Having discovered this mixture of music and railways the previous year during a Sunday afternoon walk (it’s literally a stone’s throw away from our house), 2008 was my first proper taste of this gem of a festival. This review includes a summary and a diary of both days. VFM right there.
Dates: July 26-27
During a mid-song moment amid Los Campesinos!’s curtain-closing set on Sunday night, front man and glockenspiel basher Gareth laments: “Out of all the festivals we were booked to play, this was the one we were looking forward to the most, and it hasn’t disappointed us”.
It may have been a sycophantic rallying cry, it may have been because they were headlining a festival for the first time rather than languishing in their usual afternoon spots, or it could well be because Indietracks is not your average festival.
Let’s look at the evidence: at no other festival can you take a ride behind a vintage steam engine along a short stretch of preserved railway. Does the V Festival have a petting farm? No it doesn’t, and nor does it have a talking engine called Oswald.
At all the mass corporate shindigs this summer, you wouldn’t have found a main stage tucked away inside an engine shed, or expect to see bands playing inside a salvaged Tin Tabernacle Victorian Church, and you most certainly wouldn’t have witnessed bands playing a converted mail coach on a train while it chugs along the line. This is why Indietracks is different. Nay, special.
Set at the Midland Railway Centre in the heart of Derbyshire’s Amber Valley, sprawling greenery drapes the backdrop to the festival site, a site slowly searing under the hot sun.
This year’s event is bigger and better than last year’s debut. There are more bands, more stages and, more importantly, there are more punters. Last year, only a measly 300+ people came through the doors. This year, that number has swelled to 850 and the tiny site is awash with indie chicks in summery dresses, stick-thin androgynous boys, bewildered rail enthusiasts who have wandered along to find their local preserved railway infiltrated by jaunty haircuts and skin-tight T-shirts, and the geek brigade, who prior to this festival most probably had lurid dreams about a gig where trains and Milky Wimpshake go hand-in-hand.
The increase in numbers may be a result of the calibre of bands booked this year. New talent and obscure artists rub shoulders with 90s favourites like Scottish miserabalists Ballboy and Darren Hayman from seminal 90s indie stalwarts Hefner.
There’s a Glaswegian jester playing inside the church (The Bobby McGees), there’s the no-show confusion behind Peel faves Comet Gain, there’s on-train entertainment as The Smittens turn the coach into a weird folk sauna, and we get the afore-mentioned Los Campesinos!, the most twee, poppy indie septet you’re ever likely to see and who are tailor-made for this festival.
But it’s the Wedding Present who garner the most excitement. Some fans have paid the £25 day ticket price just to see their heroes. And despite some disgruntled purists complaining about the poor sound inside this cavernous shed, their brand of brash indie-rock mixed with bittersweet lyrics and whirlwind guitars is the weekend’s highlight.
Over two days, this quiet and secluded area of Derbyshire became an indiepop haven shaking to the sounds of good music. Add to this the heritage of the railway, and this unique little festival is on the right tracks.
Up on the trailer which masquerades as the Outdoor Stage, bathed in shimmering sunlight, Sheffield all-girl three-piece Slow Down Tallahassee have the tunes but the lead Tallahassee doesn’t have the vocal range to give them the gravitas they deserve. Sharp pop songs based around meandering synths are good, but they fall short and end up sounding like a poor man’s Long Blondes.
Fairing better inside the engine shed (main stage) are Shrag. Despite the temperature in here being close to that of an oven, the band’s shouty girl-powered post-punk is well received, and we may just have witnessed a band about to break through from the underground.
Meanwhile back outside, antipodean five-piece the Zebras provide some late afternoon retro rock which struggles to rouse the sleepy crowd who are now well baked and well oiled after drinking in the sunshine all day.
Liechtenstein from Sweden don’t fare much better either. It’s not that their international culture-pop isn’t impressive, it’s just by this time no one really cares if an African bullfrog comes onstage to fart the Swaziland national anthem.
Back inside the oven, Indietracks faves PocketBooks sound like Belle and Sebastian wanting to be Aztec Camera. And if that sounds like a bad idea, you’re wrong, because their jangly pop, lush boy/girl harmonies and exquisite melodies are a delight.
By the time Derby lads Lardpony enter the church at 6.15 the sun has turned this Tin Tabernacle Victorian Church into the Devil’s sauna. It doesn’t help the air-flow situation by the fact that it’s rammed to the rafters either, so despite churning through their set of jaunty keyboard-driven tunes, complimented by light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining lyrics, it’s too much for some people and the heat drives them away. The band deserved to be on one of the bigger stages.
Meanwhile outside are The Kabeedies – a feverishly exciting four-piece proud to be from Norwich. Theirs is floaty wonk-pop which jerks, jumps and tumbles like a petulant child in Tesco’s. We just have time to see a couple of their tunes before it’s time for Darren Hayman.
For some inexplicable reason the ex-Hefner man is booked to play the church – again, an arena far too small for one of the festival’s biggest draws – which meant that only a handful of Hefner fans were able to see him.
So, disappointed, we made our way towards John Peel favourites Comet Gain. Or at least it would’ve been Comet Gain had the band not got held up meaning just one member made it in time. Determined to play at least something, he was augmented by selected members of Shrag who had the dubious task of explaining to the crowd that they weren’t in fact Comet Gain via the medium of song. Much confusion ensued.
As the sun shone way past 8pm most had given up on music entirely, and settled down for a wee snooze and booze on the green, which is just as well because Russia’s Punk TV have never been music, and their neo-Gary Numan tendencies fired an alarming blank with the frazzled crowd. Even a nearby hot air balloon landing got more attention.
The same cannot be said for the Wedding Present who crammed almost everyone into the engine shed.
Some fans have paid the £25 day ticket price just to see their heroes. And despite some disgruntled purists complaining about the poor sound inside this cavernous shed, their brand of brash indie-rock mixed with bittersweet lyrics and whirlwind guitars is the weekend’s highlight.
It should have been an early start for The Candy twins but things are running two hours late on the Outdoor Stage and yet still the festival site is nowhere near as busy as yesterday, probably because the Weddoes fans have departed. The punters that do make it to the stage are not too fussed by the band’s take on Clash-like punk. Although it’s gone 2 o’clock, it’s still too early for this bullish onslaught and only scattered applause reward the band’s efforts.
Luckily, the Foster Kids have just enough sunshine pop to appease the crowd, even if the lead singer has all the melancholy of Lou Reed in his voice. It’s an odd blend but it just about works and by now the crowd is livening up, just in time for Strawberry Story’s last ever live performance.
As we board our train we can see an army of people actually dancing (until now everyone had been lounging around on the grass), so their heady mix of fuzzed out guitars, dense bass lines and joyously girly singing has struck a chord with Derbyshire.
But we’re not sticking around because we have a train to catch: an indie train. As the train leaves Butterley station for a journey over the reservoir and back, The Smittens are performing their folk-punk poetry to a smattering of travellers in what has become an in-train sauna. Due to searing heat, they last just 20 minutes and disembark on the station in an exhausted mess of melodicas and daft haircuts.
Back on the site and we’re surprised to see The Wave Pictures on the Outdoor Stage. They were due to play the shed but, at their own request, decided that their Pavement-esque collage rock was better suited to the fresh air. They weren’t wrong, and by the time Darren Hayman joins them onstage, they’ve delighted the crowd.
Derby’s The Deirdres are an eccentric bunch. Numbering seven they are twee (they bring an ironing board onstage with them), they use glockenspiels, have jerky, stop/start harmonies in abundance and if Los Campesinos! weren’t getting ready to watch Ballboy we’d swear it were them in disguise. Well, really bad headgear anyway.
Most of the crowd seem to have disappeared for Milky Wimpshake’s set in the shed. The band have a few hardcore fans but it seems their old school indie and observational lyrics is no match for the eccentricities on offer in the church. Once again, it’s impossible to penetrate through the masses so we’re left with no option but to peer through the windows where we can just about make out a jester, some bubbles and some party poppers whilst evil folk music is played by Glaswegian nutjobs The Bobby McGees. It’s scary stuff, and we leave to watch Ballboy, another Scottish lot who sound like a Bella and Sebastian with all the fun taken out. Scottish miserablism is all very well and good, but Glasvegas are doing this kind of thing so much better right now.
And so to festival curtain-closers Los Campesinos! The Cardiff septet amble onstage half an hour late after watching Ballboy, but they’re quickly forgiven when they fire out twee classics-in-waiting ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ and ‘We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives’. More poppy than poppy day, more shouty than Joey Barton in a McDonalds, they send us all off with huge smiles on our faces.