Saturday, 28 April 2012

Indietracks is Five!

Photo: CJ Wood

Hang about, you might say; shouldn’t Indietracks’ birthday fall in July? And you’d be right, but did you know that Indietracks started life as a one-day event, which took place on 28 April 2007 – five years ago today? With that in mind we’ve decided to declare Monday a PUBLIC HOLIDAY! Hmm, okay, we might have two birthdays but we’re not The Queen. But we can still celebrate, right? With cake? Yeah!

Before we get all watery-eyed with nostalgia, let’s delve a little into the history of Indietracks. How did it come about? How did someone decide that putting some indiepop bands on a heritage train platform in the middle of nowhere in potentially the rainiest month of the year was a good idea? 

Your writer here recalls the night Stuart Mackay was down in London for the weekend (at How Does It Feel to be Loved) and, after a few sherries, uttered the fateful few words that started the ball rolling. Stuart, who then worked and lived at the Midland Railway restoring trains, had clearly been pondering the idea for ages, but finally dared himself to say out loud - I think the railway might be a good place to put on some indiepop bands…He didn’t need much encouragement from me. It seemed like only days later that bands were booked, flyers printed, a web page set up, and a shyly written post left on the long-gone Bowlie forum.

Stuart writes: I occasionally worked on the bar on the train, and it was during the Halloween disco that my mind started toying with the idea of holding my own indiepop night. The train seemed ideal as the local towns of Sheffield and Nottingham already had well-established nights. I was fortunate to have befriended some of the Pocketbooks gang by then, and it was with their encouragement and insight into the inner workings of the indiepop world that plans evolved. And of course as soon as they heard that bands sometimes played in the station, they wanted to be part of the night. I thought that no one would come to a little railway in the middle of nowhere, from where it was hard to go home from. All 100 tickets were sold in three weeks. And that was in January - three months before the show!

I caught up with Claire Hill from Slow Down Tallahassee, one of the bands who played that day. She recalls: Us lot were so thrilled to be asked to play the very first Indietracks gig.  I still have the email from our friend imploring us to send in a demo so we can play ‘indiepop on a steam train’!!  I remember being slightly worried about falling about the carriage trying to play guitar, and must say I was pretty relieved to see the stage set up on the platform.  My residing memory of the gig was playing ‘Kiss Me Again’ with my dad stood on the front row (anyone familiar with this song will understand why it was slightly awkward to say the least) and drinking booze in the cosy train carriage watching the other bands, dressed in our finest 50s clobber and feeling like we were in a movie.  I can definitely say that out of all of the SDT gigs, that this was one of my favourites... ah them were the days.

Sam Metcalf, then of Tasty Fanzine, was the first person to ever play a record at Indietracks. I asked him what it was like to DJ on a moving steam train: It was roasting hot on that train - I remember that much. And when the train set off, there was hardly anyone in the carriage. Also, the power kept dropping every 15 seconds or so for a nanosecond, which I seemed to remember getting ridiculously tetchy about. Heaven knows why. Then Tonieee, then in The Parallelograms, came in with some Sheffield types and started dancing, and then loads more people came through, and after about ten minutes the carriage was a mass of sweaty bodies. Pleasing. I think I played 'Lloyd, Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken' by Camera Obscura twice.

Most of the current organisers of the festival were involved in some way on that day, either playing in a band, DJing, or dancing. I seem to recall two of those (nowt to do with me, honest) discovering Santa’s Grotto on a train carriage, which at the time was like opening the door into Narnia, and running amok waving tinsel in the air only to be told off by one of the railway staff, Andrea, who five years later is considered fondly as one of Team Indietracks, and without whom the whole damn thing would surely fall apart (and we still daren’t touch the tinsel).

Natalie, who now takes care of Indietracks press, says: I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the first Indietracks event. I knew it was going to be in the grounds of a steam railway, which was exciting in itself, but nothing could have prepared for me the thrilling feeling of that night. 

I remember watching Pocketbooks, shrouded in the steam from the train (it may have been fog, but I prefer to pretend it was steam!) and feeling like this little place in Derbyshire was somewhere we all suddenly belonged.  Later, someone played "They Don't Know" by Kirsty MacColl at the disco, and it struck me that it was the perfect sentiment for the whole evening. Just a hundred of us, in the middle of Derbyshire, dancing the night away to some of the best records ever made. No one may have known or heard about us, but I think we all knew that night was the start of something really special.

Ian and Marianthi, of London’s Spiral Scratch, also played records on the train that day and have since become organisers. Marianthi says: Five years seems like an awfully long time ago. But I remember the moment I found out about Indietracks and I remember dj-ing in a train carriage and dancing on a railway platform a few months later. I am pretty sure nothing happened between those two things and I am struggling to remember what came before the first one.

The greatness of Indietracks came with the idea itself. The crazy joy came with the realisation that it was actually real and not a figment of our collective overactive imagination. One hundred popkids, three bands, a steam train, the middle of Derbyshire. And we (Spiral Scratch) got to play some records which made people dance and bang their heads against the ceiling of the disco carriage and open the door to the platform and dance there too. We couldn't believe it. We still can't. I remember playing 'Get Out Of My Dream' by The Clouds and thinking that maybe, maybe this is the "somewhere else" in the song. I'd never felt so rooted in the present as I did that night. I'd never wanted to be there and for it to be then as much ever before. I'd never known such blissful disbelief on the faces of one hundred people before - although I've known it every summer since.

Sandy Gill was there that day, and she writes: I think I first heard about Indietracks on the Bowlie forum. That was probably where, because I think that's where I heard about most things at the time. It seemed like everyone I knew was going and I decided to go as well and see what a day of indiepop bands, steam trains and discos would actually be like. it turned out it was pretty amazing! 

We weren't really sure what we were doing, just that we'd be going to Nottingham that there were some minibuses booked and that those would get us to the right place. And they did! We arrived at the station and you could definitely feel the excitement all around. I'm not really sure which of the three things I was more excited about - trains, discos or bands. It was probably the combination of all 3. 

The bands were great and we got to ride the steam train between each set. It really did feel pretty magical. I have lots of highlights but one of them (maybe even a LIFE HIGHLIGHT) was getting to make the train make the choo choo noise! I can't actually express the insane levels of joy I experienced in that moment. It's way harder than it seems and it was REALLY loud and I just started giggling. It was a pretty amazing moment. Thankfully my friend, knowing about my camera shyness, secretly filmed the whole thing and my giddiness is very apparent. 

Another highlight was when we started dancing (to keep warm at first) and then before we knew it, EVERYONE around us was dancing and smiling and the station became a massive dance-a-thon! Platform dancing, dancing on the train, dancing anywhere we could, really! And singing. And hugging. It was pretty surreal...but the whole thing just *worked* and everybody looked so happy. 

It's one of those days that will always be perfect in my memory. Even my hair was the most perfect it's ever been that day. I'm so glad we still have Indietracks 5 years later. It's hard to imagine life without it now <3

Awww! And we’re glad that all of these lovely people still come to Indietracks every year.

Y’know, I had prepared my own paragraph of memories and favourite bits to write here, but everyone I asked was so keen to contribute to this blog post that they have covered everything I would have. All that’s left to say is that Indietracks wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these people, and the hundreds more of you that come to the festival and make it so great each year. You’re all part of Indietracks, and so it’s not just for us to celebrate - it's Happy Birthday to all of you too!


  1. This has got me slightly dewy-eyed. Happy birthday Team Indietracks! xx