It’s midday. I’m on a steam train. Watching a band. Welcome to Indietracks (set in the lovely surroundings of the Midlands Railway Centre Butterly), simply one of the loveliest festivals in the whole wide world.
What defines indie music these days could well make a decent sized dissertation (I daresay it already has) but there was/is a distinctive sound/feel/ethos behind pretty much all of the 50 or so acts on offer over the weekend, even if the music varied from lively pop punk to fragile folk (and all ‘points’ in between...I warn you now this may not be the last railway related pun). So what, aside from the original meaning (something that was released on an independent record label) makes something indie? Well it’s the difference between tweed and polyester, real ale and Carling, Tony Benn and Tony Blair...it’s something genuine, heartfelt and homemade, it’s quirky and a little off the wall, more woolly hat than baseball cap, more jingle jangle than jungle. Any clearer? No? Good. That’s kind of the indie way I guess.
I listen to my fair share of music (regular readers...hello to both of you...you’re looking well... will note that my tastes are best described as ‘broad’) but the vast majority of the bands on offer were still ‘ear fresh’ to me as it were, which partially eliminated that annoying festival dilemma of deciding what the hell to go and see when two bands you really, really, really want to watch clash. This normally results (in my case at least) in running around in angst ridden circles missing both bands and then downing a pint of overpriced ‘beer’ to cheer yourself up. Whilst we’re on the subject of beer Indietracks is particularly well blessed on this front with a cracking range of real ales (probably made by bearded blokes called Trevor or Geoff) and a couple of lethal ciders. They were, without exception, all pretty fabulous too.
On then to the music and we managed to tick off an impressive number of bands over the three days. Perhaps one or two sent the tweeometer into overdrive, but then again in indieworld twee’s a badge of honour not an insult, right? In fact musical standards were impressively high with some truly groin warmingly enjoyable sets. Day One (well evening one...it started at 7pm) saw a trio of highlights kicking off with Big Wave’s summery guitar pop and The Tuts. The latter are a punky female three piece with a seemingly easy knack for penning instantly hummable tunes with attitude.
Think Kate Nash (I believe she’s a bit of a fan...) meets The Slits. By Sunday night an impressive number of the crowd were seen sporting The Tuts t-shirts too so I’m guessing the rest of Indietracks loved ‘em as much as I did. The big draw this evening though was indisputable indie legends bis. Famously the first ‘unsigned’ band to appear on Top Of The Pops they released a fine run of classic indiepop singles before splitting in 2003. Happily they reformed to play the odd gig, although lead singer Manda Rin may have her hands full soon as she’s expecting her very own bis-kid.
Awwww bless. Tonight’s gig sent me spinning joyfully back to the 90s with a hits rich selection of tracks including Icky Poo Air Raid, Kill Yr Boyfriend, Kandy Pop (I nearly pogoed myself into A and E during this one) and...hold the front page...a new song called Take a Deep Breath. Wisely it doesn’t mess with the classic bis sound too much and apparently there’s a decent stash of other new stuff just waiting in the wings. Why bis aren’t held in greater esteem baffles me, maybe penning set closer The Powerpuff Girls theme tune didn’t do them any favours but heck, even this sounded great tonight.
After catching a snatch (steady now) of acoustic singer/songwriter Northern Spies on a real life puffing steam train (these on board gigs are hugely popular and can – understandably...it’s a train carriage after all – prove tricky to get into though) day two kicked off properly with some lovely folky female harmonies courtesy of Jupiter In Jars in the beautiful (if rather warm...baking in fact) tin tabernacle church.
Mercifully outside and next up, hailing from Athens, GA Tunabunny (pictured above...at least one of them is anyway) rather brilliantly mashed together a little B52s with a dash of early Go Go’s and just the merest hint (in the guitars on (Song For My) Solar Sister particularly) of fellow Athens residents REM. Pale Spectres attracted a deservedly healthy crowd for their jingly jangly indietastic set, the sort of gig where it’s practically impossible to avoid sweeping your fringe over your eyes, looking down at your shoes and swaying gently from side to side. As if their indie cred needed backing up you could almost imagine a Smiths era Morrissey warbling one of their best tunes, Supermarket Love.
Winner of one of the best male voices of the weekend The Understudies’ lead singer sounded like a cross between Paul Heaton and Stuart Staples with their lushly string embellished song Jackie (I’m pretty sure it was introduced as This Old House though) also hinting at a glorious cross between their two bands (The Beautiful South and Tindersticks respectively).
Great stuff. Milky Wimpshakes’ anarcho rebellion stream of consciousness anthem Chemical Spray got a few heads banging (mine included...I blame the cider) before we ventured back into the oven...sorry...church again for The Magic Theatre. Consisting of 50% of late 90s indie hopefuls Ooberman, Sophia and Dan, we met one dude who’d travelled hundreds of miles just to see them. It was worth the journey. With backing strings from the Liverpool Philharmonic (happily on a laptop, I fear if they’d all tried to fit inside the church the entire place may have dissolved in a pool of molten tin) and Sophia’s beautifully ethereal vocals it’s a heady combination. The songs are every bit as a fascinating, taking in everything from the slightly ghostly tale of a young Victorian girl trying to finish sowing a sampler before the grim reaper comes a-callin’ through to a tale of a wife poisoning her husband. It’s not all death and decay though (no matter how beautifully portrayed), as the Country meets Latin American fusion of I Got The Answer was joyful enough to lift even the sorriest of souls. Oober-fans were well rewarded with four or five tracks too, including simply divine versions of Roll Me In Cotton and Shorley Wall. So good I forgot to get my camera out...
Back outside and Wave Pictures made their bid for catchiest song of the weekend with the twisted shanty of Spaghetti before Cars Can Be Blue lived up to at least part of their name with Dirty Song (sample lyric “You can sodomize me, get behind and ride me, stuff your cock inside me, proceed to fuck me blindly) and I Am A Slut. DIY shouty indie punk at its dementedly shabby best. For some Pastels were one of the big draws of the weekend, others favoured the livelier The Brilliant Corners. I plumped for the latter (this turned out to be an even smarter move once the weather turned).
Currently celebrating 30 years The Brilliant Corners are indiepop pioneers with a string of early indiechart hits. With three guitars and a bass there’s plenty of jingle jangle going on but the Corners’ secret weapon’s their trumpet. It’s used sparingly but it gives them more of a distinctive sound, best heard this evening on the bopping brilliant Delilah Sounds. As well as thoroughly enjoying the Corners our move to the indoor stage saved us from a frankly apocalyptic rain storm which resulted in tonight’s headliners Camera Obscura being moved inside. “I blame The Pastels for making it rain” lamented lead singer Traceyanne. Formed way back in 1996 it’s perhaps only recently that they’ve broken through to the wider world courtesy of a TV ad using their song French Navy and some impressive radio support for their hummable single Do It Again from new album Desire Lines.
Both tracks got an airing this evening with Do It Again best capturing their particular brand of slightly wistful indie pop and the decidedly upbeat (for Camera Obscura anyway) French Navy sending the crowd out into the stormy night on a high. Given the pouring rain it was a miracle that the British Navy weren’t called out...
Day three and we took an hour or two to explore some more of the Midland Railway Centre site (part of the money raised through the festival goes towards keeping it all on track), pausing on the way to stroke the odd owl or two (a local sanctuary were here to raise some dosh too). Did you know that some owls can live for up to 70 years?! No, me neither. A brief sojourn in the only fork lift truck museum in the WORLD...yes...I know...try to contain your excitement for a moment...lead to another museum crammed full of beautiful old trains in various states of repair. How we ended up with horrible plastic tubes to travel in when once we were surrounded by walnut veneer and lovely chrome fittings I’ll never know but I guess that’s ‘progress’ for you. While we're at it aren’t enamel signs beautiful too?
I can’t imagine any order, warning or product that isn’t made a little bit more appealing by being rendered in enamel. Hmmm...maybe British Gas should start sending their bills that way?
Anyway, back to the music and The Beautiful Word simply stole my heart in the tin church.
The combined vocals of their two female singers would frankly melt diamonds and each of their folky tinged song had that gentle toe tapping quality that takes you out of the real world and far off into somewhere magical. And no, that really wasn’t the real ale talking. Truly gorgeous stuff.
Back outside and Flowers blossomed in the sun delicately laying ethereal vocals over the top of reverb-tastic guitars and drums paving the way for Kid Canaveral. A kind of ‘Arab Strap you can dance to’ they’re yet another of those great Scottish band that manage to be mournfully epic. Hmmm...maybe it’s something in the water up there? Or booze perhaps, as evidenced by set highlight, the decidedly bouncy You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night. Bonus point for revealing that one of the band has “introduced her handbag to the contents of her stomach last night” after one too many pints of Chedder Valley Cider. I feel your pain m’luv. Still with me? Good, nearly there. Sunday night’s highlights were a kind of amorous double bill with The Lovely Eggs first followed by the elusive lesser spotted Helen Love (rarely seen live apparently). The Lovely Eggs are proper nuts. That’s a good thing by the way. A great thing in fact. Any band with a song called Fuck It gets my vote, if they also do a video for another song with comedy legend John Shuttleworth then it’s a bonus. Lancashire’s finest The Lovely Eggs tick both boxes (egg boxes, naturally).
The Shuttleworth featuring vid, Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It) is as fine a piece of twisted indie as you’ll ever hear and tonight the sight of several dozen people raising their “sausage roll thumbs” in unison (so much cooler than lighters eh?) was a brilliant moment.
A quick dash outside and we caught an all too brief glimpse (damn those line up clashes) of The Wake, the missing link between Joy Divison and New Order, before hotfooting it back to the indoor stage for Helen Love. Formed in 1992 and John Peel favourites they’re perhaps the indiest band in the world with a record box full of limited edition singles in various shades of vinyl and some truly classic indie disco tunes. Tonight’s set was all action, no talk (I don’t think Helen herself uttered a word) with the band’s Ramones meets DIY indie mash up inspiring the biggest crowd action of the whole weekend. It’s dance in your pants fun, so DIY you half expect to see Nick Knowles behind the sound desk. They played all the ‘hits’ with Happy Hardcore, Shifty Disco and Long Live The UK Music Scene going down particularly well.
The whole thing was capped off with a riotous Does Your Heart Go Boom which saw a dozen or so fans invited up on stage and armed with glitter mortars, sending thousands of bits of shiny plastic gently falling across the crowd. Who needs lasers when you’ve got glitter eh?
I’ve been to my fair share of festivals over the years but this really has to be one of the best...and friendliest around. Within minutes of pitching our tent we’d got chatting to a few people who became firm festival buddies (hello to Ross, Adam – the dude left it until Sunday to reveal he was one of the members of the team that won University Challenge last year – Clare and Mark) and we ended up on Sunday having a good old natter to the lovely Vintage Vixen and her other half Jon. Every single one of the Indietracks crew were smiley happy people and you didn’t hear a cross word all weekend...which given the amount of real ale and cider downed is frankly a miracle. If he were still around I’m fairly certain that this would be the patron saint of indie John Peel’s favourite festival. No doubt about it. Trains, real ale, lovely people, limited edition coloured vinyl...he’d be in heaven. I was. Chuffin’ brilliant.