Photograph by Bob Stuart.
It’s fair to assume that the UK festival calendar rarely offers a setting like that of Indietracks. Based within the grounds of the Midland Railway Museum near Ripley, Derbyshire, the main stage overlooks and shadows a collection of heritage steam and diesel locomotives. One stage is in a locomotive shed, another within a reconstructed Victorian railwayman’s church. A number of acoustic acts play on an actual moving goods train.
You could easily argue that such a location for a festival involving indiepop bands could only bring to mind the dreaded ‘twee’ lietmotif, but that’s to undermine the charm and openness the festival has developed in its six years. Indietracks’ reputation is one of friendly and welcoming atmospheres, proudly small-scale and DIY while drawing punters and bands from across the world, possessing the knowledge and word of mouth to host artists beyond its means.
As usual three bands open the festival on 6 July, headlined by the man who closed the first Indietracks back in 2007. Darren Hayman has been at his most prolific in the last year, putting out two albums in 2011 with two more promised this year. Throughout his career, back to his most commercially successful period with Hefner at the turn of the century, Hayman has staked a claim as one of the great undervalued English songwriters, exquisitely detailed in their melancholy and emotional confusion.
Saturday is headlined by Veronica Falls, off the back of the critical acclaim for the darkly spooked fuzz-pop of last year’s self-titled debut album. The indoor second stage will find Summer Camp headlining with the breezily warped retro synth-pop of Welcome To Condale and the emergent disco flavours promised by their forthcoming Always EP. Elizabeth Sankey has developed over time into a confident, compelling frontwoman and one suspects they may just find common ground with indiepop’s more standard fare.
…And indeed Standard Fare, who play immediately before them. Over two albums the Sheffield-based band have established themselves as curators of an more intelligent, vital and fluid form of power trio pop, as smart to take in as it is irresistable to dance to.
Other highlights on Saturday include the sparky, recently revived influential Californians Go Sailor, indiepop lifer Amelia Fletcher’s girl group influenced Tender Trap, the bruised but energetic misshapen pop of Evans The Death, Leeds chamber pop sextet The Rosie Taylor Project, exciting young scuzzy lo-fi outfit Joanna Gruesome, a solo set by Ballboy’s literate frontman Gordon McIntyre and a set on the train from the still very active but still best known as a one hit wonder White Town.
The Sunday headliners have a decent claim to be one of the bands most responsible for all they’ll see around them. The Vaselines were famously one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands, their guilelessly shambolic, humour and innuendo-friendly short, sharp slices of noisy C86-influenced jangle covered three times over in Nirvana‘s back catalogue. Their 2010 reunion album Sex With An X essentially picked up where they left off, that and their sharply blunt onstage banter making this far more than a run-through of old times. Belle & Sebastian‘s Stevie Jackson has been adding a third guitar to their live sound of late, and as he’ll be playing a solo set earlier in the day presumably he will be here too.
The Vaselines aren’t the only old school act playing that day, the line-up elsewhere featuring the indie album chart topping fragile songcraft of The June Brides, the inscrutable art-pop of The Monochrome Set, early Creation Records hopes The Jasmine Minks and the psychedelic noise-pop of 14 Iced Bears. Alongside those you’ll find Cribs-endorsed unashamed janglepoppers This Many Boyfriends, Belfast lo-fi surf-rockers Girls Names and, immediately before the Vaselines’ closing set, the closest thing current indiepop has to a spiritual leader. Europe, this year’s second album by Allo Darlin’, built upon Elizabeth Morris’ smartly observed notions on love, place and time and open pop culture reference points into a romantic, Go-Betweens recalling reflection of experiences and emotions inside a summery framework.
Indietracks Festival takes place from 6-8 July. For more information and tickets, check the official website.