Indietracks seemed to rush round quickly this year, not least because it was nearly a month earlier than its usual end-of-July slot thanks to the MegaCorp Sport-themed Trade Fair in London. We don’t yet know what the weather on the usual weekend will prove to be like, but this weekend was forecast to be a wet one, with flood warnings for the whole of central England – one more reason to hate the Olympics.
So this year’s Indietracks was to be the first properly wet one, with very heavy rainfall forecast for Friday in particular – and in Manchester, where I set out from, it was lashing it down all morning. This gave the organisers a bit of a dilemma: stick with the plan and keep the evening’s three bands on the main stage in the hope it eased off as predicted, or move it all into the shed to be on the safe side? In the end, by the time we all got to the site, the rain had slackened off and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds, so the outdoor plan would have been fine – but the decision to move inside had already been made, and I wouldn’t have liked to have been the person to call it the other way.
Everything on the site, bar the puddles, was reassuringly familiar, as were the first couple of bands – the Smittens and the School. They both seem like bands full of really lovely people and make undeniably tuneful pop, so it’s odd that they divide opinion a little. I feel like a rat fink for saying it, but I don’t quite get the Smittens – for all that though, they went down well and I didn’t exactly mind catching the second half of their set. Though I might have slipped out before the end for my first Gopal’s curry of the weekend – it’s important to uphold these Indietracks traditions.
The School, similarly, do what they do – but I have a real soft spot for them, and always enjoy seeing them live, particularly now they have a second album out and more of a back catalogue to draw on. The sound men on the main stage appeared to be keeping a running tally of twee instruments – while I didn’t count the number of ukeleles, glockenspiels and melodicas I saw all weekend, this set provided the first recorder solo of the festival.
Headlining on the first night was Darren Hayman, with his band. Long called the Secondary Modern, they are being renamed the Long Parliament as Darren is embarking on a period of exploring his interest in Civil War folk songs – it’s a bit unclear whether this was the final Secondary Modern gig or the first Long Parliament one, but either way Hayman has established a band both solid enough to rock out and sophisticated enough to give a richer backing when it’s needed.
Hayman himself showed that he is at the absolute top of his game, with a set ranging across all corners of his Hefner and solo back catalogues, including Hymn to the Postal Service, a track from his forthcoming instrumentals album (which worked much better than you’d expect in a festival set), a triumphant encore of Painting and Kissing and a beautifully-pitched love song from the point of view of King Charles I, singing to his queen, which must surely count as one of Hayman’s best songs to date. Between songs he was warm and charming (would it be controversial to suggest he can sometimes be a bit grumpy? No, it wouldn’t), while still making it clear he has firm ideas about how things should be done – he insisted on keeping his mac on throughout the set, on the basis that what you wear when you come on-stage you should wear throughout the set, however sweaty it makes you. He did however complain about having to go to the British Grand Prix with his dad rather than stick around at Indietracks for the weekend – it’s a bad clash, as I’d thought about going to the GP this year until the Indietracks date-change was announced (thanks again, Vanity Games!), but I wouldn’t object too much to having been at Silverstone. Darren, however, did find it objectionable – sucks to be you, Darren…
A fine DJ set from Pop-o-matic rounded things out on the festival site, then back to the campsite for yet more indie disco, including what seemed to be Jimmy from the Bobby McGees giving a line-dancing lesson to someone. Good work, Day One of Indietracks.