On 6th October 2017, The Red Lodge Agency teamed up with Sensoria Festival for the second annual ‘3 Ring Circus’ event in Sheffield. The idea behind 3 Ring Circus is that three artists play three shows on the same night, in three different venues, to three different crowds – whilst the artists move from venue to venue, their audiences stay put, with no idea who they’re seeing next. The three unique and intimate venues were Upper Chapel, University Drama Studio and Trafalgar Warehouse – all of which were to host Sheffield’s own Richard Hawley, Manic Street Preachers front man James Dean Bradfield and singer Lou Doillon.
Our 3 Ring Circus experience began at Trafalgar Warehouse with Lou Doillon; daughter of film director Jacques Doillon and actress Jane Birkin. Doillon was evidently nervous as she took a seat in front of the silent and attentive crowd, though with no reason to be, as not only did she win Best Female Artist at Victoires De La Musique in 2013, but her second album ‘Lay Low’ went Gold soon after its release. Captivating the room with her gorgeous voice and charismatic nature, 40 minutes flew by as Doillon glided through an assortment of tracks from ‘Lay Low’ and her first album ‘Places’. Doillon’s set of smoky tracks were perfectly suited to the intimate surroundings of Trafalgar Warehouse, as was her pleasant chatter that kept any awkward silences at bay. Dedicating ‘Make a Sound’ to her Mother, Doillon also told tales of the 3 Ring Circus event that took place in Paris a few days before, leaving the French somewhat confused at the concept. Doillon’s set ended with ‘Weekender Baby’ and the first crowd sing/hum-along of the night, as everybody in the room collaborated on both humming and hushed renditions of the line “I’ve got a weekender baby” – a unique ending to the first set of a unique event.
Making a welcome return to 3 Ring Circus after hosting last year’s event, solo artist and former Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley was next, looking effortlessly cool in double denim and accompanied by fellow guitarist Shez Sheridan. Explaining his urgency to crack on with things because due to the mad concept of 3 Ring Circus, he didn’t have much time, Hawley glided from track to track, with his baritone vocal and melodic guitar work mesmerising the crowd in the process. ‘I Still Want You’ and the elegant ‘Heart of Oak’ from his latest album ‘Hollow Meadows’ were nothing short of beautiful, and he stole the hearts of everybody in the room with ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’. Hawley’s sets are laced with humour and despite his lack of time, he still managed to reduce the audience to tears of laughter as he described himself to be “a fucking God” in his house due to the sublime ‘Tonight These Streets Are Ours’ appearing on an episode of The Simpsons – though his kids were apparently less than impressed that it was chosen as the title track for the Oscar nominated 2010 Banksy film ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’! It’s safe to say that it was an incredibly special experience to see Hawley deliver a hometown set of musical perfection in such a small venue.
Last but certainly not least, was James Dean Bradfield. Walking onto the stage that was a mere fraction of the size of those he’s recently been playing on with the Manic Street Preachers, Bradfield kicked things off with ‘Everything Must Go’, delivering an astonishingly strong vocal performance. Bradfield delivered tracks from all areas of his career with the Manic Street Preachers, including the rarely played ‘Prologue to History’ from ‘Lipstick Traces’ and a slowed down rendition of crowd favourite ‘Faster’. Treating the crowd like old friends and telling them of his love for Sheffield (he’s never had a bad pint or bag of chips there), Bradfield offered anecdotes before most tracks. Prior to playing a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Been A Son’, Bradfield explained the desire behind the bands decision to previously cover the track for ‘Lipstick Traces’; as a way of remembering former rhythm guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards, after his tragic disappearance in 1995. Renowned for playing a couple of acoustic tracks during his solo section of Manic Street Preachers shows, Bradfield is no stranger to performing their tracks stripped back and hits such as ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’ sounded as vibrant as ever, triggering huge sing-along’s and recruiting many backing vocalists. Despite the absence of his electric guitars, Bradfield more than lived up to his guitar hero status with his intricate guitar work during ‘Yes’ alone and it’s safe to say that not many people can master an acoustic guitar like him. Ending the night on a high with ‘A Design For Life’ and leaving the crowd wanting more, James Dean Bradfield was the definite show stealer at this year’s 3 Ring Circus.
Following in the footsteps of last year’s event, this year’s 3 Ring Circus was a roaring success and it was refreshing to see three artists of such different styles on the same bill, with the added excitement of which artist would arrive at your venue heightening the experience for all involved.