Saturday, 16 August 2008

Indietracks – Midland Railway Centre, Sunday 27 July 2008

Hurrah the sun’s gone away! We mooch around the engine sheds peering at engines in various states of disrepair until it’s all aboard the steam train for the first set of the day from a vaguely hungover Pete Dale of Milky Wimpshake. Starting appropriately with a sweet sleepy version of ‘Sunday Morning’, Mr Dale serenades us with a selection of protest-folk songs, endearing love/lust songs and a couple of covers (Daniel Johnston’s ‘Speeding Motorcycle’, Billy Childish’s ‘Cowboys Are Square’). Also, he has a fab Bangs t-shirt on. As the train races and the guitar strums, it all feels quite exhilarating. There are rock ‘n’ roll thrills ‘n’ spills as Pete stands on a chair! and wobbles precariously!! when the train starts to move. Pete forgets the words to an olde Milky Wimpshake song and the tune grinds to a halt, but serendipitously, we’re back at Swanwick station and our morning jaunt is over.

It’s Sunday, so obviously we head for church. A Victorian, railway-workers church, of course. Later in the day, this church (built of tin, lined with wood-panelling, crammed with eager popkids) will officially become the sweatiest building in Britain, but for now, it’s a relief to sit in its shady environs, as the pesky sun has returned. We’re here to see The Middle Ones, two girls in vintage dresses and full of giggles, joined today by ‘The Sunday Best Orchestra’, three boys playing an oddment of instruments who have been forced to wear ties (it is a Sunday!) by the girls. Their set is utterly charming, like a school music project that’s had endless hours of care lavished upon it. You can’t help but let your heart be melted by the girls’ harmonies and their delicate, personal folk-tinged pop songs. Not to mention the TWO accordions, shaky eggs, endless smiles and intriguing lyrics. It’s all very Indietracks. At the end, everyone rushes up to buy their record. We are all converts. Hallelujah!

My brain keeps insisting on calling A Classic Education, ‘A Catholic Education’ because my brain is a Teenage Fanclub fan. After today’s set, both my brain and I are A Classic Education fans. The band enter the church by processing down the aisle from the front door to the stage, and then burst into a thoroughly thrilling set. They are from Bologna, so you’d think they’d be able to handle wearing matching shirt and waistcoat combos in this heat, but even they are reduced to dripping sweat-heaps by the end, such are the sauna-like conditions that are now starting to build up here in God’s house. We perch on the front pews, stomping our feet excitably. This is fab! Mercury Rev-tinged open-hearted, baroque pop, layered up with racing guitars, ecstatic violin and suitably ecclesiastical organ. The band fizz with energy, buzzing around the stage, rebounding cheerfully from one another. The bass player NEVER stops grinning his head off. By the end, we can’t stop grinning either.

Zoey Van Goey are from Glasgow, but they’re not Glaswegians. They play folky pop with handclaps and scampery drums and strummed guitars and sweet girl/boy vocals that sing things like ‘Do you remember how we met? Paying off our student debts. We had no other plans. So we taught English in Japan’. In front of me two girls are waving Thomas the Tank Engine flags emblazoned with the words, ‘Full Steam Ahead’. I get distracted by the view out the church window – a gymkhana on a hill in the distance, and what appears to be a train driver punching the air in triumph as his steam train rolls into Swanwick once again. Maybe it’s just this spiked Tango I’m drinking?

Outside for some ‘fresh’ air and a brief burst of The Smittens who are on the Outdoor Stage playing their sha la la filled American take on cute-pop. We go and eat chips in the café and watch A Catholic Education perusing the stodgy British fare on offer - none of yer antipasti here pal.

Silver-tongued Scotsmen The Starlets have just arrived with not even the chance of a whisky snifter before they regale us with tales of drinking in underpasses, jakies and Partick Thistle. These somewhat grim subjects are wrapped in downily luxuriant pop filled with violin and cornet and lead by singer Biff’s whispery Scots soulboy voice. It’s been about five years since we last saw The Starlets, but there are some familiar songs in the set - ‘Rocking In A Shy Way’, ‘Novocaine’ – glowing with melancholy sweetness. The Starlets also provide the best onstage banter of the weekend. As Biff is telling us how going to church and playing football were irritatingly linked when he was young (you had to do one before you could do the other), a dog barks briefly. Bizarrely, when Biff asks if we all heard it (we did) the crowd deny all knowledge of dogs. Biff reminisces about how a Jack Russell would sometimes run onto the pitch during matches and how it doesn’t seem to happen now, and how a few bands could be improved by the addition of a rogue dog. A few songs later the barking starts up again and there’s no ignoring it – it’s Darren Hayman’s dog having a sing-along.

We wander about catching odds and ends of sets. The Deirdres’ spazzy, sixth-form band craziness that excites Jesus-freak levels of fan-worship and demented indie spammo dancing; Esiotrot’s Herman Dune-esque outsider folk-pop; Milky Wimpshake’s simple-hearted punkety-pop odes to love; swilling half a pint of pink wine on ice whilst listening to a Manhattan Love Suicide declare his love for Yazoo…

Je Suis Animal are Scandinavian woodland creatures floating in a candyfloss cloud of sparkling dreampop. And if that sounds a bit too cute, then they’re also slightly macabre, with odd, spooky folk-tale lyrics. And on top of that they’re blasting out a great big wall of guitar noise. The wood-lined interior of the church, the sinking sun illuminating its windows, is the perfect setting for them. Through the furze of dry ice and flickery lights, they seem rather other-worldly. The songs mix Lush at their most incandescent, with the dippily playful slip-sliding melodies that underpin My Bloody Valentine, with cute Shop Assistant-isms (jangly bits, sweet girl voices), and hello, here’s a hint of Stereolab. All this adds up to spiralling shoe-gaze loveliness – the kind that experiments with textures and sounds to heart-bursting effect. By the end it feels like the church has been levitated into a different fairytale dimension and it’s somewhat disconcerting to wander dazed out the door to find the Railway Centre still there. I’d expected an enchanted forest at the very least.

Tonight’s ‘big’ headliners are Los Campesinos!, indie warriors with all the right references: Amelia Fletcher, Calvin Johnson, cherryade, mix-tapes, ATP. Singer Gareth does a little speech about how headlining here, in the heart of the proper indie nation, means a lot to him - and he seems to mean it. When the band start to play it’s like you’ve just smashed open the biggest piñata in the world. Sweeties and toys and brightly coloured fizz-bang stuff raining down on your whirlwind head. There’s glockenspiel and violin, girl/boy vocals and ferocious guitar scrabbling, scritchy-scratchy tunes with lure-you-in-then-sprint-away-from-you rhythms. The hyper-energetic Los Campesinos! live experience is like cramming your face full of confectionary, then cramming in a bit more. Head-popping sugar-rush overload. Lots of fun. Exhausting. Half-way through, we creep out. The band’s ‘big hit’, ‘You, Me, Dancing’, jumps out into the night after us fizzing in the cooling air as we head back to the Sounds XP-mobile. A reminder that, thanks to the likes of Indietracks, you can’t stop the indie-pop.

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