Last weekend (23-25 July) saw the fourth Indietracks Festival. Held at the Midland Railway site in Butterley, Derbyshire, its steadily growing reputation as one of the UK's most chilled out and amiable festivals saw a record number of punters make the journey up the A38 and back.
Described elsewhere on this very site as "a real ale festival with bands playing", Indietracks' relaxed atmosphere and unique choice of stages - a church, a steamtrain, indoor barn stage and an outdoor one that literally did fall off the back of a lorry - as well as a wide selection of affordable real ales make it one of the most prominent events on the summer's music calendar.
DiS sent Luke Slater and Dom Gourlay along for the weekend, and here's their lowdown on arguably the busiest Indietracks to date...
The fact that the debut album from Elizabeth Morris's Allo Darlin' has received near-universal critical acclaim is not surprising. Although it kind of is. Not because the quality to and ability to write an array of singable and hummable pop songs came from nowhere but more because it's easy to get used to seeing very good bands going very unappreciated. Anyway, they're second on in the triumvirate of acts on Friday. A smile is never far from Morris's mouth and nor is a killer melody. 'Polaroid' and particularly 'Dreaming' turn my mood from early festival optimism to something near universal love for humanity backed by a very lovely setting sun. This says enough!(LS)
Everybody Was In The French Resistance...Now!
I will be completely honest and say that I'd never listened to Art Brut man Eddie Argos's side project until tonight entirely because of the length and general badness of the name. A good name for a song, maybe even half-decent for an album but a band? No. Anyway, it's Eddie fucking Argos so I should have realised it's more of an irrelevancy. The music itself is also partly a sideline, or it certainly seems that way given that it has to compete with the gigantic personality and charisma thaty exudes from Argos's 6'4"-odd frame. Last year I had a revelatory time watching Art Brut, this year I realised that Argos really IS a great bloke and EWITFRN make some amusing – the songs are either sequels or prequels to pre-existing favourites, like 'Billie Jean' – music. That said, the reworking of Art Brut's 'We Formed A Band' into 'We Formed A Side Project' constituted a nice peak on which to end the night and rekindled some truly great memories from 2009. This may not stick in the memory as long as that did, but the next time I see Eddie Argos I'm going to bear hug him. In a kind way. (LS)
One of the most endearing aspects of a festival such as Indietracks are those moments of discovery when least expected. London based three-piece The Hillfields fall into that category, looking like extras from a remake of 'Rebel Without A Cause' had it been set in Salford sometime round the middle of 1983. To these ears they sound an energised, power-pop version of Orange Juice, although one of my more worldwise accomplices assures me they're quite reminiscent of eighties post punk outfit The Bolshoi. We agree to disagree, except on the fact their half hour set is a spellbinding opening to Saturday's proceedings. (DG)
This Many Boyfriends
Indietracks ia an indiepop festival and a band who are both indie and poppy in equal measure is This Many Boyfriends. Strolling onto the festival site (yes I watch the Grand Prix qualifying, so what?!) to 'Number One' is a good start to the day. Like many on the bill here, the band don't have the greatest depth of experience and a little bit of roughness around the edges is present, but the ethos of indietracks is not really about professionalism and being "a tight unit", there are evidently more important things than that - and they all prevail for this Leeds lot. Sort of like a more Northern Wave pictures and a more indie-pop Let's Wrestle, a promising level of songcraft is shown already and they won't have written their last good song just yet.(LS)
The thought of watching acoustic singer/songwriters whilst sat on a steam train drinking warm cans of Scrumpy Jacks cider probably sounds like an extreme vision of heaven or hell depending on a) where your alcoholic tendencies lie; and b) whether you're easily impressed. Although the Micktravis in question is actually one time Tompaulin songwriter, Jim Reid collaborator and current frontman of The Fischers Jamie Holman rather than Malcolm McDowell's cinematic alias, it doesn't detract from the bittersweet melodies that further brighten up an already sunny day. Those carriages are sweltering mind, and we disembark in search of fresh air. (DG)
Betty & The Werewolves
Further evidence that this year's Indietracks seems far busier than in previous years comes via the ridiculously large queues to get into the church stage, even at this mid-afternoon slot. DiS somehow manages to sneak its way in through a side door, somewhat unwittingly ending up onstage at one point alongside Betty and co. Again, despite their odes to 'David Cassidy', 'Euston Station' et al being all sprightly and fey, the intense heat causing condensed sweat to drip from the ceiling proves too much, and we make our way back into the open air, tripping over a mic stand (sorry!) in the process. (DG)
For Indietracks veterans Ballboy - making their third consecutive appearance in one guise or another at this year's event - the big question on many people's lips is how come these guys aren't stupidly massive in a commercial sense? While shunning the mainstream seems to have been high on Gordon McIntyre and co.'s agenda from day one, its hard to understand why the likes of 'Sex Is Boring' and 'I've Got Pictures Of You In Your Underwear' aren't part of the staple diet for radio listeners rather than the anodyne norm that passes itself for popular music these days. Requests are shouted at the band and delivered accordingly, while the couplet "I'm an indie pirate and I will skuttle ye!" becomes the weekend's catchphrase, long into the night after the final bands have played and departed. Glorious. (DG)
Tender Trap are the stereotypical indie stalwarts featuring - of course - Amelia Fletcher and Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin', who becomes ubiquitous during this festival, though that is no bad thing. You know what you get with this lot and though their performance in the Engine Shed isn't the most heart-stoppingly exciting, their set never drops below "pretty damn great". 'Oh Katrina' does what its meant to, and the sand from the floor is kicked up into the fixated eyes of those at the front. (LS)
Having returned this year after a seventeen-year hiatus, its been such a smooth transition for the Coventry four-piece that one barely notices they've ever been away. Not only has time been kind to their adrenalin fuelled punk pop, but even the band members themselves, particularly singer Tracy Tracy and guitarist Paul Court, don't look a day older than when they were playing 'Crash' on Top Of The Pops all those years ago. Having influenced a good percentage of this year's (and every other one's come to mention it) line-up, its no surprise to see members of The Blanche Hudson Weekend and Specific Heats frugging away rapturously on the front row. 'Really Stupid' and 'Stop Killing Me' may be entering their twenty-fifth year since first released, yet both resonate with a freshness and vigour many of their contemporaries can only dream of, 'while 'Way Behind Me' and the aforementioned 'Crash' rival Ballboy in the audience-participation karaoke stakes. The only downside of sorts is a lack of new material, but then you've a back catalogue as strong as this, why bother? (DG)
MJ Hibbett & The Validators
Leicester-based troubadour MJ Hibbett is another of those perennial visitors to Indietracks, treading a fine line between satire and Billy Bragg-esque polemic. As a Sunday lunchtime hangover cure he and his band prove the perfect sedative, imploring the large crowd who've gathered to witness his performance to 'Do The Indie Kid' whilst joining in with the call and response antics of set closer 'Easily Impressed'. Its pantomime in places but fun all the same, and even though a slight drizzle threatens to unsettle those expecting another day of glorious sunshine, nobody leaves until the last note is delivered. (DG)
The problem with indiepop and certainly an awful lot of it is that it often lacks bollocks. There's only so much jangle you can take, which is why Art Brut was an inspired choice last year. The little I did see of Cowtown the testicles were proudly on display for everyone to see, metaphorically, of course. You could go to the nearby fields to experience real-life scrotal protusion. The mix of abrasive, up and down rhyhthms with slightly more conventional guitar lines all below shouty and occasional screachy vocals washed out the cobwebs from the night before, of which there were many. A new one, would like to discover more. They are all over the place and all over my face - or thoughts, at least for about half-an-hour afterwards which, with the ale on offer here, isn't a bad feat.(LS)
The Specific Heats
As this scribe's last year's hot discoveries at this very festival, its with both uncontainable excitement and trepidation that we await their arrival this year. First of all, inter-band relationship break-ups threatened to derail the Brooklyn four-piece just when it seemed inevitable they'd be following fellow Statesiders The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart into more mainstream chartered territories while their elevation to the larger indoor barn stage meant a greater weight of expectation too. Thankfully, those worries evaporate within the first two songs. 'Back Through Thyme' is simply sublime surfpop with a twenty-first century twist while 'End Of An Error' creates the unthinkable at Indietracks; a moshpit! By the time 'Beach 86' and 'Baby, I'm An Existentialist' bring their set to a close, they've attracted one of the biggest audiences so far this weekend, not to mention sold every copy of forthcoming album Cursed! by the end of the show. (DG)
It's a bit hard to form a cast-iron opinion on The Loves, mainly because they are the sort of band who epitomise much of the Indietracks way of life. They are a band that have bits in their songs which sound like bits in other famous songs. What you can't say about them is that they don't have fun and that it isn't fun to watch, even if slightly beguiling at times. One such time is when they claim to bring “jesus” on to the stage dressed in white robe with long beard. Looked more like Charles Bronson to me. Anyway, the silliness can only last so long and the gogo dancers push me over the edge and towards The Blanche Hudson weekend.(LS)
The Blanche Hudson Weekend
Born out of the ashes of underrated Leeds combo The Manhattan Love Suicides, the janglesome buzzpop of The Blanche Hudson Weekend proves to be one of the weekend's revelations here. Singer Caroline McChrystal's bored housewife demeanour may be uncompromising and louche, yet combined with a furious maelstrom of fuzz pedal fuelled noise and Spector-like rhythms there's something pleasantly endearing about their performance, even when she amusingly forgets the words to 'Crying Shame' midset. 'Let Me Go' and 'Only Snow' threaten to terrorise the tweeny boppers out of the building, while 'The Last Ride' is as dark and menacing as Indietracks gets all weekend. (DG)
Internet Forever's biography in the festival programme kindly reminds us that they formed over a “shared love of the Drowned in Sound messageboards”. It's hard not to recognise these as our very own. Not that we should be taking any of the credit for their straightforward but immensely enjoyable excursions into scuzzy, chaotic pop. Among the most interesting aspects of their performance today is Laura's tilted-head combined with self-styled brand of a Thousand Yard Stare. Chris's drumming is never less than extravagant and, as you'd probably expect with a band named Internet Forever, the references are mostly if not always obscurely funny, like the dedication of '3D' – about meeting people from the internetz IRL – to Jessica Slaughter, who I at the time forgot but later remembered about. Investigate that one yourself. Fun x12.(LS)
Brighton's Shrag might sound like a gender lobotomized Fall on the surface yet scratch beneath and they're actually one of the most charismatic outfits at this year's festival. Sure, all red-blooded male eyes are no doubt focused on singer Helen King, whose brattish on-stage persona is equal parts Manda Rin and Siouxsie Sioux, but with songs like 'Pregnancy Scene' and 'Rabbit Kids' they manage to kick up a storm not normally associated with such a scene as indiepop. Delightfully angry! (DG)
It's been around two months since my opinion changed on Rebecca and Charles, mainly through a wonderful education that was their show at KOKO. Today I find it hard to stop myself either smiling or laughing. Smiling for when the songs are playing they are of the most uplifiting kind and laughing because nearly everything that Rebecca says in between songs elicits that response. OK, there may have been a couple of times where...um...a mixture of technical difficulties and communication problems means songs break down in one way or another but these things can be largely ignored. My mind is still made up that Slow Club won't write any song better than 'Giving Up On Love', but that applies to most bands, actually.(LS)
The Pooh Sticks
As legendary acts go, there's none that fit the bill more than Swansea's Pooh Sticks. Borne out of the whole C86 scene with a penchant for sending up the key players of the time, their repertoire consisted of hastily made-up ditties about Alan McGee and taping rare records off the radio while playing shows in friends living rooms long before the phrase "Guerrilla Gig" was ever invented. Main mouthpiece Huw Williams and an assembled cast including Tender Trap's Amelia Fletcher and various members of The Loves may be playing their first show since 1994 yet as with the previous night's nostalgia trip The Primitives, you wouldn't really know any different. While their set is largely garnered from their three studio albums, its the ramshackle 'Heroes And Villains' and 'On Tape' from DIY "live" debut long player Orgasm that draws the biggest response, not to mention various requests after to follow this evening's performance with a fully blown tour! Whatever the outcome, The Swansea Sound is alive and kicking here for forty-five minutes at least... (DG)
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
For a band that this time last year were still relatively unknown outside the world of internet blogs and fanzines, their astute rise to overall headliners should be saluted as a triumph not only for the concept of word of mouth, but also for the continued existence of grassroots indie pop in general. The staples from last year's self-titled long player such as 'Young Adult Friction', 'Contender' and 'Stay Alive' are wheeled out like best friends on a birthday celebration night out, while newer as-yet unreleased songs such as 'Heaven's Gonna Happen Now' and 'Heart In Your Heartbreak' hint at a heavier sound on album number two. That Kip Berman and co. look so genuinely excited they might actually combust as the words of 'Everything With You' are recited back at the stage by all and sundry in unison proves one of the most heartwarming moments of the entire weekend, and a triumphant 'Pains Of Being Pure At Heart' closes their set and Indietracks for 2010, its chorus "We will never die!" ringing true as another successful year for the UK's most quaint and idyllic music festival draws to a close. (DG)
Main photo by Chris Salt