Although only in its third year, Indietracks has already built up a reputation as the UK’s best festival of its size. Set in the Derbyshire countryside on the site of the historic Midland Railway, it really is as far away from the commercial hustle and bustle of Glastonbury et al as you could possibly imagine.
Where else can you sit on a steam train while a Manhattan Love Suicide plays half an hour’s worth of break up songs? Or listen to Ballboy songs in a church? Or engage in a spot of sewing with former members of Talulah Gosh? We haven’t even mentioned the fine selection of real ales at affordable prices or ridiculously cheap merchandise, where the average CD costs around £2 and t-shirts sell at a fiver apiece.
Last weekend, DiS sent two scribes to sample the fun and even the continuous showers from noon til night on Sunday couldn’t dampen the spirits…
Having been tasked with the unenviable role of opening the indoor stage amidst the glorious sunshine over yonder, Leeds quartet Downdime could be forgiven for being despondent. Two songs in however, they’ve swelled the engine shed to almost bursting point, their luscious boy-girl harmonies between Jeff Tweedy lookalike singer Ged McGurn and keyboard player cum chanteuse Liz Hensor gives us goosebumps. Imagine a mid-air collision between Dinosaur Jr and The Lightning Seeds and you’re in the right vicinity. We’re hooked, and their debut long player Knowing Too Much becomes our first bargain purchase of the day from the merch stand.
Italian lounge pop really shouldn’t work no matter what the context, yet this multi-dimensional ensemble somehow conspire to push all the right buttons simultaneously. Maybe it’s a combination of the mid-afternoon sun, luridly camp uniforms and ridiculously beautiful females fronting the group. Whatever the concoction, their sixties flavoured kitsch serves as more than the mere background music it would probably pass for on record, so much so in fact that we trawl down to the front, pint of the aptly named Recession Ale in hand, smiling deliriously.
As one of the formative outfits of the C86 movement, Birmingham’s Mighty Mighty proved to be one of the day’s most anticipated arrivals. Perhaps just as renowned for the line in The Pooh Sticks seminal ‘On Tape’ 45 that simply states “I’ve been living with Mighty Mighty/I think they all really like me”, their Smiths inspired pop is a revelation, even though the band themselves resemble five dads at a wedding, such is that nauseating predicament known as middle age. Old favourites ‘Law Against It’ and ‘Built Like A Car’ sound as vibrant and incendiary as they did twenty-five years ago, while early single ‘Is There Anyone Out There?’ is introduced as being “A song we wrote when Michael Jackson was still black”. The cards…
The Specific Heats
Indietracks is possibly the only festival bar ATP where every other act is something of a new discovery, and this year was no exception. Brooklyn four-piece The Specific Heats stood out like a sore thumb on the Saturday, their energetic surf-tinged, feedback laced pop going down a storm on the church stage. Emerging from the same backyard as kindred spirits Crystal Stilts, Cause Co-Motion and Vivian Girls, The Specific Heats might just be the most exciting combo of the lot, the delirious Eric Rohmer inspired scrawl of ‘Beach 86’ causing something of a mini-riot in the aisles and between the pews.
Adam John Miller
Saddened by the news that DiS faves The Manhattan Love Suicides were no more as of three days ago, we hop aboard the steam train anyway to catch a glimpse of former bass player Adam John Miller’s first ever solo set, and we’re not disappointed. While still understandably disconsolate at the untimely demise of his previous band – almost every song here is introduced as being “about break-ups” – Miller displays a fragility that suggests his other projects The Wednesday Club and Medusa Snare will undoubtedly continue in a similar vein to his old sparring partners. He leaves us with a heartwarming rendition of the Manhattan Love Suicides ‘Skulls’, and with it decrees the end of an era, although we’re equally as excited about the dawning of his new one.
The Marshmallow Kisses
Hong Kong’s The Marshmallow Kisses could be described as something of an indie supergroup, as their onstage line-up boasts members of Whiteoak, Hong Kong In The 60s and One Happy Island among its ranks. What follows is half an hour of flawless J-pop with a twee edge interspersed with poetry recitals and semi-classical, bossa nova style interludes. To say they’re possibly the most original bunch of performers we witness all weekend is nothing short of being an understatement. One glance over our collective shoulders at the packed church (not to mention those queuing outside in the rain) suggests we’re not alone in our thoughts either. A minor revelation of sorts.
Bristol four-piece Countryside really look and sound as if they’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere off the A38 and ended up here for some unknown reason. Their demeanour of trucker caps, big shorts and even bigger riffs leaves several punters bewildered, yet those of us who stay throughout their Mew-inspired set are also transfixed by the huge sound emanating from the altar. Occasionally they fall into prog-territory in a similar vein to bands like Kyte, but the deceptive charms of ‘Summer Is Here’ and vast soundscape that is ‘Estuary’ should ensure Countryside a wider audience in the not-too-distant future. Just not necessarily here or now.
While there’s no denying their undoubted quality on record, Camera Obscura can be a largely inconsistent beast in the flesh. Take last year’s Summer Sundae slot for example, where their seemingly disinterested performance bore all the hallmarks of a band in wind down before they split mode. Fast forward twelve months however and there’s an air of re-vitalisation all around, maybe sparked by this year’s My Maudlin Career opus, arguably their greatest collection of songs thus far. Tracyanne Campbell is on fine form, showing a more charismatic side to her make-up alongside the undoubted vocal stature she possesses that turn the likes of ‘French Navy’, ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘James’ into distinctive highlights and dare I say it, bonafide weekend anthems.
As one of the dominant forces in the Bellshill post-Postcard scene of the mid-eighties, Duglas T Stewart is both a hero and villain in many eyes. Responsible for launching the careers of people like Norman Blake, not to mention early touring buddies of a then unknown bunch of Mancunians called Oasis, Stewart and the Bandits place in rock’n’roll history is assured, even if his bank balance might tell a different story. Nevertheless, their set today is pure cabaret, Stewart even taking a backseat to eat an apple while co-singer Rachel Allison delivers the likes of ‘The Day Before Tomorrow’ and a rousing rendition of ‘E102’ to a rain-sodden, but exceedingly happy throng.
As the festival’s final headliners, Teenage Fanclub have a lot to live up to, particularly following such a dazzling array of inspired performances across all three stages this weekend. Add to that the persistent downpour and you can almost feel the Gods conspiring against them. It takes precisely ten minutes and just three songs to turn the Midland Railway outdoor stage into an indie disco circa 1991, a storming ‘Star Sign’ bringing several hundred people to life in all-singing, all-dancing show of appreciation. Inbetween “the hits”, we get the occasional new song, one in particular inspired by Rush mainman Geddy Lee, while their run through of The Bevis Frond’s ‘He’d Be A Diamond’ is simply stunning, not least for the unimpeachable three-way harmonies of messrs Blake, Love and McGinley. When they launch into big hit ‘Sparky’s Dream’ followed instantly by debut single ‘Everything Flows’, a sheen of perfection engulfs the whole field. Indietracks (or indeed anywhere else you care to pitch up this summer) really doesn’t get any better than this. As finales go, their set is nothing short of astounding.
Au Revoir Simone
On record, Au Revoir Simone are dreamy, enchanting and mesmerising with all those layered synth and three-part harmonies. In person, they're just a little bit sinister – looking almost like some type of girly cult or anthropomorphic invaders, they stand shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, gangly limbs dangling onto keyboards. As the sun sets into the Derbyshire fields with knackered train carriages in the background, everything just seems right. OK, these girls may not have the most varied of sets, you know by now how it goes (swirly, dancey, a little too pleasant perhaps), and there is certainly nothing revelatory here but a kind of slow burning euphoria begins to take over (although that may have just been the 5.2% ale). A “well done” must also go to the soundmen (and possibly women) for the best outdoor sound I've ever encountered.
Ridiculously twee J-Pop on a Saturday morning (OK, early afternoon) is not something a man like me should be enjoying, or rather seen to be enjoying. If an English or American band had been this cute they'd be crucified, but there's something in the Japanese culture which leaves them oblivious to this sort of thing and, I'd say, they're all the better for it. The lead singer gets roundly applauded for her attempts at gratitude in English (and rightly so...) and as the tinkling keyboards, flashing red, blue and green lights combine with the typical Japanese female vocals and shuffling beats, everyone seems happy enough that Sucrette were here. Maybe some even bought their record.
Cats On Fire
The most disappointing thing I can say, unfortunately, is that I left after three songs to go and watch Camera Obscura. This was, in the words of Natalie Imbruglia, a big mistake. Though the indiepop scene is littered – or maybe liberally sprinkled – with Swedish bands, Cats On Fire are from Finland, and though they are probably only about seven Finnish bands who do not play some form of metal, Cats On Fire must surely be the best. Matthias Bjorkas – who resembles a young Bowie – stands dead straight like he has a chronic back problem, the only way to alleviate the pain being to pogo profusely and deliver his low and lamenting lines like his life depended on it. As you can see from the below video, it was more than enjoyed.
The School, aptly named because there's enough members for a class, are pretty hungover (Perhaps so was I on second reading as it turns out there is only seven of them, yet it seemed like 25 at the time). They tell us as much from the off. Nothing wrong with having a good time the night before at all, though thankfully it only really affected their stage banter rather than their stage presence as they do enough to at least light up (if not part) the greying clouds into blue sky as a musical and meteorological Moses with their floaty, shimmering and often clip-clapping tunes.
Northern Portrait have a song called 'I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me'. I lasted little longer before traipsing to lie on a bank and listen to the wonderful Nick Garrie, a little odd but definitely delightful entry to the bill of an indiepop festival. He plays the sort of traditional well-set English folk with acoustic guitar and a little help from his friends. He also sounds like Ian Ball from Gomez but actually being 60, rather than trying to sound like someone who is, he gets away with it. As enjoyable as he is today, I'd have loved to have seen him 40 years ago with that 52 piece orchestra with which he recorded The Nightmare of J.B Stanislas. This'll do nicely, mind.
Gutted to have missed the first few songs of Luke Rowell, aka Disasteradio's set. Everything he does brings a smile, from his geeky affectations and pressing of the keyboard, to the gazing at the roof of the shed on and off in an overly dramatic fashion as he quickly jerks his head back. The music he's responsible for would be best described as mid 80s arcade game spaceship battle music at hyper speed. An old couple (mid 70s at least) bop along whilst everyone else seems to be having an all round good time sampling the electronic offerings. And why not – aside from Art Brut, this is probably the most flat-out fun set all weekend.
Having been one of those people who didn't 'get' Art Brut, this band were a revelation. Even at an indiepop festival, there's only so much jingle jangle and two-part harmonies anyone can take. Art Brut, I thought, would be a nice change from this. A good fun Sunday night band. Though a few people had undoubtedly gathered to avoid being soaked from head to toe, the shed (well, a brick building, a railway shed rather than a garden one...) was packed, not filled. Too many highlights to detail them all but Argos's protestations about twee (“don't share your sweets”), a reworked version of 'Modern Art' cataloguing his visit to the DC Comics HQ which included strolling into the audience for a 3 minute monologue (OK, it's all a monologue really...but) and the encore of 'We Formed A Band' (on bass, Art Brut, on guitar, Art Brut, on drums, Art Brut!) all rank pretty highly. It is now that this band make complete sense, once the sand that was kicked up from the ground had cleared and been rubbed out of my eyes, I wanted to be Eddie Argos's best mate. We all did, I think. I still do. If you're reading this Eddie, fancy a pint? ART BRUT! TOP OF THE POPS!