The combination of a steam train museum and indie-pop music might not be the most obvious combination, but ten years ago Stuart Mackay, a man who worked restoring locomotives, saw an event at the Midlands Railway museum and thought if they can do that here, then when why can’t I bring my beloved indie-pop acts here and have a damn good time. The rest as they say is history, or more accurately, the rest is Indietracks.
Last week, Nat Hudson, one fifth of the current Indietracks team, was kind enough to sit down with us and talk through ten years of Indietracks, what they’ve got planned for their anniversary year and what the future holds for one of Britain’s most unique and well-loved festivals.
Nat started by taking us back to the early days. She recalls how Stuart began planting the seeds for what would grow into the festival we now know, “all his idea, a brilliant idea. The first one was a one-nighter in April 2007, about 200 people came, it sold out really quickly and did really well”. Headlining that night were Pocket Books, members of whom would go on to become key members of the Indietracks team; in reality the show was little more than a gig on a platform; it was held at the Butterley station a separate part of the railway museum to where the festival is held now, but its success would persuade the organisers to plot the first weekender.
The need for a larger site, one that matched the ambitions of the Indietracks team, was clear. Swanwick Junction, aptly just a short steam-train journey away from Butterley, still the home of Indietracks now, was sourced, and remarkably just three months after the original one day event, the first Indietracks weekend event would take place. The two-day event was headlined by Darren Hayman, somewhat of a regular visitor to Indietracks, alongside The Orchids, The School and The Lovely Eggs, though not part of the organisational team at that time, Nat recalls her memories of the event, “it was really small, and we didn’t have the stages that we have now, there was just an indoor stage, so we didn’t have the big outdoor stage. It was a lot smaller, and not as many people came but people seemed to really like it”.
Nat joined in 2008, giving Stuart, “a bit of help with publicising and promoting”. It was the first time the festival had an outdooor stage, and although it was little more than the back of a truck, it was the start of a slow growth for the festival; the headline acts, The Wedding Present and Los Campesinos!, neatly surmised the festival ethos, combining indie-legends and up and coming new indie-pop talent. 2008 would also see a debut performance by Allo Darlin’, the Anglo-Australian four-piece who would latterly return to the festival in 2013, a highlight of wich Nat is rightly proud of, “there are all the times we’ve had small bands playing and then they come back and do amazing sets. Elizabeth from Allo Darlin’ came really early on and she was just doing a solo platform set, then a couple of years on they came and headlined the Friday and that was one of my favourite ever Indietracks sets. That’s another highlight seeing bands get bigger, bands progressing. We’ve got The Spook School coming back this year, that will be really exciting to see because they’re playing a headline slot”.
Looking back over the festivals ten years, Nat raves about a huge variety of acts, from La Casa Azul covering Love Is In The Air back in 2009, to finally booking personal favourites Euros Childs and The Go! Team, of the latter she notes, “I love music that’s really energetic and they were just really good. They definitely brought a dance party to Indietracks which is always good in my opinion.” We touch on the low-lights, but they seem to have been remarkably few and far between, rain affected performances from Camera Obscura in 2013 and the washed out Sunday last year are mentioned, but even they seem to have been transformed into positives, “when you have rain that heavy, you have to move the schedule around and bring the headliner into the indoor stage. Actually we’ve got it down to such an art now and the railway staff are so helpful, and everyone’s so understanding that it’s never really been a huge thing. People are just sort of, “oh it’s raining I guess we’ll be inside”, people just take it. They don’t mind, it worked really well”.
It’s clear talking to the Indietracks team that their interest in the indie-pop world stems beyond a single weekend, “we don’t want it to be a nostalgia fest where you’re just booking bands from twenty or thirty years ago, that’s not what it’s about. We’re very much about showcasing new bands and supporting up and coming talent as much as we are, as well as having some of the more established bands”. This year’s headliners are no different, indie-pop royalty comes in the shape of Saint Etienne, a band who Nat notes they’ve been trying to book for a number of years, but they’re joined by reformed American six-piece The Aislers Set, beloved by John Peel although largely ignored by the world at large, and a first headline show for up and coming DIY Queer-Punks, The Spook School. The Spook School are members of a scene that has almost developed out of Indietracks, they first appear somewhere in the middle of the bill back in 2012, and alongside the likes of Martha and Joanna Gruesome they’re part of a growing group of newer acts that blur the lines of punk and indie-pop and aren’t afraid to tackle political issues. Even when not playing, these bands tend to be part of the crowd at Indietracks, “you’ll often find quite a lot of people that come to Indietracks are involved with music in some way. If they’re not in a band, they’re writing a fanzine, or they’re putting on a gig or a club night, they’re promoters, they’re involved in some way. I think it lends it a bit of that community as well”. It’s a huge part of what makes Indietracks the festival it is, as much as it is a music festival, it’s also a meeting place, “people come from all over the world that have got similar music taste to you, I think it’s pretty friendly, relaxed, and you often just see the musicians hanging out and going to watch other bands”.
We briefly touch on the finances of the festival, in an era where many festivals are struggling to make ends meets, Nat informs us Indietracks is thriving. The festival is entirely not-for-profit, all the money left over going back to the railway museum, “it turns over a really good profit for them, their biggest fundraiser we’ve recently found out”. The volunteers at the railway aren’t perhaps natural indie-pop fans, “they don’t know much about the music, and we don’t know much about steam trains but it seems to work”. Despite approaching the festival from different stand-points it’s clear that it’s a close-knit and harmonious team, “our team, we do all the band booking, the promotion, web all that stuff, the railway, they’re the ones who build stages, sort out the bar, make sure we’ve got our license and council, you know they do all the real logistical hard work”.
Indietracks is a festival that continues to grow; in 2009 courtesy of some financial help from the Elefant Label, they were able to construct a proper main stage, since then however, the basic format of the festival, three days, four stages, remains essentially the same. “It was so good we’ve just kept it since then. We have around 1500 people, and we can’t actually have any more because the site is a limited capacity. We always get asked do you want to make it any bigger, but we couldn’t actually make it any bigger because of the site. I think it’s a really nice size as it is now, there’s never a huge queue for anything you know the loos or the bar, it just feels like a nice size as it stands.” That is not to say the festival is standing still, they’re always tweaking the site, incorporating a number of new ideas, plenty of the ideas coming from the railway itself, “every year they come up with something new that we don’t necessarily know about whether it’s a little outdoor beach or the owl sanctuary or the steam rolling sessions. Those are all things that they thought up”. The steam rolling sessions for Indietracks virgins involve a large steam-roller crushing cans, a shockingly well loved event often drawing some of the weekends biggest crowds, as Nat notes, “It’s just very cathartic”.
Living in a decimal world, the festivals tenth anniversary will always draw the mind to look backwards at what the festival has achieved; it’s also a great excuse for an even bigger party than usual. They’re keeping things close to their chest but the Indietracks team do have some special tricks up their sleeves for this anniversary, “we’re going to be screening a documentary that’s been made about Indietracks by Jeanie Finlay. She’s an award winning film director, based in Nottingham and she’s made lots of kind of musicy films like Sound It Out, The Great Hip-Hop Hoax, Orion. She’s made a half hour documentary about Indietracks and the railway. We all watched it a few weeks ago, and it’s really, really good. A lot of it is about the festival, but most of it is about the railway, and the people that work there, we didn’t even realise the half of it in terms of what goes on before we get there. We’re also going to have an extended programme as well, we’ve asked some people about their memories of the past 10 years, and we’re hopefully going to do a party for the Midland Railway Volunteers on the Thursday, so we’ve got lots of little things planned, I’m sure there’ll be lots more popping up, we’ve certainly discussed a few, it’s just whether we’ve got time to do them.”
Whatever else they’ve got planned the main focus will, as it should, be on the music. Nat lights up when asked about the line-up, speaking effusively about the charms of the likes of Shopping, Welsh quintet Seazoo and a Leeds band she admits she knows next to nothing about, Maggie8. Maggie8 are the latest band to get into the festival via their open application process, one of a number of routes bands can take to playing the festival, which has a surprisingly democratic process for selecting the acts who grace it’s stages, with a series of Spreadsheets, online forum, and headliner shortlists compiled, as well as sometimes just the organisers booking bands they want to see themselves. We fail miserably to get any more of the names for this year’s festival out of Nat, but she does confirm, “we’re hoping to make one or two more announcements before the festival, hopefully the next one will be pretty soon. We’ve got a few fairly big names in there as well as some newer bands as well. Hopefully that’ll be very soon that announcement”.
Looking forward, the future for Indietracks look bright, “I think the plan is to continue, because for the railway we’re such a big fundraiser so they’re really keen for us to continue, and we’d love to”. There’s also a few bands left on the wanted-list, “every year we’ll approach those people, see what they say, “oh no they can’t play”. Maybe one day we’ll get those, but actually the list has gone down, we’ve gradually been ticking off our headliner wish list as the years have gone on”. There’s a clear hint of pride at what they’ve achieved at Indietracks, Nat notes, “It seems to have captured people’s imagination, we’re quite lucky in that respect.” If you ask us, there’s no luck involved, just hardwork, booking great bands and constantly looking forward, even if this year you can forgive them just once for looking back. Happy Birthday Indietracks!
Indietracks 10th Anniversary runs from 29th-31st July. Head over to their website for tickets and further information.
All photos in this article are courtesy of Bob Stuart – www.undexposed.org.uk