Cool music, lovely people, real ale, steam trains, sun...sun...even more sun...wouldn’t the country be a better place if it was run by the good folk behind Indietracks and the bands who played? Yes, yes it would. MJ Hibbert would be Secretary of State for Education, Hidden Cameras would be in charge of the armed forces and Gruff Rhys would be Prime Minister, although given his wonderfully laid back drawl and thoughtful pondering Prime Minister’s Question Time may well last a week.
As with last year’s event the line up was a rather splendid mix of the old and the new as Friday’s evening ably demonstrated. In fact it was a bit of an new/old sandwich with Spearmint and The Chills bookended by new blood Teen Canteen and the relatively recent (compared with The Chills at least) Allo Darlin’.
Teen Canteen opened the whole shebang, relocating the sound of classic 60s girl bands to 21st century Glasgow. It’s always great (but surprisingly rare) to hear proper accents in pop but the Canteen say it loud, they’re Scottish and proud. Loved those sparkly hot pants too. Spearmint may have left theirs at home but they’d lost none of their sparkle. All of a sudden we were back in the 90s, arguably the last golden age for mainstream British music, and whilst Spearhead didn’t hit the dizzy heights of Pulp, Blur and Oasis (unfairly in my humble opinion) it was still a genuine treat to revisit old favourites like We’re Going Out and what could well be the Indietracks anthem of the weekend, Sweeping The Nation. This set wasn’t just a nostalgia-fest though, the ‘mint are back with a brand new album, News From Nowhere, which provided one of the highlights of their performance in Tony Wright, a poignant but barbed look back at the two paths in life that Shirley and the song’s subject took.
Wright clearly packed in music for a steady job in his “dad’s spring factory” whilst Lee and co struggled on. It’s a choice most of us face in life, do what you love and possibly end up living in a bedsit on a diet of baked beans on toast or sell your soul to ‘da man’ and buy a nice little three bedroom semi and a Lexus. Having done both (well minus the Lexus and semi) know which one I prefer. Beans it is then.
Next up The Chills who, incredibly, are nudging close to their 35th anniversary. You can spot some early era REM influences in there, or then again maybe early REM were influenced by The Chills? Whatever the order of things they delivered another of the weekend’s highlights by playing the aptly titled Heavenly Pop Hit. Bliss.
After bumping into Rev Oliver Harrison (The Chap Magazine’s shaving expert dontcha know) in the men’s loos and the ruddy lovely Jyoti Mishra (aka White Town) that just left Allo Darlin’ to top things off in their only festival appearance of 2014. The mandolin driven 4 piece served up much loved tracks Capricornia and My Heart’s As Strong As A Drummer to huge whoops of appreciation before being joined by a couple of special guests, Emma Kupa (ex-Standard Fare) and the Just Joans, the latter of which played on the Darlin’s cover of their own song If You Don’t Pull. Ahhhh, we’ve all been there eh? Speaking of covers they capped things off with a grin inducing version of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, replete with THAT bass solo.
By Saturday afternoon the sun had well and truly got his hat on so it was pretty nice to get a bit of shelter for Ace City Racers’ Buzzcocks meets Britpop-ish set on the Indoor Stage before dashing out to catch punk pop trio Skeletal Shakes’ weather appropriate jangly cover of the Martha and the Vandellas' classic Heatwave. Phew, what a scorcher. The Church Stage was jam packed for Elopes, in fact it actually seemed hot enough to actually make jam in there so we stood outside to listen. Gender politics pop (is that a genre...hmmm...it is now) never sounded so good.
Does humour belong in music? Silly question Mr Zappa, especially where MJ Hibbert and the Validators are concerned. I have a confession, this was my first visit to Hibbert World, a place where dinosaurs come back to the earth from space, where being happy ain’t a crime (“Hey there Emo boy give us all a smile”) and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme tune is relocated to Peterborough.
Genius. Behind the humour (and some of his stuff is ruddy funny) the dude speaks a huge amount of sense, and you can see where the comparisons to Billy Bragg (albeit a Billy Bragg on happy pills) come from. Actually you can kind of imagine Hibbs penning something like Bragg’s Sexuality, which he kind of has courtesy of his own tune Gay Train. The whole set was huge fun and when Hibbert unveiled the offer of one CD for £5 or 4 CDs for £10 (“Because no one’s bought any and I’m moving to a smaller flat”) my heart melted for the man...or then again maybe that was just the heat. Either way I ended up buying six CDs, a 7 inch single and a bunch of badges for £15 which tells you all you need to know about how much I enjoyed this performance. The highpoints kept rolling by like the steam trains (more on them later) with Canada’s Thee AHs combining an indie grunge vibe with lead singer Sarah’s megacute vocals in perfect AH-mony. Their soaringly super falsetto-ly fantastic Spooky Love headed straight into my top five Indietracks 2014 moments.
Not many things would draw me to a packed out tin chapel on the hottest day of the year but then again not many artists are like multi-instrumentalist Laura J Martin who loops flute, mandolin, xylophone and a weird plucky thing to create a Japanese flavoured fairy tale world of wonder. If Studio Ghibli hooked up with Kate Bush this is what it would sound like. She has a way of acting out some of the songs that’s distinctly Bush-ish too, using hand movements and facial expressions to add extra colour to the performance. How she coped with the heat I can’t begin to imagine, maybe that’s the benefit of being so darn cool?
Not since Ian Anderson stood on one leg has the flute seemed so ruddy exciting and if you think that’s hyperbole check out Spy or Dream of Sin.
Over at the Indoor Stage the recently reformed The Blue Minkies did their “shouty female” thang in fine style, firing out organ driven blasts of pop punk few of which made it to the two minute mark. It was the more low key revenge anthem Hopelessly Devoted To You that stole the show though, cramming in the kind of plotline that would keep Eastenders going for a year in just over 60 seconds.
Horrible clash time...The Spook School and Joanna Gruesome overlapped. Cobblers. On top of a fine line in Buzzcocks style indie punk The Spook School have something of a secret weapon in their moustachioed drummer, one of the chattiest and most hilarious men in indiedom. He linked every song with random musings – the footballs made of tofu was particularly good – before providing the driving force behind such instantly catchy, pogo-tastic stuff like I’ll Be Honest. All too soon Joanna Gruesome came calling though. Sporting dyed blue hair, a well worn Black Flag t-shirt and a bandaged knee (it’s a tough business this indie pop) lead singer Alanna McCardle easily won the prize for most punk looking person of the weekend. Musically there’s a C86 / Pixies feel with some gloriously thrashy moments that grinds up against Alanna’s sweet and sour vocals, best delivered this evening in a crotch kicking Anti-parent Cowboy Killers and set closer Sugarcrush, McCardle leaving the stage with a scream still ringing in my ears three days later.
Back outside and legendary godfathers/godmothers of jangle The Popguns were jingling and jangling all the way with their songs of love and loss including Waiting For The Winter which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Good grief. Tempus fugit eh?
That just left Gruff Rhys to deliver a typically original set, this time in support of current project American Interior, an album, book, film and app about a distant relative, John Evans, who left Wales for the US way back in 1797 searching for a lost tribe of Welsh speaking Native Americans believed to be descended from Prince Madog. Got that? Good. Part gig, part PowerPoint presentation Gruff guided us through Evans’ journey using a series of photos featuring a Pete Fowler created puppet to represent him (the puppet joined Gruff onstage, naturally...why wouldn’t he eh?). It was all charmingly ramshackle in that unique way that Gruff has whilst at the same time telling a pretty incredible story. Would you have fancied travelling to the mysterious and often downright dangerous US back in the 18th century? No Virgin Atlantic or high speed railway lines in those days, just rickety old boats and your own two feet. Inspiring stuff.
Musically it’s classic Gruff, from the atmospheric theme tune of American Interior itself through to the repeated motif of Iolo, a trick he repeated himself later in the set by playing the delightfully motorik Gyrru Gyruu Gyruu from 2007’s Candylion. Another non American Interiors track also made it into the set, Sensations In The Dark which, although missing the full on mariachi brass, was still a treat. As is traditional he used placards to signal the end of the set, variously marked ‘Applause’, ‘Go Nuts’ and ‘Resist Phoney Encores’. I’d usually agree with that last one but I could’ve watched him all night. I-Rhys-istible.
Day Three and for anyone suffering Cheddar Valley related hangovers (ouch...) Spanish three piece Axolotes Mexicanos were manna from heaven. How sweet is their lead singer Olaya? Sweeter than the sweetest thing in the world, covered in sugar and dipped in honey, that’s how sweet.
As she doesn’t speak much English their bassist Stephen had to translate which ramped up the sweetness a notch or two. The music’s a fabulous mix of electro pop and punk, like Bis and The Ramones having a house (or maybe that should be villa) party. The sweetness masks an edgier side to the band though with tracks like Abortion (which Olaya dedicated to her brother...er...okay), and Love Shot, an anthem to...ahem...there’s no other word for it really...ejaculating in your lover’s face. Hmmm, maybe that’s what Come On Eileen’s about? Indiest band of the weekend. Over in/on The Church Stage Totem Terrors channelled everything from LCD Soundsystem and Carter USM to Wire into a performance wonderfully at odds with a sleepy summer Sunday afternoon. After a quick jog across the site we caught a little of No Ditching’s double drumming Buzzcocks meets the Slits...that’ll be Slitcocks then (oooh that’s gotta sting) before staggering back up to The Church again for le formidable Watoo Watoo, the lovechildren of Stereolab and Serge Gainsbourg. It’s such a cool sound you actually feel at least 69% cooler just by listening to it. Fact. The only thing that could draw me away was the prospect of seeing Ravioli Me Away but they failed to show up for some reason. I only hope they ‘penne’ the organisers a suitably humble apology, if you ‘spaghetti’ my drift. Okay, I’ll stop now. EDIT: Ah, it seems they got lost on the way and missed their slot. Shame, maybe next year then?
After a gloriously chaotic shout and proud set from The Wendy Darlings (Indie Garage anyone?) Bordeauxxx bought all the joy of Los Campesinos to Indietracks, which is pretty high praise in my books.
The Beach Girls and the Monster (you can get it along with 55 other tracks courtesy of the awesome Indietracks 2014 compilation album, just £2 to you guv) and if it doesn’t make you dance around your bedroom in your pants then you’ve got no soul...or pants. Either way we can’t be friends.
Having missed all of the on train gigs so far (oh yes, they play gigs on steam trains here) I had to catch The School’s Liz Hunt and Harri Davidsons set. Kneeling on the floor with her xylophone Liz sang songs about boys (at least most of them seemed to be about boys) as we gently chuffed through the Derbyshire countryside. Lovely stuff. After arriving back there was just chance to catch Cosines’ math pop cover of Rod Stewarts Young Hearts, which almost made up for missing them doing Hey Sailor Boy. Damn those timings!
Outside again and The Flatmates, part of the original indiepop scene back in the 80s, mashed up The Clash, Undertones and The Ramones to produce a set that well and truly gave the young 'uns (okay, so maybe half the band are young 'uns but still) a run for their money with the insanely catchy Do The Angels Care.
By the end of it all set highlight I Could Be In Heaven pretty much said it all.
By the end of it all set highlight I Could Be In Heaven pretty much said it all.
By now the clock was ticking and, like a kid (oh alright then, middle aged chap) in an indie pop sweet shop, I was trying manically to scoff as many bands as possible. Just caught the last couple of tracks of the Night Flowers set including a jangled up cover of Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour before Sweet Baboo, aka Stephen Black, advised us all that the morse code for love is beep beep, beep beep and the binary code is one one.
Yet another distinctively great Welsh musician he seems to inhabit his own little universe, at times recalling the tender vulnerability and vocal fragility of one of his heroes (lovingly mentioned in one of the set’s highlights If I Died) Daniel Johnson. Take Best Beach too, “many verses no chorus” for instance, totally at odds with conventional pop song wisdom it’s still oddly catchy. There were some really new songs too, one called Walking In The Rain – “I tried to make it sound a bit like Travis’ Why Does It Always Rain On Me so it will get used on the TV a lot” he half joked and another which may have been called We Used To Call Him Dennis which, appropriately enough, had a touch of The Mystery Jets about it. With all this ringing in our ears it was back up to the Church Stage for Mega Emotions who unexpectedly delivered one of the best performances of the whole weekend. 80s electro beats, male and female three part harmonies, rock guitars, cow bells...one for fans of Radio 4 (the band) and the much missed (by me at least) Men Women and Children.
New single (possibly) Uncomfortable was darker and colder, imagine Numan backed by Chicks In Speed, whilst their Electroclash version of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita actually surpassed the original. Honestly.
Lead singer Joel’s called it “gay church folk music” in the past which, in the absence of anything better, ain’t too bad a description especially on stuff like Music Is My Boyfriend, a happy, clappy anthem that wouldn’t be out of place in a Polyphonic Spree gig.
Certainly the whole thing’s incredibly uplifting whether you’re gay or a straight as an arrow. I’ve never seen anyone dance around playing a cello before either (as one of the band did), which can’t be easy eh. A genuinely special end to an equally special festival. Huge thanks and congratulations to all involved...once again Indietracks you’ve left me feeling well chuffed.