Just like on Saturday, I wanted to catch the first band on the train, Robberie, who were great! Strong tunes, and actually quite long songs with lots of words in them – plus they timed the last song perfectly to finish just as we arrived back at Swanwick Junction. Throw in a glockenspiel-powered Gina G cover and you’ve got an exemplary Indietracks set.
The Spook School were first up on the main stage, and served to reinforce that the bands are just going to keep getting younger as the years go by. Conversely, a nice thing about Indietracks is it shows there’s nothing to be afraid of in getting (a bit) older, as at 30 I suspect I’m still below the average age of attendees (if you exclude the kids brought by their parents, anyway).
But back to the Spook School, who were great. The music is pretty exemplary indie pop / rock stuff, and I’d have been happy with that on its own, but their drummer added a whole new dimension to the performance through his cheerfully rubbish banter. The other three are all relatively small in stature, while he’s a big guy with long hair and a handlebar moustache – basically it looks like they’ve formed a group with the BFG. My favourite bit of his schtick was the most twee rabble rousing it’s possible to imagine: “when I say ‘uke’, you say ‘lele’! Uke! Lele!” Genius. At the end he came down the front with free CDs to give away, and there was a right old scrum to get hold of them, as everyone had so clearly enjoyed the set. Damn their young, talented eyes.
After that a few of us went for a good ol’ wander round the railway site. The exhibition hall and West Shed are much the same as in previous years, but always worth a good nose around. Surprisingly, the railway’s mainline locomotive Duchess of Sutherland was in the West Shed for maintenance, rather than out working railtours – less than twelve months earlier it had been in pieces being overhauled, so it was impressive to see it fully assembled and already work-stained. I also gathered from a map in a display that the campsite where we stay is on the site of an old coal mine (I think – I’ll check it against Google maps some time…). Best of all though was the miniature railway, which I hadn’t been on in two previous visits but which we got a ride on this year. I’d not been on one of those this century…
But back to the festival. Next on my to-see list were September Girls in the church – indeed, I made it my strategy to park myself in the church for the rest of the day, partly to keep out of the rain but mainly to ensure I was in it for Rose Melberg. September Girls were worth seeing though, purveying 60s garage rock and taking no nonsense (though this was another set slightly marred by the twat with the camera at the front for the whole thing).
Berlin’s Love Dance were up next, and brought a twist of eurodisco to the festival, but still through the purest pop – a bit of a departure relative to all the other bands playing the festival, and an enjoyable palate-cleanser for that reason.
The penultimate act on this stage were the ABC Club, who musically remind me a bit of the Maccabees – whether they’ve got the career connections to go on to similar success I’ve no idea, but I was impressed. The dimension they have that the Maccabees perhaps don’t is a more classic-sounding singer, so the set was a bit of a winner. The only slight drawback was a total lack of stagecraft at all, but it seems a small complaint.
And so to Rose Melberg, who I opted to watch instead of Allo Darlin’. It was an agonising clash – I took the view that I live in London, I’ve seen Allo Darlin’ twice already this year and will see them again soon no doubt, whereas the chance to see Rose Melberg might not come again for years. But even so, I was aware I was missing one of the highlight sets of the weekend – why Allo Darlin’ weren’t given one of the headline slots is a total mystery to me. That said, they played so loud they were pretty audible in the church, to the extent that Rose abandoned an idea to do her opening song without amplification. It didn’t matter though – the entire set was intimate, delicate and undeniably something a bit special, with just Rose’s clear, pure voice and picked guitar holding up an entire range of melodies and emotions. The crowd gave her a standing ovation at the end – a beautiful set.
It was a slight culture shock, therefore, to wander out to see the Vaselines and be greeted by what can only be described as a barrage of filth in the between-songs banter – there’s clearly a no-holds-barred dynamic between Frances and Eugene borne of years of familiarity. It proved to be a strong headline set, with the new and old songs mixing fairly seamlessly and both being well-received – a good end to the festival, in terms of bands.
Still, that left potentially five hours of dancing to come… And at this point I’m afraid I’ve got to have a bit of a Finchley Ted moment. This is a bit of a Goldilocks complaint, but playing in the shed Music for Girls went, I felt, a bit too mainstream for an indie disco, while over at the campsite Another Sunny Day went far too obscure. I’ve no problem with either extreme of itself, but for the Sunday night slots they struck the wrong balance – rather than providing the finales to the weekend, they ended up alienating chunks of their audience.
For my money, Music for Girls crossed a line with Steal My Sunshine, while I can never forgive Stay by East 17 as the closing number. Then again, lots of people loved it. And it’s not (entirely) a matter of me being a terrible indie snob: other discos over the weekend ventured into the mainstream and Dan Pop-o-matic’s choice of Go You Own Way by Fleetwood Mac was one of my favourite bits. But I felt the balance was a bit off.
Similarly at the campsite disco, while I can normally recognise maybe three songs in four at a typical Indietracks disco, I never recognised more than two in a row from Another Sunny Day. A lot of them sounded great, but dancing to songs you don’t know becomes a bit of a trial after a while, however good, and while the DJs’ refusal to play anything approaching a crowd-pleasing set clearly went down well with the (rather small) crowd in the marquee, it left the end of the festival feeling like a bit of a damp squib for the rest of us.
Still, no matter – apart from that slightly self-inflicted wound, Indietracks survived gloomy times and even gloomier weather with triumphant aplomb this year. Thirteen months to the next one, though – sodding Olympics.