The story of Saturday at Indietracks starts appropriately on a train platform. We wind our way through the maze of tracks, model railways and steam carriages and somehow end up at the opposite entrance to the one we arrived at, without ever entering the site. I had no idea it was possible!
Alongside us at the platform are around one hundred other punters, some queuing for entry to the festival site, still more awaiting the 12.15 train. The first train at this years festival to stage one of the delightfully intimate Train Stage gigs. Again fittingly, the train’s delayed. We stand at the platform like the commuters that many of us are on a day to day basis. We’ve come to escape reality, not stair at watches and tut at leaves on the line, or whatever the hold up is. Thankfully following a platform change, eventually our train chugs in. Sadly, like commuters on the Central line, we can’t all quite fit on! The lucky thirty or so that do make it on are somewhere between delighted and broiled. It’s possibly the hottest venue we’ve ever watched a gig in, sweat makes ink run down our note pads. If you’re wondering why we put ourselves through this, the answer…Lonely Tourist
If we think we’re suffering, dressed like Johnny Cash like in a full on black suit, Paul Tierney aka Lonely Tourist, the Bristol based Glaswegian, looks like he’s on the verge of melting. Despite all this he plays a stunning set, if his accent recalls King Creosote, his songwriting is part Jeffrey Lewis and part Rory McVicar. Like all three of those artists, he’s a wonderfully humorous lyricist, whilst stopping short of being a full blown comedian, and it’s his astute take on every day life that draws you in. He sings about being “just another pound shop on the hightstreet of life” or in the brilliant Fly On Your Window Sill, he puts you in the shoes of the fly, “the life of a fly, is a life on the run, while you’re sitting there reading that copy of the sun, that you found on a bus seat that you tell folk you don’t read.” He finishes his set perfectly on time as the train gently roles back into the station, for all the obstacles it’s a wonderful performance.
From their we head over to the outdoor stage to see the brilliant Spaniards, The Royal Landscaping Society. Despite a few early sound glitches the quality of the songs prevails. They dabble in the hazy, shoegazing of the Jesus & Mary Chain, whilst maintaining the pop sensibilities of The Cure. The vocals sit low in the mix, as bass, drum machines and synths come to the fore. They’re joined by fellow Spaniards Alpaca Sports for one of their latter tracks, whilst a Field Mice cover reveals an underlying love for the 80s electronica, as peddled by the likes of the Pet Shop Boys or The Human League. Their well received set is one of the highlights of the weekend!
Next we head indoors to catch ONSIND, who are in some ways a side project to Martha, but also a brilliant act in their own right. Both members thrash out their guitars, in a stunning blast of politically motivated, acoustic punk. If their strong Geordie accents, and yelped vocal recall fellow North-Easterners Kubicheck, their song-writing recalls the anger of Billy Bragg. They open with a track that in the current political climate is a pretty easy sell, the brilliant Pokemon City Limits, with it’s shout-along chorus “never trust a tory, or a tory in disguise, yeah you can see it when you look them in the eye, make sure you look the bastard in the eye.”
Elsewhere their songwriting is a touch more subtle, and all the more brilliant and crushing for it. BA77 recalls the death of Jimmy Mubenga at the hands of G4s, a story that’s less tragedy, and more disgusting. They say people don’t write political songs anymore, well ONSIND do! “Sick of borders, sick of nations, sick of racist immigration policy, disregarded pleas for solidarity.” ONSIND might never sell that many records, but don’t say they don’t matter. They mean the world to the people here, who shout along to every word. They’ll change lives, for the simple reason they care so much about what they sing about. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye of this old cynic, whether they’re singing about politics or depression they make an impact.
Linda Guilala, possess nobody called Linda. They’re in fact a Spanish three piece band, the star is their remarkably energetic guitarist, who thrashes around the stage like a man possessed. They blend shoegaze with the riotous punk of their label mates Los Bonsais, to make an enjoyable noise.
Laura J Martin packs the church stage for her idiosyncractic take on folk music. These days she now takes to the stage as part of three piece band, but she’s lost none of her brilliantly unique sound along the way. As a front-woman she’s part Kate Bush and part Native American Chief, and it’s a thoroughly entertaining set in the beautiful setting of the church stage.
Part Kate Bush, Part Native American Chief it’s Laura J Martin
Judging by the size of audience they draw Joanna Gruesome are one of the weekends biggest attractions. On record they deal in light and shade, fluctuating rapidly from beautiful melodic moments to a thrillingly loud punk blast. Live some of that contrast is lost in the limitations of the sound booth, and the songs boils down to their beating heartbeat, a thrilling riotous racket!
Alana McArdle of Joanna Gruesome a thrillingly riotous, racket
In front-woman Alana McArdle, they have a truly excellent stage presence. Sporting a Black Flag t-shirt, she stalks the stage, a bundle of energy and nerves in equal measure. Her vocal too is stunning, it goes from a visceral roar, to perfectly tuneful harmonious moments almost instantaneously, it must put a strain on her vocal chords, but you wouldn’t know it. The band hurtle through the tracks, but seemingly plagued by a few sound problems, seem to take an age between songs, whilst the audience are more than happy to wait, they do at times appear to loose some momentum. Any criticism melts away though as Dean Wareham joins the band for one of the festivals most memorable moments, a stunning cover of Tug Boat. The song was originally by Dean’s previous band Galaxie 500, whilst Joanna Gruesome had covered it on record as the b-side to their single Sugar Crush. It’s a sign of the bands knowledge and respect for their musical forefathers legacy, that they seem completely overwhelmed by his presence. Alana unable to hide the giant grin that spreads across her face. It’s a splendid rendition, and despite some hiccups along the way it’s a throughly enjoyable set, and the crowd leave delighted, even if they band themselves seem a little unsure.
Gruff Rhys is one of British music’s most celebrated song-writers. As the frontman of The Super Furry Animals, he is the leader of one of the most unique bands in history, they are to my ears almost unclassifiable. If his work with the band could be seen as out there, his solo work is even more wide ranging. Back in 2005 he released the Welsh language album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. Almost the entirety of tonights is taken from his most recent solo album American Interior, his fourth.
American Interior is a full blown concept album, inspired by the 18th Century Explorer, John Evans. I wont blow the punchlines but essentially he travelled to America in search for a lost Welsh speaking American tribe. Needles to say he doesn’t find them.
The show tonight is part slide show, part stand up comedy set and part generally great music! The crowd gather in a sort of respectful hush rather than the full on delirium that met Friday’sheadliners Allo Darlin’. Gruff enters the stage, acoustic guitar and drummer in two. He looks frankly brilliant for his age, he’s become a deeply handsome chap! He opens with the title track, a swoonsome Americana number that sets the musical tone for the set. Between the relatively serious sounding songs, he’s a genuinely side-splitting story teller, his stilted, heavily accented delivery is perfect for a tale of what was an essentially pointless and fairly heartbreaking journey.
The slide show is fantastic, whether he’s picturing John’s funeral “we don’t know what it was like, so we’ll assume it was like easy rider” or telling the story of one of the tribes who “hang themselves from hooks on the ceiling” as part of a ritual, “just like the do in North Wales.” It’s a wonderfully entertaining set throughout, and a fittingly unique end to the days proceedings.
The band end on Sensations In The Dark, probably the poppiest moment of his solo career to date, whilst a few Super Furries numbers would have been a treat, it’s still be a real privilege.
As Gruff leaves, the masses stumble around the site and the strains of classic girl-bands sing out from one of the tents. The Shirelles classic Mamma Said is a poignant choice. “Mammas said there’d be days like this, days like this mamma said” and maybe there will be days as wonderful as this, but not many. It’s been an absolute dream.
All photos courtesy of Violet Bee (twitter.com/violetbeehive)