This year, my focus shifted – not entirely, but largely – to family, as my 4-year-old spent a lot of time with me and my wife. It’s an incredibly family-friendly festival.
Date: 28, 29 and 30th July
Venue: The Midland Railway Centre, Ripley
With one Derbyshire music festival hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons last weekend, another, just a few miles away, quietly got on with things.
Whilst Y Not, Derbyshire’s biggest festival, was struggling to cope with the inclement conditions, including acts pulling out and then the hammer blow of its cancellation on Sunday morning, Indietracks, one of the county’s smallest festivals, shone amongst the rain, as just a couple of thousand avid music fans turned a preserved railway site into a kaleidoscopic gathering of shiny happy people.
Each year, at the end of July, the Midland Railway Centre hosts a genius mix of music, trains, fun and frolics and family festivities. Indietracks is the epitome of what a music festival should be. It’s friendly, there’s zero crime – Derbyshire Constabulary don’t even feel the need to police it they’re so confident of its amiable vibe – it’s extremely family friendly and there is so much to see and do.
Even if you’ve never heard of the bands on the bill – and in truth, unless you’re an ardent follower of all things indie in its purest guise the chances are you’ll never have heard of Monkey Swallows the Universe or Evripidis and His Tragedies – fear not, as there is still loads to be captivated by.
This year, your reviewer, normally so meticulous when it comes to planning and sticking to a schedule, threw caution to the wind – and rain – and explored the entire festival site with family and friends in tow.
The festival site is at Swanwick Junction, the next stop on the line from the railway’s official entrance at Butterley station, near Ripley, and the epicentre of the Midland Railway Trust.
The festival site is tiny in comparison to most festivals. There are four stages, five if you include the merchandise tent in which bands perform acoustically.
Bands play outdoors on the main stage, in the engine shed – which is also host to a fully stocked bar selling local real ales and ciders – in the onsite tin tabernacle church as music fans squeeze along the pews, and on the train itself. Although you have to be quick if you want to get into the ‘band carriage’, as there’s a lot of interest in the novel idea of listening to a band on a steam or diesel-hauled train is it ambles through acres of rolling Derbyshire greenery.
So with so much music in a small area, you’re never too far away from an indie pop tune, but a short walk from the festival enclosure leads you to a museum containing all kinds of history and memorabilia from a bygone age, a narrow gauge railway, a miniature ride-on railway that’s probably the site’s best kept secret and a must for kids, and further history in the West Shed, home to the impressive Princess Margaret Rose locomotive, a cinema in which you choose clips of railway footage to view and a kids area.
Back in the festival enclosure, food stalls arc around the main green, on which punters can enjoy the sunshine and watch the bands and children can play merrily. Kids also found the large muddy puddles that had gathered on the uneven pathways very appealing. There’s a small kids’ play area next to the church, a small beach area for kids and big kids to dig into, activities in a marquee, a stall displaying birds of prey and – the main attraction – can crushing with a steamroller.
The steamroller has become so popular over the years that scheduled ‘crushing times’ are displayed to let people know when to come back and watch. It’s no exaggeration to say that huge crowds gather to watch those beer cans get crushed. It is, in truth, strangely satisfying.
Your ticket money also allows unlimited travel on the preserved line, and whether you’re a steam or diesel buff, it matters not, as they alternate between the two.
Musically, this year’s festival was superb. On Friday night, Kid Canaveral, Chorusgirls and returning indie-punk heroes Martha rocked the engine shed. They were all due to play outside but because of the rain, a decision to move them inside was made.
On Saturday, The Pooches bring out the sun with their jangle-pop, Spanish popsters Cola Jet Set get everyone dancing on the green and indie stalwarts and annual Indietracks attendees Emma Kupa and Darren Hayman join forces and sound like a bad marriage being soundtracked live (in a very good way).
Later on, Cardiff punkoids Joanna Gruesome are ace with a short, sloppy set of grungy punk-pop that’s chaotic and incredibly loud, and headliners The Wedding Present expertly perform their brand of brash indie like the pros they are.
On Sunday, The Orchids sound like Fables of the Reconstruction-era R.E.M., and another festival favourite, The Just Joans, just about get through their set of achingly wonderful Scottish folk-pop before the heavens open. It’s enough to force Monkey Swallows The Universe to play their last ever gig indoors, and as a result they probably play to their biggest ever crowd as the entire festival seemingly squeezes into the engine shed.
Despite the on-off rain and sunshine, The Wave Pictures play on the outdoor stage and deliver the festival’s highlight. In parts, they’re like Vampire Weekend, with skewed, awkward Afro-beatish indie pop zeal, but equally they’re poignant, lyrically astute and they love a good guitar solo. What’s not to love?
Back inside the shed and London DIY female punks The Tuts have decided to play their set of frazzled riot grrrl in wedding dresses. Their songs consist of feminist issues and a political bent – apart from their feral cover of The Spice Girls’ Wannabe and a touching tribute to Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who recently took his own life. They invite their festival friends from copious Indietracks bands onstage to cover Linkin Park’s In The End, and it’s a stunning moment. In all, they deliver a polished set of pop-punk, culminating in all three girls crowd surfing, still in their wedding dresses.
Finally, on the outdoor stage, Welsh indie Goddess Cate Le Bon brings the festival to a close with angular and tort guitars and her unique lyrical delivery. She’s like a female David Bowie.
And with that, it was time to board the shuttle train back to Butterley.
Indietracks ticks every box. It’s fun, colourful, wacky, entertaining, endearing and charismatic. It never fails to be brilliant, and despite the rain, it carried on. And long may it carry on.