The trek up to the Midlands Railway Centre is for many, quickly becoming a yearly pilgrimage. Whilst we’re sure plenty of people come to look at the steam trains, it’s not exclusively why we, and so many others do it. It is the draw of one of the most unique and brilliant weekends of the musical summer, Indie-Pop’s biggest gathering, Indietracks.
Indietracks is a festival unlike any other. From the presence of the local bird sanctuaries collection of Owls and Parrots, to the model railway, staffed, perhaps unsurprisingly, by largely middle-aged train-enthusiasts, who spend much of the weekend looking a bit baffled as to what all these people are suddenly doing here. There’s a merch tent where the scene’s biggest bands mingle with their label bosses. We somehow doubt the boss of Colombia Records sits behind the merch stand in the way the good folk behind Odd Box, Where It’s As Is Where You Are, Elefant and Fortuna Pop do, let alone travels halfway round the world like the staff of Athens, Georgia based Happy Happy Birthday To Me did this year. Bands who don’t even have any merch to sell take up their slot in the tent just to say hello to their fans, who quite often are actually just members of other bands anyway.
Next, we’ll be telling you the sun always shines right? Well sadly not, this year, we were greeted by grey skies, and persistent heavy drizzle. Friday’s line up is deliberately scheduled to start around seven o’clock, to allow people to travel that same day and still have some entertainment on arrival. With just three bands playing, the crowd are something of a drip-feed, plenty won’t arrive until the morning, plenty more have headed for the shelter, and bar, of the indoor stage, preferring to catch up with old friends, and the locally sourced real ale, rather than rush out to watch bands on the main stage.
The result of which is that just moments before Fever Dream are set to take the stage that the crowd consists of about four people, who look more soggy than excited. The band look understandably apprehensive about the situation, but they needn’t have worried too much, by the time the first notes of their shoe-gaze meets post-punk sound ring out a decent crowd have assembled. The London trio are one of the fastest rising bands on the bill, and seem to be on an impressive upward trajectory. They are currently drawing large crowds in their home city, touring with the likes of Tigercats and Evans The Death, and releasing a very well received debut album, Moyamoya, on Club AC30.
Tonight they start a little nervously, they seem almost apologetic for having dragged everyone out of shelter. Also, the sound is a little muddled; Sarah’s bass, whilst excellent, is very high in the mix and Adrian’s contribution, the swirling, atmospheric guitars, and especially the vocals, are a little lost. Still, by the time their most recent single Serotonin Hit arrives the issues seem to resolve, and the band and audience seem to start enjoying themselves. Cat Loye’s drumming is the quiet star of the show, a blur of heavy hits, and complex, intricate beats, her contribution lifts their washes of sound into dark, gloomy post-punk territory and makes them stand out from the crowd of bands forming the recent shoegaze revival. One of the few bands on the bill who actually suit the dark, industrial skies that greet them, they even start to quip about how “warm and dry” it is on stage, whilst ringing up a black mark for not feeling their audiences pain, we’ll let them off. A wonderful way to start the weekend, from one of the most musically inventive bands on the bill.
The assembled bands this evening are all on the largest, and simplistically titled Outdoor Stage. Fever Dream are followed by the rather contrasting style of The School. Liz Hunt, the woman behind many a great gig in Cardiff and the UK arm of legendary Spanish label Elefant, fronts the eight-piece pure pop band. They deal in rich harmonies, memorable one liners and upbeat good times. They draw a large crowd, mostly consisting of the already converted and with T-shirts that say things like “Writing Songs Is for Girls”. The School are a natural fit with the festivals all inclusive ethos. They formed back in 2007, but have to date put out just two albums, although with a third record, Wasting Away And Wondering, due in September, the band throw in a few new ones as well as plenty of classics. A well received set that showcased The School as the middle ground of Belle & Sebastian and The Ronettes, even if it did sadly go to prove even the most upbeat, optimistic, sunshine-pop stars can’t provide a break in the cloud.
Closing the first night of this year’s Indietracks are Cinerama. Frontman David Gedge formed Cinerama in the late 1990’s during a break from his more widely known main band, The Wedding Present. The band initially started as a collaboration between David and his then girlfriend Sally Murrell, their sound stepped away from the classic Indie sound of The Wedding Present and took David’s music in the direction of orchestral-pop. The original line up split when David and Sally parted company, and soon afterwards Cinerama were incorporated back into The Wedding Present, seemingly never to return.
Then came 2015, Cinerama returned, slightly confusingly, with a re-working of The Wedding Present’s 2012 album Valentina. The reason for this seems to be a long held desire of David to rework these tracks into a fuller more orchestral sound, and it gave them a nice excuse to take Cinerama back on the road, which of course was always going to include a set here at Indietracks.
Now this is where we have a slight confession. When it comes to both Cinerama and The Wedding Present we have a gaping hole in our musical knowledge, and whilst talking to people around the site many were here largely to see the reformed rockers, we pretty much approached them as a new band. So our initial impression was perhaps not as reverential as others, indeed the site of David suited and booted amongst a bevy of well dressed, considerably younger women was, to steal another’s joke, highly reminiscent of a Robert Palmer video. The band proceeded to race through a set of slick, if slightly nostalgia driven orchestral pop. There were songs about Bond Girls and songs about infidelity: lots of songs about infidelity! It’s all slickly delivered and clearly put together by a talented musical craftsman. A few moments jump out, the excellent heartbreak of Hard, Fast and Beautiful (“I’m not going to pretend that she’s ever going to be the one”) and superb closing track Wow, but ultimately this was a set for the many people who’ve waited a long time to see this, and seem delighted with the set delivered.
As the band depart, we walk the site and realise just how broad a church Indie-Pop has become. The early 20’s DIY punk kids are buzzing at the prospect of an Indie-Disco and whopping and hollering as the steam powered can crusher destroys another oversized tin of chick peas, the middle aged men are sipping real ale at the bar and discussing whether David Gedge will ever stop writing songs about infidelity, their kids seemingly all dressed in miniature Indietracks t-shirts from years gone by are all giddily jumping in puddles, as their parents eye up one last drink. This festival has become a perfectly formed community, all sorts of people happily existing together, friends old and new bonding over a love of the increasingly diverse musical offerings on show at this most magical of weekends. Friday might just be a gentle warm up for what’s to come, but there’s a fizzing excitement in the air for what awaits us.
All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Corker (@VioletBeeHive)