Field Trip #11: Indie Tracks Festival

Paul Forster reports from Indie Tracks Festival, and asks: ‘is this the last bastion of indie-pop?’

If indie-pop is the last bastion, then Indie Tracks, the festival located in the Derbyshire countryside, is its annual party to celebrate another year’s survival in the trenches. The suitably twee home to this 2000 capacity festival is The Midland Railway Museum in Butterly, where steam trains run as transport to and from the festival as well as housing unplugged gigs in their sweaty moving carriages. Once you’re there, any novelty is eschewed in favour of music fanaticism and a communal sense of frivolity. The other venues fit the formula – an old train shed acts as the second stage, a teeny tiny church acts as a base for upcoming talent – and below the dip of a small hill is the main outdoor stage, for comparisons sake, around the same size of The Park stage in Glastonbury.

Recovering from a nasty bout of tonsillitis, we missed the first day of the festival, but collateral damage was low; only three bands played on the Friday evening: The Smittens, The School and Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern, all of whom I would have been excited to see but if I was going to take on a wet weekend, it was better to do it well. Saturday arrived with a more sunshiny sheen, however waterlogged the campsite was! Once our tent was up, we hiked the mile to the festival site/steam train museum. I had previous problems with my email and didn’t have a printed ticket so brought my details with me; the guy at the wristband exchange didn’t have our details and couldn’t get in touch with anyone who would, so he just gave us our bands out of trust. This simply would never have happened at any other festival I can think of; it really does set the tone for the ethos of the weekend.

After running to get a local real ale we arrive at the start of Tender Trap’s set (one of the bands I’m most looking forward to) with Amelia Fletcher, Godmother of twee-indie-pop, at the helm of the Outdoor Stage. They pump out 60s girl group infused jangle pop with an aplomb that you would expect from a band with almost 100 years of experience. Stand outs such as Oh Katrina, Talking Backwards and Do You Have Boyfriend are peppered between new songs from forthcoming album Ten Songs About Girls, culminating with Fletcher bringing her two daughters on stage to perform backing vocals for their last song just as the heavens open and we run to the Indoor Stage. They did an acoustic show in the merch tent a little later so we managed to experience the cuteness first hand.

Popping back to the campsite to grab an umbrella, we jump on the fun train-on-wheels back up the hill just in time to watch Go Sailor on the Outdoor Stage. As a band most widely known for songs on the But I’m a Cheerleader soundtrack who have never played the UK it was surprising how many people knew the words to all the songs and swayed happily. It would not be tantamount to slander if I called Indie Tracks a cult but listening to Together Forever in Love it’s very hard not to be converted and indoctrinated by their heartfelt whimsy, and despite heavy rain, the crowd remained.

“Listening to Together Forever in Love it’s very hard not to be indoctrinated by their heartfelt whimsy”

Summer Camp headline the Indoor Stage with their self styled brand of John Hughes electro-pop-rock which sometimes looks uncomfortable, but this crowd are the most receptive all day. Whether that is because it’s electronic or it’s good, I can’t be sure as after the gig people mention ‘X factor like vocals’ and them being ‘overblown’. This is one way to look at Summer Camp’s performance, another is to suggest maybe this isn’t their niche and they’re not right for the festival, despite their wryly constructed image. Losing My Mind, Down and I Want You showcase a band with pop pretension, their new single, Always, comes off a little robotic and slightly overwrought. Crowd-pleaser Better Off Without You sounds better on record, and I’m a little disappointed, being one of my favourite tunes of 2011.

Where Summer Camp provoke a strong reaction, be it good or bad, Veronica Falls leave me a bit cold, despite being proficient, tuneful and at the top of their game. I can’t quite put my finger on it, both Found Love in a Graveyard and Bad Feeling extort the Goth end of indie-pop to a high polish but I’m only mildly entertained.

Sunday greets us with sunshine and sausage sandwiches. We head for our first dose of unplugged train-pop courtesy of Sheffield’s Robberies. The band and the crowd get off to a shaky and sweaty start but pick up to smatter us with songs about missing where you live and not linking your friends. The girl/boy vox are complimentary, reedy and bassy in turn. These gigs seem to be more of a starting point for new bands and we’re left charmed but not bowled over, and glad to get off the heat-trap steam train. The day pans out much better than Saturday, possibly because we’re earlier to arrive, and with a higher calibre of band. Golden Grrrls bring their competent DIY ethos to the Indoor Stage, two members of Trash Kit setting the tone with perky punk-pop. We manage to sneak into the Church and grab a pew to watch T.O.Y.S. snarl their way through a synth-lead dose of fuzzed up frenetic punk. They conjure up images of a male Electrelane, but their overdressed bassist (dollar signs and gold trousers) helps puts paid to that.

“We sneak into the Church and grab a pew to watch T.O.Y.S. snarl their way through a synth-lead dose of fuzzed up frenetic punk”

We stick around in the church for September Girls and are glad we did; it is a post riot grrrl sing along, call and response vocals, borrowing from 50s and 60s girl groups and garage pop, this Northern Irish quintet fog up the windows. They have fantastic 3 and 4 part harmonies and funny songs about members of New Kids On The Block, but suffer from having ‘Girls’ at the end of their name and are shelved next to both Vivian and Dum Dum. Highlight of the day and the festival so far, plus a band to look out for in the future, Hells Bells has been described as The Shangri-la’s meets The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Newly reformed Language of Flowers are up next  at the Indoor Stage, fronted by the tiny Tara Simpson, bosting an astounding and crystal clear melancholy voice. They are nervous, this their first gig since 2007. They needn’t have been, and perform the most cohesive and beguiling set of the weekend so far. Opener, Where You Belong, recalls a downbeat Lush; sing-along If It’s Not You makes you wonder what happened to make them split up after a successful tour supporting Camera Obscura. Wistfully walking in the rain to Allo Darlin’ I’m taken aback by how they appear to be rocking out despite lead singer Elizabeth Morris playing the ukulele. They are a sure fire hit and the closet thing indie-pop has come to a success in years, their new album Europe has revelled in critical acclaim far and wide, and the tunes still make you sway despite their bittersweet edge. There’s always room for Kiss Your Lips on the dance floor as we heard from our tent the night before, but it is with songs like Some People Say and Tallulah that they really engage with simple but very beautiful melody and song-craft.

Enter The Vaselines. Filthy mouths open up and make the crowd laugh, Frances promises to have sex with whomever can guess how old she is as it’s her birthday. A lucky gentleman guesses correctly and she admonishes herself. They’re actual legends and really make you think about the legacy of indie pop in mainstream music. Molly’s Lips and Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam – are each better than the Nirvana covers, and the inter-song jokey stories that punctuate engage the crowd through the less well known stuff. When Son of a Gun and Mountain Dew are bookended by graphic sexual insults between Eugene and Frances, and a birthday cake emerging from the crowd you can see how much fun everyone is having. They encore with their only cover, their robo-disco reworking of Divine’s You Think You’re a Man, which apparently they always swear they’ll never play again, it goes down a storm and everyone walks away contented and gleeful. They’ve stolen the show.

We eschew the disco in favour of bed, but we’re enthused by the intermittent songs we hear turning over in our tent and remembering how much fun I had last year. Next year when I’m not recovering from tonsillitis, I’ll party hard like Andrew WK.

Paul Forster

Images courtesy Niall McNeill

Posted on 30/07/2012 by thedoublenegative