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Tramlines’ Timm Cleasby: ‘We wanted to show it could be done’

Tramlines’ operations director has said he hopes the event can serve as a blueprint for how major, multi-day music festivals can be staged safely until the threat of the coronavirus has receded.

Tramlines, whose 2021 edition took place at Hillsborough Park in Sheffield from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 July, was, along with Latitude in Suffolk, one of two 40,000-capacity festivals to take place last weekend as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme pilot scheme.

Timm Cleasby, says he hopes the success of the events – which used the National Health Service’s Covid Pass app to certify attendees’ vaccination or Covid-19 test status – will demonstrate that music festivals can be held under pandemic conditions, even in the event of tightened restrictions or further lockdowns in future. “I feel like what we’ve done is started to pave the way for the rest of the industry to open up in a way that minimises the risk for everyone,” he explains.

Cleasby (pictured), a former tour manager for the Arctic Monkeys who has been with Tramlines since its debut as a publicly funded city-centre festival in 2009, tells IQ: “It’s so important because the festival industry is on such a knife edge. It only takes something to go to go a bit wrong and then we’re locked down again. So I feel like what we’ve done is really important and hopefully will be able to show people that it can be done.”

Featuring performances from the Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Little Simz, the Sherlocks and more, Tramlines grew both its capacity and festival site for 2021, adding 10,000 people and a number of site improvements. The festival came together in just five weeks, the tiny window adding extra time pressure to challenges in staffing, equipment hire and more, Cleasby continues. “It was definitely a challenge,” he says, “also because of the extra costs [involved in the pilot format].”

“We did everything we could to give us that space for everyone to feel more comfortable, because it was the first festival back”

“But we made our bars bigger, we got better queuing systems, more toilets, a new arena for stage two… so we did everything we could to give us that space for everyone to feel more comfortable, simply because it was the first festival back,” he adds. “You want to make sure that when people come they have a great time, and from what I saw over the weekend they had a smashing time.”

Specific “curve balls” the Tramlines team had to handle in those five weeks were staff shortages caused by Brexit and the ongoing NHS contact-tracing crisis, or ‘pingdemic’, and issues with the supply chain as a result of the pandemic.

“All the [Covid-19] testing centres and vaccination centres have marquees, cabins, toilets, terraced fencing, etc., and it’s all set up for a long-term hire, so there’s a shortage of equipment that is affecting all the festivals,” Cleasby explains. “And then there’s the fact that people aren’t manufacturing so much because their workforces are furloughed, or they relied on European workers, so stuff isn’t coming into the country as it should be. It’s a proper mixture of everything.

“For instance, our marquee supplier, literally a week before we were due to arrive on site, said, ‘I’m sorry but we can’t deliver anything to you’, because their staff had all been ‘pinged’ [told to self-isolate]. In the end, we had to find a marquee supplier that was also a manufacturer, which could manufacture marquees for us over the weekend, come in Monday morning and put them up, and then still be manufacturing that week as well – so as we’re putting them up, they’re making more!”

Tramlines 2021 fans

The Tramlines team also faced difficulties with cabin and plant hire, he continues, and had to put in place numerous contingency plans for if festival employees and staff were also ordered to self-isolate after coming in contact with someone with Covid-19.

Despite the stress of the past five weeks, Cleasby says it was worth it to see a full festival site in Hillsborough Park after two years away.

“It was fantastic to see everyone, bumping into old friends and having that moment of ‘Oh my God, We’re doing it!’” he says. “Over the weekend, everyone was buzzing – firstly that we’d managed to pull it off in such a short timescale, and secondly that we were back: We’re back in the park, we’re doing it and delivering it and just watching the audience having the time of their lives.”

Cleasby says he’s now looking forward to next summer, albeit hopefully under more normal conditions and with longer to pull the event together. “A bit longer time to get it off the ground would be nice,” he jokes. “Maybe six weeks next year…”

Tickets for Tramlines 2022 are on sale now, priced from £120 + booking fee (tier three).

 


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Over 100k fans enjoy huge UK festival weekend

Hundreds of thousands of music fans flocked to open-air venues across the UK last weekend for the country’s first big festival weekend since the summer of 2019.

Festival Republic’s Latitude and Superstruct-backed Tramlines, both 40,000-capacity, Broadwick Live’s Standon Calling (15,000-cap.) and Alexandra Palace’s Kaleidoscope (10,000-cap.) were among the events to take advantage of Covid-status certification – ie requiring proof of vaccine or a negative Covid-19 test from attendees – to do away with social distancing and create the first ‘normal’ festival experiences of the coronavirus era.

While the two biggest events were held as government-backed pilots as part of the Events Research Programme (ERP), all four festivals implemented some form of pre-event screening for Covid-19 status: Latitude, Tramlines and Kaleidoscope used the NHS (National Health Service) Covid Pass app to check festivalgoers were either fully vaccinated or had returned a negative test, while Standon Calling went a step further, requiring a negative test even if attendees had received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Latitude took place from 22 to 25 July at Henham Park in Suffolk with performers including Bastille, Wolf Alice, the Chemical Brothers and Bombay Bicycle Club.

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn told local media that the stringent entry requirements meant the Latitude site was “close to being the safest place in England” last weekend, with even performers not able to bypass the checks (two acts, Fontaines DC and Alfie Templeman, were forced to cancel after testing positive and were replaced by Sleaford Mods and Sports Team, respectively).

Staff were “breaking down in tears” over being able to work again

The first festival most of those in attendance had been to since 2019, the same applied to many of the event’s staff; Benn told the BBC he knew of technicians and support staff who had been “breaking down in tears” that they were able to work again after 16 months of minimal event activity.

In addition to the music and comedy programme – other performers included Rudimental, Damon Albarn, Supergrass, Hot Chip, Kaiser Chiefs, Bill Bailey and king of the internet Rick Astley – Latitude also featured a ‘vaccine bus’, staffed by NHS workers, where over-18s could get either their first or second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine on a walk-in basis.

In Hertfordshire, popular boutique event Standon Calling made a welcome return from 22 to 25 July, planning four days of family friendly fun headlined by Bastille, Hot Chip, Primal Scream and Craig David’s TS5.

Though it, too, successfully navigated Covid-19 to go ahead as planned, the festival came to an abrupt end yesterday after organisers were forced to pull the plug due to the flash flooding which had left much of southern England underwater.

Among the artists booked to play on Sunday were Primal Scream, Craig David, De La Soul and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

“Hearing the first band ring out over the festival was an emotional moment”

Also taking part in the ERP was Tramlines, which welcomed 40,000 people a day to Hillsborough Park in Sheffield from 23 to 25 July.

Featuring performances from the Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Little Simz, the Sherlocks and more, the sold-out event grew both its capacity and festival site for 2021, adding 10,000 people, a new cabaret stage, The Open Arms, and a new arena for its second, T’Other stage to become the biggest Tramlines yet.

“After 18 months of strangeness, it was unbelievable to be back in the park again,” says the festival’s operations director, Timm Cleasby. “There have been so many hurdles we’ve had to jump to get here and, honestly, it’s been quite a rollercoaster. It’s been great to see so many happy smiling faces, from crew getting back to the thing they love to revellers having the time of their lives watching the bands they love. Hearing the first band ring out over the festival was an emotional moment.

“I’d really like to thank everyone for playing their part with the NHS Covid Pass system. It ran very smoothly, and by being part of the Events Research Programme together we’re helping to pave the way for festivals and live events to get back to normal. I’m full of gratitude for everyone: our amazing crew and suppliers, the support from the DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport], Public Health Sheffield, Sheffield Council and, of course, our fans. Thank you all for helping us do this – we love you all and we can’t wait to see you all next year.”

 


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Tramlines to go ahead in July with 40,000 fans

Sheffield’s Tramlines festival has announced it will go ahead at its full capacity of 40,000 next month after joining the third phase of the UK’s pilot events initiative, the Events Research Programme (ERP).

Tramlines, majority owned by Superstruct Entertainment, is the latest festival to join the next round of ERP pilots, following news late last week that Festival Republic’s Latitude will also be held as a clinically controlled ERP event. Tramlines 2021 will take place in Hillsborough Park in Sheffield from 23 to 25 July, with headliners the Streets, Royal Blood and Richard Ashcroft.

Tramlines’ participation in the programme means the festival can go ahead independently of national reopening dates (provisionally scheduled for 19 July) with fans not expected to socially distance or wear masks. All attendees will be required to have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine or submitted a negative lateral-flow test in the previous 48 hours.

The good news for Tramlines comes as Womad, the festival of world music held annually in the Wiltshire countryside, cancels its 2021 edition (which was scheduled for 22–25 July) citing ongoing uncertainty around the reopening date and the continued lack of government-backed event cancellation insurance for large events.

“We have not been asking for financial support; all we have wanted is certainty in the form of insurance against cancellation (that we’d be happy to pay for),” reads a statement from the festival, which which was to have featured performances by Anoushka Shankar, Nitin Sawhney, Greentea Peng and more. Referring to the ‘test event’ status granted to some events, organisers add: “The industry should see equal access to support and a much less opaque way of deciding who gets help.”

Elsewhere, as Womad cancelled Standon Calling in Hertfordshire confirmed it would “go for it” with its 15th-anniversary event, held over the same dates.“The government’s impressive vaccination record, the Event Research Programme data published at the end of last week (which showed there were no substantial outbreaks at phase one of the test events) and yesterday’s comments made by the new secretary of state for health and social Care that 19 June will be the ‘end of the line’ for Covid restrictions have encouraged us to go for it,” explains founder Alex Trenchard.

“It is very important to us that clear guidance is made available quickly to the entire event community”

Commenting on Tramlines being awarded ERP status, the festival’s operations director, Timm Cleasby, says: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to confirm that Tramlines 2021 is going ahead, having accepted the government’s invitation to join the Events Research Programme. This means we have a proven framework to follow, which at previous events has shown that festivals can be enjoyed at no more risk than other activities. Once inside, there will be no need for social distancing and no one will have to wear a mask if they don’t want to.

“We would like to express our solidarity with those festivals which have not been able to go ahead this year and those which are still seeking clarity. It is very important to us that clear guidance is made available quickly to the entire event community so that as many festivals as possible can go ahead with confidence this summer. Huge ticket sales across the sector show how keen fans are to come to our events and we want to help reassure them that we can welcome them back safely.”

UK culture minister Caroline Dinenage adds: “I know how desperately people want to get back to festivals, which is why they’re a hugely important part of our Events Research Programme.

“As we continue to work towards live events reopening fully on 19 July, this year’s Tramlines festival will provide more vital scientific evidence and allow us to trial Covid certification, building on what we’ve learnt from our successful Sefton Park [Pilot] and Download [Pilot] events.”

All ticketholders for the sold-out festival will be contacted by Tramlines’ ticketing partner, Gigantic, by email on 1 July with further details. Anyone who does not want to take part in the Tramlines pilot may roll over their ticket to Tramlines 2022 at no extra cost.

 


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