Part two: in which Carey discovers that if Morrissey had been a bit more chatty and a bit less veggie, the Smiths would still have been quite good.
The Indietracks festival is the idiosyncratic pairing of indie music with heritage steam trains which originated when Stuart, a volunteer at the Midland Railway Heritage Museum, hit on the idea of staging gigs on the trains in 2007. Things developed from there, and three years on the festival has built up a real head of steam (ho ho) with its reputation poised somewhere between established and on the cusp of breaking through.
The trains are a fairly integral part of the festival’s identity, as you might expect. The MRHM’s various activities carry on in and around the festivities. Steam trains take you to the site and run regularly through the day, bands play on them, dormant decommissioned ones serve as canteens (and, when the rain gets up, provide makeshift shelters.) If you happen to be both a fan of indie music and seriously into coal-powered trains you’ll find plenty to keep you enthralled here.
As might expect from a festival based on heritage locomotion, then, Indietracks is a pretty shameless celebration of another ‘T’ word, one that’s been cropping up quite a bit recently. The Twee Revival is in full flower here. Craft workshops, boutique merchandise, bijou food stalls, you name it. If it’s quaint or dainty, it’s here.
I missed the Friday night session with Au Revoir Simone but started catching bands on Saturday afternoon. Cork’s The Frank & Walters probably had their heyday in the early 90s, and their songs reference a whole but, notwithstanding a fairly long hiatus, they have kept up the releases since and evidently still have a following. Their small but dedicated clutch of fans lapped up their set of solid, well put-together pop, like the Smiths but sung by the nice guy in your local pub.
Indietracks has three stages (in addition to the informal shows on trains), the smallest but most characterful being a tiny red chapel, charming but probably no more than 15 metres tall and 8 across. Inside this corrugated-tin covered heat box a crowd packed itself together for The Specific Heats, who had flown all the way from Brooklyn and had the Justice League capes to prove it. But even superheroes have equipment issues. A long time was spent plugging things in and making stuff work. Then singer Mathew Patalano’s reverb camp burned out precisely one bar into the first song. But the band were charming and the audience laughing, and the banter was so entertaining I almost forgot they were there to play music. Once they finally got started they flew through their surf-kitsch powered set with all the daring of 50s comic book heroes, and you had to be just as careful not to blink in case you missed them. They left to cheers and adulation, presumably to fight more battles in name of lo-fi retro-pop.
After the Heats’ unaffected charm, Stockholm’s Speedmarket Avenue seemed noticeably more self-conscious in the open air of the main stage. Their pop was a slicker, glossy sort, more spit and polish, with an undercurrent of ambition. Male/female vocals, shiny coatings of synth and some delicious melodic hooks. Female vocalist Sibille Attar, either pissed or doing a good show of it, helped to counteract some of the fashionable distance, waving tambourine in one hand and Stella in the other. She was also responsible for the weekend’s sole instance of instrument destruction. This being a quaint indie pop festival, it was only a smashed tambourine, but you can’t exactly expect autodestructive rage here. She took the two pieces offstage with her, probably to mend it later.