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Review: Indietracks Festival

After 10 weeks of more or less wall-to-wall sunshine, The Smittens take to the main stage at Indietracks at precisely 3.40pm on Saturday, and, within seconds, it is absolutely pissing it down. The sky goes from blue to Biblical; and the crowd pretty much disappears.


Under the ensuing torrent, even a bloke in what looks like a Smittens T-shirt can be seen running for cover. It is that kind of downpour. If this was Glastonbury, someone would be in a canoe, for sure. By their third song, The Smittens – a sextet from Vermont – are playing to just a few handfuls of people.

Bad luck for them. Worse for those who missed the show. Because it is magnificent: a combination of lilting, lullaby, sing-along melodies and dark, distorted
lyrics dealing, it seems, with everything from global politics to drug addiction. Worth getting wet (drenched) for.

So, this is perhaps the UK’s only indie pop festival held at a heritage railway. Indietracks sees more than 50 bands play the Midland Railway Centre in Butterley, Debryshire, every July – and it’s lovely. Think gigs in engine sheds, acoustic sets played on steam trains, and mugs of tea served in what were once first class waiting rooms. Think real ale, ace food and a sandpit for kids. And think intimate: only 1,500 tickets are sold each year.

On Saturday – the one day of three which Exposed went to – the rain was still coming (though slower) when Elder Statesmen of Indie, Darren Hayman took to the main stage. His old band Hefner were probably major influences on half the groups performing this weekend so when, unannounced he declares he is to play their first album, Breaking God’s Heart, in full, it is met with delight.

Except – and this comes from someone who adored Hefner – it is an album which, in a post #metoo world, has probably not aged well. Lyrics which always seemed a little too enthusiastic about the female form feel, 20 years later, just straight-up creepy. The Librarian is basically a paean to stalking, while God Is On My Side describe the subject of an unrequited love by repeatedly describing her skirts, shoes and ankle bracelets but not bothering with anything as peripheral as what the lass in question is actually, you know, like.

Listening to it this afternoon, stripped back without drums and bass, at a festival that is all about inclusivity, it feels out of time and out of place.

The same cannot be said of Colour Me Wednesday, a sister-fronted four-piece who couldn’t be more right-now if they tried. Today, firing off repeated pop-punk bangers, they are loud, colourful and unashamedly ramshackle. Brilliant.

May Indietracks – sudden downpours and all – keep riding along for years to come

As is Linda Guilala – Spanish, brooding, psychedelic – and Dream Wife, a London(ish) three-piece that are a bits Slits, a bit Be Your Own Pet and a bit Sonic Youth, and wonderful for plundering such influences. If there’s one band playing today likely to go mainstream, it has to be them. Somebody, in particular, might just be An Anthem. Which leaves headliners British Sea Power.

Technical issues mean they take to the stage half an hour late but are they worth the wait? Come now: it’s British Sea Power. Of course they are. With a stage filled, characteristically, with foliage and a set that is pretty much a best of plucked from their 20-year career, they knock out crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser as the evening – warm once more – draws to dusk and the lights from the heritage trains, which bring and take people to the festival site, twinkle in the background. Opener Machineries Of Joy, rarity A Wooden Horse and the majestic Remember Me and Waving Flags are especially perfect. So too is closer The Great Skua, a song so magisterial that, despite having no actual lyrics, still ends with a sing-along.

It is a wonderful close to a wonderful day. May Indietracks – sudden downpours and all – keep riding along for years to come.




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