The Primitives, Pooh Sticks, Tender Trap, Paisley & Charlie, Allo Darlin - Superglue (not Vaseline): Indietracks Festival 2010 Review
Dan Round 10/08/2010
“There's some great local ales, but they really need to cut down on the wasps… a lot of them don't have tickets. I've not see one wristband, not even an antenna-band”. Yokoko's anti-wasp rant was probably the only negative thing I heard inside the confinements of Indietracks festival all weekend, aside from one steward spieling some hate about my kind-of hometown of Dudley (“It's a horrible place” he told my friend; that it may be but it's still the town that gave us Duncan Edwards and Bathams, and I'll defend the accent forever and a day). Though there was a lot of airborne stingers, the high levels of wasp intruders was nothing more than a positive reflection of the brilliantly blooming summer surroundings that the Midland Railway Centre finds itself in, and the ideal festival conditions we had over the weekend (23-25 July). *If I was being picky, perhaps slightly overcast at times, but there you go.* With the countryside at its most picture perfect and the steam trains bustling with ardent festival goers, the fourth instalment of this very twee affair could not have been handed better circumstances on the site of the heritage railway.
Irked that I missed the lugubrious 80s goth-pop revivalists Veronica Falls, I arrived with friends in time to catch the majority of Allo Darlin's set, and it was as brilliant a start to a summer music festival of any description that I can imagine. Joyful, light-hearted and warm with summery guitars, Elizabeth Morris and co. peaked with the bouncy and humorous “Henry Rollins Don't Dance”, the song ending with the band's fun, obligatory take on “You're The One That I Want” from Grease. Next up was Eddie Argos' side project, Everyone Was In The French Resistance… Now! Recalling the humour and sardonic wit of Argos' regular bunch Art Brut (Indietracks alumni), the Friday night headliners/precursory act for the rest of the weekend engaged more with the audience than any one else by quite a stretch. Joined by a live guitarist and his girlfriend, The Blood Arm keyboard player Dyan Valdes, Argos spoke comically about the meaning of every song in much detail. In Argos' world, for example, “superglue is clearly the opposite of Vaseline” - hence their song “Superglue” parodied Elastica's “Vaseline”. In Argos' world, too, Avril Lavigne is a super-mega-nasty-manipulative-horror-psycho-sadistic-song-and-boyfriend-stealing-bitch. Dedicated to his least favourite contemporary pop star, EWITFRN! played a cutting version of The Rubinoos' 1979 number "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", the song Lavigne's "Girlfriend” rips off/borrows heavily from. Closing not with Art Brut's staple track “Formed A Band” but with Argos' very own self-self-parody “Formed A Side Project”, EWITFRN! took their zany assault of indie to another caustic level with swiping guitars and Argos' self-mockery and speak-singing style epitomising the set. The rest of the night inside the festival comprised of dancing to Orange Juice songs in the Marquee, and a hazy/vibrant discussion with Rob from The Hillfields regarding iconoclasts Richey Edwards and Lawrence at the bar in the stationary train carriage (Rob: “Three hours of talking nonsense!”)Though losing a contact lens at the Scared To Dance campsite disco around 2am later on slightly marred my indieduction […sorry] to the festival, Friday evening's music provided a great start to Indietracks 2010 and was much more than simply a warm up for Saturday and Sunday's full timetable of acts.
^ The Indietracks train taking a well deserved short pit stop.
After an early afternoon of (steam)trainspotting, Saturday's outdoor gigs began with the likes of Euro punk-pop band La La Love You wearing their influences proudly on their sleeves (named after a Pixies songs, their songs sounded like Pixies songs). The afternoon featured one of the musical highlights of the weekend in the form of Paisley & Charlie's intimate set on the Indietracks steam train. Deviating from their usual key heavy set, the twosome played their repertoire stripped down, acoustic guitar and voice (with some ribbons and bubbles, too) and nothing else. Paisley's sweetly soft vocal twinned with Charlie's sweetly sad acoustic was reminiscent of The Sundays, and was well matched with the idyllic nature of the old train as it rolled past beautiful Derbyshire countryside to our right and rustic, quaint railway stations to our left. I managed to catch up with the couple later on near the main stage (regretfully in the process stalling Charlie's designs for a quick loo pit stop). “It feels like for once we fit in somewhere” Paisley told me, and she went on to compare the Midlands Railway Centre favourably against their usual Camden haunts “where people are usually too cool to clap”. A chaotic weekend for the duo, Paisley & Charlie “went on the wrong train and had to set up at the last minute” and due to this ended up playing twice, with the steam train music timetable thrown into blissful disarray. Charlie told me he was particularly looking forward (like everyone else, I guess) to The Primitives having worked with their producer in Coventry and having “played the same red guitar Paul Court played in the “Crash” video”!
I also managed to meet the American band Onward Chariots (formerly, and bizarrely, Chariots Of Tuna) on Saturday afternoon. A troupe admittedly “giddy from the steam trains”, they were clearly buzzing with excitement about playing the festival and were all well in tune with what they called its “positive atmosphere”. Citing Standard Fare and Pains Of Being Pure At Heart as the bands they most wanted to see (they grew up in the same area as Pains drummer Kurt Feldman in NY), Rus, Ben, Shawn and Dan from the band told me how “indiepop bands can't play wherever they want in New York and the bands that play together are completely unrelated, so playing England is great as there's a scene and all the bands are connected”. The four piece exclaimed “it's great to see people we love but have never met”, and were especially excited to see and meet Sebastián Litmanovich aka Cineplexx in particular - “we've recorded a song with him but have never actually met him!” Informing me of their support slot with David Gedge's legendary outfit The Wedding Present (former Indietracks headliners) this month in Athens, Georgia (not Greece), the group also said their “peak shows to date have been in the UK” thanks largely to the “enthusiastic crowds especially in London and Nottingham”, with Glasgow their next UK destination. Ben from the band closed by telling me, unsurprisingly, that they have “seen far more enthusiasm for what we do here than at all the shows we've played in the US combined”, and that they now seldom play in New York.
Later on in the day, the Outdoor Stage saw seminal Sarah Records band The Orchids admit they were hoping to enjoy Indietracks 2010 more than Indietracks 2007 where they had “all the pressure of headlining”. The band played a memorable set full of songs spanning from the mid 80s to recent years, and were followed by the equally memorable Scots Ballboy who harmoniously belted out one of the loudest sets of the weekend. Organiser Stuart Mackay watched the band from near the technical area looking incredibly happy, and far less stressed than I can imagine he has been at past Indietracks (see festival preview). Though for many the cancellation of anarchic art group Love Is All as headliners of the Indoor Stage on Saturday night was a crushing blow, there can be little doubt that there are very few indiepop bands as highly qualified to step into their shoes as a headliner than Tender Trap. (Not to be confused, of course, with the incredibly drab recent chart-botherers Temper Trap). Headed by Amelia Fletcher (formerly of Talulah Gosh,
^Cineplexx preaching indiepop in Spanish at the Church Stage; pews full.
With big names such as Cineplexx and Betty and The Werewolves gracing the Church Stage, the festival's holy epicentre - complete with baptismal font - was constantly rammed full with the pews over spilled. The crowd drawing God blessed bands of the Church even held eager gig goers in what was, at times, a massive queue that spiralled out towards the merchandising tent. A sure sign of the success of the acts playing there.
Saturday's headliners The Primitives were always going to draw the biggest crowd of the weekend though. Sadly, the first few songs of the legendary pop band's set were hindered by a less than wonderful sound mix; the bass boomed too loud while Tracy Tracy's vocal, usually most prominent at the forefront of the songs, languished quietly in the mix. The sound was, however, sorted out before it could do any great harm to their set, and just as the sound folk got their act together so too did the band, reeling out the biggest hits and boldest album tracks in their back catalogue. Classics from the late 80s and early 90s were revisited in emphatic style by a band that is now tighter than ever, and just as thrilling a spectacle to watch on stage. Tracy Tracy's ever exuberant and at times sensual stage presence combined with Paul Court's joyfully jangly and rhythmic guitars made it seem like it was 1990 not 2010. Having said that, it also looked like it was 1990; both vocalist and guitarist looked unscathed by the past two turbulent, un-Primitive decades, neither appearing anywhere near their middle forties. Casually churning out classics “Stop Killing Me” (indie-), “Way Behind Me” (-pop) and yes, of course, “Crash”, the band were totally at ease as headliners of the festival, and with the soulful“Summer Rain” they provided the cathartic moment of the weekend with the chill of the cold night's breeze making the soothing song even more poignant. From tranquil numbers to bitterly uncompromising songs such as the scathing “Sick Of It”, The Primitives played a capricious set that was full of character the like of which many old reformed bands struggle to re-muster. The set did however lack completely in songs fronted by Court, but when I bumped into the guitarist before The Pooh Sticks gig the following day he admitted that the band “would need a keyboardist to play those songs” (such as “All The Way Down”, “I Almost Touched You” and “Lazy”). Anyway, it would be ridiculous to complain. A great set of pop songs, performed crashingly/immaculately by a timeless group.
^ With Hue Williams, hours before the first full Pooh Sticks gig since 1993 (and possibly their last hurrah??)
Before seeing the first Pooh Sticks gig for 17 years I had the privilege of talking to Hue Williams, the mastermind of the band that was once dubbed “rock's most inside joke”. Now very much inside the music business having worked with the platinum selling Catatonia among others, Williams starkly told me he saw the Pooh Sticks reunion on the final night at Indietracks as being “more of a farewell show than a comeback show”, and revealed he didn't see the Pooh Sticks getting back together as being in the same light as other recent reformations of bands such as The Pop Group and The Wolfhounds. A man determined not to cling to the past, Williams even decided to create the all new “Swansea Sound” t-shirt design for the band in favour of selling rehashes of their old t-shirt designs at the festival. He told me he “wanted to come up with something new not old”, and nabbing the logo of what was apparently the “first local commercial radio station” was all part of his grand scheme for renewal, with the band's name replacing the number 257 (the station's frequency). Admitting that the reunion only came about because of the encouragement of collaborator Amelia Fletcher - aka Queen of Indietracks 2010 - Williams told me about his reasoning for the band playing again. “I recently saw the Anvil film and also The Wrester with Mickey Rourke, and thought I should do it before I got to the stage of either Anvil or the Wrestler.” Just as in the late 80s when Williams riled against the elite indie clique to the delight of John Peel and NME's James Brown, so too in 2010 he sees the Pooh Sticks as outsiders, and hinted that he is still alienated by many other indiepop acts. “I only ever really liked a few of the early bands, such as The Vaselines. Twee has become even more one-dimensional. At least in the 80s you had the C86 bands like The Wolfhounds.” Williams still gloats about pissing off the archetypal indie crowd, too: “Though there is a perfect template for a Pooh Sticks song, being less than two minutes long, later on we did fifteen minute songs with ten minute solos just to annoy people”. As a result of this, he recalled how “crowds got considerably less twee as we went on”; not overly surprising, really, nor disappointing for Williams himself. Williams went on to reminisce about recording with the Sea Urchins, and receiving bizarre telephone messages from Felt's enigmatic frontman Lawrence (his name really did crop up a fair bit over the weekend!). Hours before his band were due to step on stage for the first time since 1993 (their last session came two years later in 1995), I felt it was fitting to enquire into the original formation of the band. Williams told me he chose the name 'Pooh Sticks' because he thought “it was the twee-est possible name for a band, and we wanted to out-twee everyone else”. Onto the gig itself, and it was a triumphant return. Shocking all by giving “On Tape” its first live outing ever since its release on “Orgasm” in 1988, the show was not merely a penchant to 80s indie nostalgia, with material being drawn more heavily from their major label, US influenced later albums (1991's “The Great White Wonder” and 1993's “Million Seller”) as opposed to their classic and very British debut. Reunion instigator Amelia Fletcher providing backing to Williams, whose voice has not changed one bit from the records he made two decades ago. Complete with placards adorned with quotes (“Indiepop Ain't Noise Pollution”, “Cool In A Crisis”, “Don't Bore Us Get To The Chorus”), the gig was a riotous celebration and ranks as my personal highlight of the weekend.
^ Yokoko with their human setlist (sadly, the setlist was on his chest).
Other notable acts on the final day of the festival included the noisy “buzzsaw pop” of The Blanche Hudson Weekend on the Indoor Stage, and the charming boy-girl vocal harmonies of excitable pair Slow Club on the Outdoor Stage. Sunday's Yokoko, yes that wasp-ist bunch, also played on Sunday and I met up with them shortly after their set on the train. “It was a responsive, good looking crowd” I was informed by the band, with “lots of clapping”. Complete with “a tiny drum kit, a shaker egg, batteries and love beads” the band said the very basic set “went well”. Bassist Jordan and stylishly clad vocalist Sev - the band's designated spokespeople - revelled in the rarity of “a kind of luxury festival with helpful stewards, which you'd never get in the big festivals”. Final act of the weekend and by far the biggest of the new bands at the festival, Pains Of Being Pure At Heart played a loud set that was almost anthemic in style. While dominated by their sole, eponymous record, the New York four-piece nevertheless did play new and unreleased material for the attentive crowd. Though the feedback drenched blasts “Come Saturday” and “This Love is Fucking Right” were brilliant live with added ferocity and heartfelt emotion even inspiring minor sing-alongs, the band struggled to ignite the crowd in the same way that the previous night's more seasoned headliners managed to do. Seemingly in awe of the very communal spirit of the festival and the respondent crowd, lead singer Kip Berman was refreshingly humble and gushing in his praises for all concerned in making Indietracks happen, and though they probably didn't have quite enough truly great songs to fully justify a headline slot at this moment in time, their positivism and the cheerfulness instilled in their sound was nevertheless a great way to close the musical proceedings (bar the late night discos).
Indietracks 2010 proved to be the most successful Indietracks festival to date, and by successfully drawing together the older generation of indie bands with more recently established acts and truly up and coming groups, it has reaffirmed its status as one of, if not the best of the UK's smaller festivals. With workers, bands and indiepop revellers (including myself) sharing so much in common and having so much fun, it was a weekend strongly superglued together by a bunch of people with a real passion for a genre of music that is much marginalised at the larger festivals. A top festival and a top weekend - kudos to Stuart Mackay and team, once more. I can't wait to see who headlines the next one…
…final thoughts from the bands:
- “It's intimate and cosy… just how I like it.” - A suggestive Tracy Tracy on Indietracks while headlining on the Saturday.
- “Indietracks was the most fun I've ever had at a festival. Somehow the atmosphere encourages people to be friendly and attitude-free, and so we met lots of people, both in bands and out of bands. Standard Fare were a highlight for me personally.” - Ben, Onward Chariots
- “I don't think they have a playground at Ozzfest!” - Onward Chariots on the virtues of the chilled-out festival's family facilities.
- “Everyone is interconnected.” - Onward Chariots, again, on the Indietracks community.
- “It was strange playing on a moving train… surreal!” - Sev from Yokoko, reacting to the stripped down train gig.
- “I had to crouch on the train while it moved!” - Jordan from Yokoko, on the dilemmas for a bassist playing on a moving train.
- “Good beer and the best curry stall ever.” - Kathryn from Secret Shine on the real attraction of Indietracks.
- “It doesn't work when we're on with metal bands.” - Paisley, from the explicitly twee duo Paisley & Charlie, on the benefits of playing at a specialist indiepop festival where cock rock is bypassed.
- “I must say the festival is my favourite I've ever played, I liked the mood and that it wasn't full of drunk people!” - Sebastián Litmanovich (Cineplexx) clearly didn't meet me and my mob over the weekend.
- “I loved the trains, and the possibility of getting around and relaxing watching the landscape. The organisation and the festival team was great and ultra friendly, thank God there was good veggie food too! A wonderful weekend.” - A complimentary Sebastián Litmanovich.
- “One thing that struck us is the variety of music on offer at Indietracks. The line-up managed to incorporate both the subversively twee and the more dreamy melancholic elements of indiepop. There were also bands who wouldn't even call themselves indiepop.” - Andrew, The Felt Tips.