In deepest Derbyshire each summer thousands of indiepop devotees bask in the splendour of good music…and steam trains. Stephen Tudor goes jangly.
Summer festivals are increasingly becoming commercialised behemoths that have lost the very spirit that founded them. Now it’s all a sea of flags, a horde of teenage Sebastians and Jemimas waving their wristbands to Mumford and Son ahead of their gap year to save elephants, and soulful, eyes-closed performances sponsored by Vodaphone. From events of integrity they are fast resembling E4 in a field.
But take heart good people because deep in the Derbyshire countryside there is an annual rejoicing at the altar of lovely known as IndieTracks, a small, perfectly formed festival that celebrates the twin wonders of indiepop and steam trains. Yes you read that last bit right.
Here, snug in the Amber Valley of the Peak District, the pure ethos of the festival shines on luminous with ace bands playing in slow moving locomotives through picturesque countryside. While the main outdoor stage jangles to the joyous fuzzpop of Mammoth Penguins and co workshops teach you how to make indie bunting or animals from plastic bottles. In the renovated tin church a congregation of corduroy clap enthusiastically along to perfectly sculpted pop gems from artists you’ll see standing next to you in the bar half an hour hence.
Everyone smiles and strikes up conversations with like-minded strangers, a tribe of C-86 devotees bearing t-shirts of record labels that are probably in reality a back bedroom somewhere in Scandinavia. While other events across the nation’s summer all crackle with an underbelly of menace simply from having a mass of folk assembled in one place all royally off their tits here you sense the only threat of malice would be if someone mentioned the Tories latest arts cuts. Such is the bucolic charm of this strange and wonderful haven basked in sunshine it somehow resembles Telly-tubby land as imagined by Belle and Sebastian. I’ve died and gone to twee heaven.
Now in its ninth year Indietracks was the brainchild of train restorer Stuart Mackay who eccentrically envisioned the marrying of trains and vinyl. It has since – pun alert – produced a great track record with all profits from the event going to the upkeep of the Midland Railway Centre in Ripley and the seven main organisers and countless others work tirelessly August through to July to ensure that each year is as splendorous as the last.
And this year is a belter with personal highlights being a ripping set from Desperate Journalist, the bombastic DayGlo-fest of The Go! Team that nearly brought the train shed down, and the haunting voices of Beth and Betsy from the Luxembourg Signal that stilled every organ in my body. Meanwhile if someone can tell me why The Wave Pictures don’t deserve to be as omnipresent as Vampire Weekend I’d very much appreciate it.
But of course, this being Indietracks, the special memories don’t arise from the conventional. To reach the site attendees travel a short journey by steam train to Swanwick junction and upon this gloriously clattering beast musicians perform throughout the day. It is emotion that borders on the spiritual to huddle together in a carriage and witness Laura K whilst outside the window a horsey trots on by.
Earlier Francesca’s Word Salad had similarly delighted the chugging throng with songs dripping with comedic whimsy. I asked a former train favourite Pete Green – this year attending as a punter – how important it was that festivals such as this continued to thrive. “It’s vitally important because it’s a statement that music is about far more than the music industry. What we do here at Indietracks is ultimately what the music industry should stand for – it’s about people doing this for love. It’s about all the volunteers who give up huge tracts of their lives for nothing but their love of pop music and if we lose that there’s not going to be much left, just Lana Del Ray.”
This civilised jamboree of jangly pop must be quite a culture shock to anyone losing their Indiepops virginity from overseas and by the old-world signal box I overheard a distinctly New York drawl proclaim, “This is like the least pretentious event I’ve ever been to in my life. Everyone is so relaxed and friendly.”
Which pretty much sums up the charm and attraction that pervades the entire event. It’s a community deeply rooted in a DIY spirit, decency and an appreciation of Camera Obscura b-sides and the only frustration is that such a gathering occurs but for three short days. Because if we amassed beyond the lush hills of Derbyshire, forged a collective and took on parliament – a fey uprising full of polite apology no doubt – by Christ the world would be a much better, much nicer place to inhabit.
Indietracks takes place at the Midland Railway Centre, a Trust-run heritage railway. You can visit at other times of the year or donate to support their work. Find out more on their website.
All words by Stephen Tudor.