Country road and motorway lane closures, predictions of the whole of July’s average rainfall in 24 hours, Environment Agency warnings of rivers and brooks bursting their banks in the area… for an event that thrives on its friendly, open community-like atmosphere, the sixth Indietracks Festival loomed like a oncoming battle. Thankfully, in the end, little of that came to pass and with just three or four heavy showers over the weekend The Midland Railway Centre’s status as an independent state of indie-pop was comfortably reclaimed.
Everyone says it about their favourite festival but Indietracks really isn’t like other festivals: vintage steam and diesel trains ferry attendees from central station to the rolling Derbyshire countryside location where bands play in real-ale serving tram sheds, a recovered deconsecrated church and a handful of acoustic acts get to play in the goods wagon of a moving steam train. Increasing numbers of foreign visitors are drawn into this peculiar, laid back slice of affected Albion by its uniquely peaceful aura and spirited community. This, combined with the local parrot and owl sanctuary owners that can be found wandering the site with the birds on their arm, really does transport you to another world.
Things kicked off inside the shed on Friday evening, Vermont bubblegum stalwarts The Smittens and Cardiff girl group pop manque The School turned in fine sets but it was headliner Darren Hayman, with his band The Secondary Modern, who really impressed. Cherry picking songs from his increasingly prolific back catalogue, Hayman’s set featured tracks from two albums yet to be released, one of which is a take on lounge music from a forthcoming instrumental album inspired by London lidos. Tackling ‘A Hymn To The Postal Service’ and ‘The Sad Witch’ from Hefner’s now fourteen year old debut album Breaking God’s Heart, Modern Lovers and the Bee Gees’ ‘I Started A Joke’, Hayman reminds us of his careful lyrical touch and musical awareness whilst delighting in keeping his audience on their toes.
Saturday’s first real standouts were Evans The Death, whose eponymous debut album has been one of the lower-key highlights of the year so far. Transferred to a live sound with an extra dimension, the shoegaze-inspired guitar rallies against Katherine Whittaker’s adaptably raw vocal style, channelling the Primitives and Long Blondes through distortion pedals. Meanwhile the much discussed Colour Me Wednesday mine the fields of agitpop-punk, tweepop and ska rhythms to as close as is likely to come to rabble rousing effect.
The first of the heavy showers commenced right near the end of Tender Trap‘s set, Amelia Fletcher & co pre-occupied with previewing a new album that in its girl group melodies and sharpened up janglepop harks back to her days fronting Heavenly inventing a lot of what’s around us this weekend. The downpour forces plenty of people under cover to see The Rosie Taylor Project‘s lilting, lush chamber pop, before Tigercats staked their claim as the scene’s potential next breakout band with their rapturously received set of awkwardly infectious danceable nuggets of choppy Orange Juice-derived guitars and offbeat lyrical concerns delivered in Duncan Barrett’s knowingly off-key vocals.
“Hello T In The Park, we’re the Stone Roses!” The Just Joans lied before delivering as an opening trump card a cover of Kenickie’s ‘Come Out 2 Nite’. Their own material continues the overhanging feelgood air in stark contrast to its content of emotional unsureness and outright bedroom failure, tweepop in its finest form in thick Scottish brogues and with the odd steal from elsewhere.
Meanwhile word gets around of a storming set in the church from Urusei Yatsura-like noiseniks Joanna Gruesome, the queue outside precluding any chance of finding out personally. Instead, we and about as many as will turn up for an indoor set all weekend watch Standard Fare deliver their quietly magic set. The three-piece, with the occasional guest musician, are in the habit of turning such gatherings into temples of temporary worship, such is the level of dancing and singing along at the front, much to Emma Kupa’s evident stupefaction.
People seemed less sure about Summer Camp, as the back end of the shed slowly emptied over the first half of their set, not helped by a number of new songs. Those who remained at the front enjoyed a band who are growing in live confidence all the time, ‘Ghost Train’ and ‘Better Off Without You’ resulted in some serious shape throwing before Elizabeth and Jeremy made their way into the audience for an unplugged acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’. That did have the effect of slimming numbers even further as most who couldn’t hear left to watch headliners Veronica Falls, who seemed in a good mood, showcasing some new songs and inserting extra punch into their fuzzy, knowingly C86-like sound.
Sunday greets us with Edinburgh’s far too young The Spook School, like the Popguns going properly punk-pop, before we decide to take a trip on the train to witness the lovelorn bathos of acoustic duo The Sunbathers, who had the best merchandise of the weekend, handing out free sticks of rock – proper rock, with their name through the middle – with a download code for a new song on the inside of the label. Leeds-based trio T.O.Y.S formed from the remnants of various local indie-noise outfits, most notably the Manhattan Love Suicides, are up next and can best be summarised as lo-fi motorik inhabited with fuzzy bass lines and droning keyboard patterns, bringing an intensive psychedelic sweep much like early Stereolab in garage rehearsals.
Soon Belle & Sebastian‘s Stevie Jackson and two sideman embarked upon a set of his solo careful vignettes, a measured contrast to This Many Boyfriends who are playing under the safety of the tram shed roof. The Leeds band come down on the unashamed side of ragged but spirited shambling tracks from their forthcoming Ryan Jarman-produced album possess an exhilarating smartness and charm of their own. Frontman Richard Brooke is evidently shocked at how many people have turned up and know the songs, the set consequently turns into a mini-party of its own, an associate taking up Bez’ duties for the last two songs.
Following the lively surf and shoegaze-inflected lo-fi noise of Girls Names, The June Brides made a reappearance. On a day that saw a number of reformed bands playing, including the C86-era psych-pop of 14 Iced Bears and Belfast’s mid-00s janglers Language Of Flowers, the recently reactivated mid-80s Morrissey favoured, NME cover star nearly-weres played a taut, economical set almost entirely of the fast strummed, trumpet laced jangling with which they made their name. Openly tempting fate, they finished with ‘In The Rain’. It didn’t just in case you were wondering.
If a spirited but uneventful indoor headline slot from The Monochrome Set proved underattended it was because some scene heroes were overlapping on the main stage. If, given both events are happening on the same weekend, Indietracks is the specialist T In The Park, Allo Darlin’ were its Kasabian. Only in stature and line-up position mind, the charm and connective warmth of their songs feeding the crowds energy. Elizabeth Morris smiled broadly and thrashed away at her ukelele as bassist Bill Botting bounced around like Tigger. Their upbeat songs already seem like indiepop standards. Inexplicably they’re told their set has to end twenty minutes early, only for the crowd uproar to have the decision reversed so they can end on a cover of The Just Joans‘ ‘If You Don’t Pull’ and a triumphant ‘My Heart Is A Drummer’. The real moment of the set, and perhaps festival, was still to come yet, as Morris re-emerged on her own as the light faded to perform ‘Tallulah’ with just uke accompaniment as a final song, to an absolutely silenced field. More than one person was observed finding something in their eye at its end.
It might have been near impossible to follow that convincingly, but The Vaselines gave it a very good shot, aided by Frances McKee’s reliably potty mouth. Two songs in, she’s promised personal services to anyone who can guess how old she is. Five songs in, she’s claimed to have given Jesus a blow job the previous night (Eugene Kelly: “that wasn’t Jesus, that was just some tramp”). The two and their bandmates, including Stevie Jackson, blast through songs from their heyday, including ‘Molly’s Lips’ and their regular cover of Divine’s ‘You Think You’re A Man’.
And with their disaffected melodies ringing around the countryside, the sun sets for another year on the railway stock. Indietracks seems to become more popular as it gets bolder every year but feels like it will never loose touch with its DIY roots or the implicit trust of its patrons. Long may it continue on its singular way.