Sunday, 17 August 2008

Indietracks – Midland Railway Centre, Saturday 26 July 2008

A few weeks ago, there was an amusing article in The Independent on Sunday maligning the industrial quantities of ‘landfill indie’ (Pigeon Detectives, Fratellis, bands I have minus interest in hearing) that are clogging up the musical universe at the moment. There was much lamenting over ‘mortgage indie’; dull, samey guitar bands churning out identical songs to make a fast buck. ‘With such bland uniformity so speedily infecting our nation’s youth, is there any hope left for a flourishing and truly ‘indie’ scene?’ wails the writer, Tim Walker. A HA HA HA! The ‘truly indie scene’ is right here at Indietracks hidden away in the middle of Derbyshire, having the time of its life, ignoring the irrelevance of the mainstream, ducking commodification, doing things its own way, getting on with stuff just like its always done. There are nigh on a thousand people here and nothing that even approaches being landfill indie. We are the popkids, we are the winners!

Fuelled by midget gems, the Sounds XP-mobile (in which we have cadged a lift) gets us to Utterly Butterly station just in time to catch the Steaming Train (a real-life olden tymes steam-train sporting yay! an ‘Indietracks’ name-plate) to Anorak City (the Midland Railway Centre at Swanwick). A Man From The Railway ambles through the carriage, telling us, ‘There’s going to be a nice bit o’ indie music in the guards van now’, and eager for the pop fun to commence we hurry along, meeting all kinds of friends en route to hear Marjit Vinjerui’s delicate woodland glade voice. This turns out to be a harbinger for the weekend, it’s impossible to go more than a few steps without running into one’s pop-chums. Truck Festival was top fun and laidback and all village fete-y, but Indietracks is POPFUN to the power of infinity, the happiest, friendliest event ever, ever, ever.

It’s also the hottest event ever. The sun beats down mercilessly, and when it does deign to go a bit cloudy, the humidity just gets ratcheted up. What a sweat-fest. At times my brain melts, songs and performance oozing from my memory like runny brie. This is what I remember:

The Main Stage is in a large metal engine shed – it’s boiling in there, but it’s boiling everywhere. Also in the boiling metal shed: the merch stall laden with a splendid array of fanzines and fliers and records and loveable wee felt badges; the bar laden with an eye-spinning selection of real ales and (not very) fine wines. On the stage are The Kick Inside who, despite the greenhouse atmosphere, are gamely throwing themselves into a set of firey jangle-heavy songs, wearing their eighties indie-pop hearts on their sleeves. The guitar sound rattles along in a manner reminiscent of The Railway Children driven by fidgety rhythms as singer Sean shimmies round the stage, throwing in a few Morrissey-moves. It’s impressive stuff so early in the day.

The Outdoor Stage is the back of a truck (now where’ve we seen that before?) and it contains Slow Down Tallahassee. I’d been looking forward to this lot, but it’s too hot to concentrate on their honeyed girl harmonies singing sassily deranged pop. Plus there’s gossiping to be done.

Back on the Main Stage Shrag are battling against heat exhaustion and winning Everyone is impressed by the drummer who fights on gamely, managing not to faint until after the set. This is a good thing as Shrag are fab; agitated pop-songs like Comet Gain in a blender, jittery tunes, squealy vocals, squiggly keyboard implosions, scribbled guitar. They judder about, playing the hilarious, filthy, girl puts boy in place, ‘Talk ToThe Left’. And they have a song called ‘Mark E. Smith’.

We take a train ride, braving the furnace that is the guard’s van to listen to Colin Clary of The Smittens knocking out lovable acoustic pop. We disembark at Butterly, but Colin plays happily on and on. And on, trundling back and forth keeping the troops entertained for ages. He is the cheeriest man on earth.

On the Outdoor Stage, Liechtenstein do shimmery Swedey pop laden with girl-harmonies entertainingly enough, but we’re hot and bothered. Seeking shady sanctuary in the tea tent, we find a haven of comfy cushions, mugs of peppermint tea and peanut butter cookies, and the only place on site with an even vaguely civilised temperature. At times the tea tent hosts impromptu acoustic performances and, later, loopy disco-dancing, but we miss those bits.

Back outside, we sit in the afternoon sun enjoying the loon-eyed mariachi sugar-psych pop of Red Pony Clock. There are loads of them (eight) up there, parading a motley array of instruments; clarinet, accordion, trumpet, glockenspiel. They’re how I’d imagine a school band in Napoleon Dynamite’s neighbourhood to be – geekily fab. They do crazed fiesta songs with funky bass lines and runaway tempos, their Mexican roots tangled inextricably around their sunshine pop sensibilities, it’s all a bit head-mangling. Do Red Pony Clock really exist? Maybe I have sunstroke.

I manage to edge my way into the slowly increasing slice of shade in front of the stage for The Kabeedies and find myself thoroughly enjoying their itchy, multi-harmonied, gonky-dance-encouraging tunes, including one that extols the yoghurty wonders of ‘Petit Filous’. Even with a broken guitar string that means they can’t play certain songs they are top toe-tapping FUN! As is watching The Bobby McGees enthusiastically cutting a rug at the front.

I'm looking forward to seeing Comet Gain, but as we hurry along to the Main Stage, we hear whispers that David Feck isn’t here. Nor are any other members of the band, apart from Jon Slade. Instead, Not Comet Gain featuring some Shrags and a Liechtenstein accompany Mr Slade for a ramshackle attack on the C.G. back-catalogue. This bizarre non-performance rapidly gathers its own mythology. Sean Fortuna Pop tells me glinty-eyed that they played the best version of ‘You Can Hide your Love Forever’ he’s ever seen, an eight minute long dronerock version no less, featuring Just Some Bloke Out Of The Audience (a Liechtenstein associate) on vocals. Jokes about the performance abound, e.g. the merch stall selling a Comet Gain disc with the enticing label ‘Features members of Comet Gain’. And the excellent “If I wanted to see a bunch of people who couldn't play Comet Gain songs I would have gone and seen Comet Gain”. Aha ha ha!

We miss all this fun as we’ve nicked off to watch The Lodger jangle jangle JANGLE their way through a short, sweet set. Recent single ‘The Good Old Days’ sees an outbreak of dancing at the front, folks riding high on the Orange Juice grooviness and JANGLING guitars. And then we get actual Orange Juice with a cover of ‘I Can’t Help Myself’. Verily our jangle-pop cups runneth over.

Last act on the Outdoor Stage is Russian band Punk TV who send great swirls of effects-laden guitar into the sun-struck evening. They sound like early nineties indie-dance, when shoegaze met baggy (or possibly vice versa). One of the band even has the requisite stripy top. The sun starts to set and two hot air balloons drift by. One of them, decorated to look like a giant ladybird, alights in a nearby field and slowly, gracefully deflates. Insert some kind of metaphor here if you want.

The Wedding Present obviously attract a large crowd of moshing ‘older gentlemen’, some of whom appear to have brought their tiny children with them, jiggling the long-suffering kids about on their shoulders/in prams etc. I last saw The Wedding Present in 1987. The last album I bought by them was ‘George Best’. Er, that was their debut wasn’t it? So I’m not that au fait with David Gedge’s mighty back catalogue. I stand near the back listening to the songs rumble in one after the other, like waves – they all seem the same, though logically you know each one must be a bit different. It’s just a sludge of guitar-based meat and potatoes songs – I’m missing the subtle nuances, I’m afraid. After what seems like an eternity, we retire to a grassy knoll for a bit of a sit down. This means I miss hearing one I know, ‘You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends’. Or maybe I don’t, it’s hard to tell.

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