fast picking up strong reviews, it’s likely more people will be singing along on Sunday.

“I’m not expecting to sell a million records, but I think we’ve got it in us and if we were able to get out to more people... the songs justify it.

“Doing festival shows, there’s less pressure because half of the crowd have never heard you before and you’ve got nothing to lose. Either they hate you and there’s nothing you can do about that or you’re picking up new fans.”

Other Sheftival highlights include The Beat, Roots & The Maytals, The Clench (See Encore, Page 30) and Renegade Brass Band.

Seven stages, 1,000 artists, competitors and dancers, 25 sports, three markets, three fairgrounds and free ice skating for £12. Visit www.sheftival.com