Mixtape anniversary

June 5th is the anniversary of the fabled mixtape that lead me to indiepop. I wrote about it last year, and you can read about it by clicking on last year’s June archive if you’re so inclined.

As I’m of a certain age, I’m lucky enough to have been given mixtapes in three formats: cassette, CD and digital.  Today I’m turning back the clock and talking cassette.

Chris worked in a pottery factory (locally known as pot banks) as a data entry clerk. I was working there too – a stop gap job to save up some money to go to university. Chris was 26, which seemed ridiculously old and sophisticated to my 19 year old self. He liked The Fast Show, Jo Guest and Leek Town, though not necessarily in that order. Occasionally, our eyes locked as we bashed in orders for “12 dinner plates, 36 saucers” for exotic locales like the Best Western in Margate on our green screen computers. One day someone in the office discovered that you could send private messages on the data input system and all hell broke loose. This was 1996 – no-one I knew even had dial up, let alone a mobile phone and social media meant sharing your copy of More! magazine with a friend – you made your own amusement in those days, etc etc. Another girl in the office – I think her name was Nikki – streetwise, smart, a bit intimidating but in a nice way – infiltrated Chris’s message screen one Friday lunchtime: CHRIS TOLD ME HE LIKES YOUR TITS. I blushed scarlet, Chris cleared his throat and so began a slightly awkward flirtationship/fling, which lasted on and off for about 18 months, right up until a couple a weeks before I met the man I eventually married.

Chris had a broken heart and an extensive record collection. I find the two often go hand in hand. He seemed impressed by my breadth of pop knowledge (See Nikki? It was my personality that he liked really!) and I’d happily run my weekly purchases from Replay Records past him, hoping they would meet with his approval. 1996 was a good year for my CD collection. The aforementioned Replay Records was handily situated midway between where the first bus dropped me off and where I caught my second bus home. Usually I’d reserve the treat for a Friday pay day but other guilty midweek purchases were often secured and I was running out of storage space at home. I was living with Mum and Dad on the edge of the city. Going to gigs was probably limited to a yearly event. Music was something purely enjoyed on my handsome Marantz CD player. By the end of August 1996 even my mum knew the words to every track on Ash’s 1977.

All too quickly it was time for my leaving do. There was some surreptitious snogging and reckless fumbling outside the impressive burnt out remains of Hill Top Methodist Sunday School – a dramatic facade that Brett Anderson would almost certainly have referenced in song had he grown up in Stoke. Let’s not think about a Northern Brett Anderson. Parts of me might explode. There were promises to stay in touch and to visit me in deepest, darkest Wales. There was a definite sense of unfinished business; the kind of unfinished business that might terrify and intrigue a 19 year old church-going lass in equal measure.

The promised visit failed to materialise. There were a few glorious stolen hours one Saturday afternoon once the football season was over and the occasional snog on nights out but it never really went anywhere. Chris’s carried his broken heart around like some very rich women carry small chihuahuas in their handbags. I think I have that handbag. I was understandably wary of playing second fiddle and he kept telling me he was too old for me anyway and eventually I believed him.

Although Chris never arrived, a parcel from him managed to make the journey over the border. A cassette tape along with a handwritten guide to every track he’d painstakingly selected. I wish I could find the blasted thing now. The four tracks I do remember (and this is nearly 20 years ago, so I reckon to remember four tracks is pretty good going) were Dee C. Lee’s See the Day (later covered by Girls Aloud), Shannon’s Let the Music Play (an early 80s dance hit which wouldn’t sound out of place at Pop-o-Matic) a late 80s dance re-working of La Serenissima (he’d probably danced to it in a field during the Second Summer of Love) and Erasure’s Piano Song. The last track, clearly a reference to Chris’s ever present heartbreak, has bittersweet associations for me now. When I was married we had a shared iTunes account (NO NO NO! A shared account?  FUCKING WHY? This was a man who thought the Kaiser Chiefs were edgy. I was told separate accounts “weren’t possible” and sadly, I believed this sort of crap for years). So, many years later, not only did I have to get my head round my husband being in love with another woman (it happens, people live) but he then had the temerity of openly dealing with the heartache of his spurned advances by misappropriating my fucking music collection. I went right off Erasure for years…

Anyway, I remember the arrival of this mixtape as a source of absolute thrilling joy. This exotic, proper grown up man – 26, so old! – had gone out of his way one rainy afternoon to select a bunch of songs, unwrap a fresh cassette and painstakingly edit everything to perfection, fingers resting, ever-vigilant, on the pause button. His handwritten sleeve notes, read again and again, gave me goosebumps. I reckon they would again today, if only I knew exactly which box of correspondence they were in…

The arrival of the mixtape that lead me to indiepop some fourteen years later was no less thrilling, if bittersweet, arriving on my last official wedding anniversary in 2011, a couple of months before my divorce was finalised. Tracks painstakingly collected and arranged online one rainy afternoon by a 26 year old – 26, so young! – it was my formal, reintroduction into music again. It was the mixtape that lead me to indiepop, Sheffield, playing guitar and a million wonderful times.

“My broken house behind me and good times ahead”

“I may not seem quite right, but I’m not fucked, not quite.”

“And I miss you, but luckily there’s music, luckily there’s music to get me through”

“I was a young man starving and drinking and trying to become a writer…and I remember that apartment, the smell of mice and dust…all the kisses I lost to your neck”

“I know you have a heavy heart, I can feel it when we kiss”

“And long for all of them to fall in love with you…But they never do”

“I wasn’t designed to move so fast…I wasn’t designed to have so much past…Another sorry message that I need to send. And another situation that I have to end.”

“But she could kiss. Oh yes.”

Kiss a girl and maybe she’ll replay it in her mind from time to time, for a couple of years, at least. Well, if you’re any good, she might. Make her a mixtape and she’ll remember you nearly twenty years later.

LIFE IS SHORT. MAKE HER A MIXTAPE.

Desperate Journalist. The Rocking Chair, Sheffield. 27 May 2015

Desperate Journalist

How was it? he texted.

It being the gig.

I searched for a word. It had to be the right word though because when you write, even a simple text, to another writer, it needs to be the right word.

Dizzying.

Sparkly.

Heartstopping.

Electric.

Glitterybassguitar.

Mesmerising.

OhdeargodIreallycan’taffordaRickenbacker.

Awestruck.

Incapacitatingandsimultaneousfeelingsoflongingandintenseoverwhelmingjoy.

Brilliant.

In the end I settled on Transplendent.

Desperate Journalist. Get your coat. You had me at Control.

 

My Indiepop Year 2014

Should old indiepop gigs be forgot and ne’er brought to mind? Certainly not! He’s a rundown of my indiepop year for your delectation/delight/hangover.

January

The year got off to a GRATE start with a double bill of pop and pun perfection from MJ Hibbett and Kriss Foster and Friend. Just the thing to shake off the January blues.

February

I think that everyone might have been skint this month as there appears to have been zero giggage. Well, if the lack of photos on my phone is to be believed, anyway. I make up for it next month, though, I promise. And there’s photos and everything…

March

I saw three gigs in one week this month. This might well be normal for you but I had a decade in gig wilderness so for me it is something close to miraculous. I saw the brilliant Tuts (eternally awesome)  and then a couple of days later went to an acoustic evening at The Three Tuns and saw, amongst others, Pete Green and David Leach. Did you know that David Leach, as well as being an ace knitter and writer and performer of lovely tunes with cheeky lyrics, is also THE EASIEST PERSON IN INDIEPOP TO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH OF? He’s like one of those squirrels in Hyde Park that have learned how to pose for the camera. I give you exhibit A:

David Leach at The Three Tuns

David Leach. Uke Player, Knitter, Indiepop Squirrel.

And then two nights after that I went to see Suede. As you all know whatever you want/need to know about Suede already, I won’t go on about them too much here. Just to say that if there was a showreel of my life’s best moments, this gig would take up a huge proportion of it.

Suede

Suede at the Royal Albert Hall. Magnificent beyond words.

April

April was filled with Wales Goes Pop with the first (and likely last) time I got to wear an Access All Areas wristband. Sadly, even with a great line up, I found the main room a bit of an anxiety nightmare. Afraid I’m never going to be chilled out about watching pre-school children crawl under a stage packed with heavy and potentially dangerous equipment. I’m absolutely sure that everything was perfectly safe and I know this is my problem – they aren’t my kids and I should just ignore it and deal with it – but I can’t and it will detract from my ability to watch artists perform. Even artists as spellbinding as Haiku Salut. This is not a rant about kids at gigs  – I have too many friends who are parents to go down that route – but more a generalised fear of something very, very horrible happening one day. When I went to the panto a couple of years ago, I watched what was presumably a grandparent sit a toddler on the edge of the balcony, so that their legs were dangling over the edge . You know, the bit that stops you falling on the people in the stalls below. My mother had a word. So, it might be a genetic thing…

The cafe room was a delight, however, with Francesca’s Word Salad and Steven James Adams being particular highlights. Pop-o-matic provided all the disco you could ever need.

Francesca's Word Salad.

Francesca’s Word Salad. Super talented.

May

May was a tricky month but I was grateful that soon any fears that I would only be able to watch out-of-town Indiepop gigs were allayed. Even if my new indiepop self hadn’t quite mastered being a girlfriend (for that I am still sorry) at least I’d managed a relationship with someone who wasn’t a prick. That’s the kind of progress that spending all of your divorce settlement on psychoanalytic psychotherapy and discovering indiepop boys can bring.

I went to a fair bit of the acoustic alldayer at The Closed Shop and enjoyed The 10p Mixes and Pete Green, as ever, but also got to see Tom from Lardpony for the first time. Because I’m still so new to indiepop Lardpony were one of those bands that I had (just) missed. I’d enjoyed their songs so much though in that first year of finding indiepop, so it was quite wonderful to hear Tom and to get to thank him afterwards for his lovely music and how much it meant to me.

Tom from Lardpony.

Tom from Lardpony. Impressive beard. Impressive tunes.

This was also the gig where I was looking at everyone’s guitars and thinking Could I? Should I?

And then the following week, I left work early on a Friday, went to the guitar shop and bought Arthur. I think you’ll agree that he is rather beautiful

Arthur the guitar.

Arthur. The most beautiful guitar in the World that belongs to me.

June

Going Up The Country is pretty much the best Indiepop weekender this side of Indietracks. And that’s not just because it is just a couple of miles away from where I grew up and my Dad can collect me at the end of the night and I get to go home and have toast made by my Mum. It is also brilliant because Linda and Kev put their hearts and souls into it. If you’re never been to Congleton (and let’s face it, it’s probably not on you 50 places to visit before you turn 50 list) this is the ideal excuse. It is joyful and lovely. In 2014 it had brilliant acts like The Mini Skips and The Sunbathers and The Sweet Nothings. It was also the first place that I heard Milky Wimpshake live and got a bit giddy. It’s not every day you get to sing “I am a sexual deviant” in a pub car park in Cheshire. Well, not in my world, it isn’t.

The Mini Skips.

The Mini Skips. Phone camera set to sports mode to capture Vinnie’s dancing.

This was also the month that I started guitar lessons with @LittleShefScott. Selected purely on the basis that he was located on a major bus route, I was really lucky to find a teacher that was patient as well as talented. If you’re in need of a guitar teacher/composer/performer for your corporate event or one of those wedding things that find themselves doing, then I can heartily recommend Scott. He will even play Fleetwood Mac if you ask very nicely.

July

I had an odd Indietracks. Enjoyable but odd due to far too much ruminating. The Sheffield Indiepop Scene was having its Fleetwood Mac moment (minus the industrial piles of cocaine), relationships fragmenting, loyalties torn and I wasn’t sure where I fitted in any more. I spent Friday night crying on the platform bench. Stupid really. There was a million people I could have hung out with but I spent the evening with the black dog, who is the worst company and literally frowns at glitter.

Saturday was better. My oldest blokey friend and nearest person I have to sibling, Andy, turned up for the day (I’d sold it as a beer festival with bands…not a million miles from the truth, is it?) and we had fun times with lashings of Gopal’s curry. It was my birthday and the Indietracks birthday fairies magicked up an unscheduled acoustic performance by The Sweet Nothings that just about had my heart fit to burst. And then (after a bit of indiepop singalong) my brain decided to burst instead, as Evil Dr Migraine visited, and me and Andy got the early train back to the Premier Inn and Andy spent the next 45 minutes washing his feet due to ill-advised sandal wearing.

Andy and Dan

Andy and Dan. (Beer) brothers from another mother.

So many highlights on the Sunday…seeing Vinnie sing on a big stage, watching the lovely Swapsies, finally tracking down a copy of Platform Zero, but I think my biggest highlight was watching Kriss Foster from The Thyme Machine looking completely overwhelmed as he started to run out of merch. I hope he’s started to realise how much people love – not like, LOVE – The Thyme Machine…

August

August had some lovely moments.

One of them was seeing Anna Rest Easy, a solo female keyboardist. Anna’s really influenced by Chopin, and I love Chopin, so there was a lot to love about Anna’s music. At 37 this shouldn’t be the second time in my whole life that I’ve seen a woman play a keyboard live as a soloist. But it was. If you’re a chap who plays guitar you see people who look like you all the time. Not so if you’re a lass who started playing the piano in 1981, so it seems.

Anna Rest Easy

Anna Rest Easy. So much Chopin!

Alexander Christopher Hale’s cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie in the upstairs room of The Rutland Arms was three minutes of exuberant awesomeness, which threatened to outdo the original. Amazingly, this wasn’t even the highlight of the gig, which arrived in the form of an unscheduled performance from Jackie Wilson, all the more impressive from him having been dead since 1984. You had to be there.

Alexander Christopher Hale

Shakira! Shakira! Or the Alexander and the Christopher Hale Band.

On the Bank Holiday Sunday I saw The Middle Ones. I can’t remember anything about this gig other than being completely and utterly moved by what I’d heard. I couldn’t take a photo because I was “in the moment” and this upsets me now as I can’t quite recall the experience only the feeling. But maybe that’s the best bit.

September

September saw the welcome return of Come Out 2Nite, the best 90s disco in any town. I also got to see Horowitz (FROM STOKE) for the first time and they were deliciously noisy. And the lovely Hobbes Fanclub and The Sweet Nothings who I love with every glittery fibre of my indiepop being.

Pete and Tonieee

Pete and Tonieee at Come Out 2nite. I was thinking of running a caption competition for this. Any suggestions?

I also ditched the plectrum this month and Arthur and I are getting on so much better with fingerpicking.

October

They told me I’d struggle with the Nottingham Pop All Dayer because it would be too hot and I would most likely get ill. They (also known as my brain) were spectacularly wrong. It was bloody ace. And, okay, so I had to pace myself by missing the first few acts to have a big lunch/buy some poetry from a conveniently situated second hand bookshop/have a lie down. But everything that I did see was BRILLIANT. You can see what I thought of it HERE.

I love this photo I took on the night. It’s just cymbals in an M+S bag but it just made me smile.

Cymbals. M+S bag.

Cymbals. M+S bag.

In October I also got to “Ready Steady Girls” Linda’s birthday party (with ace Djing by Kev) and Dan Ransome’s party, where I got to introduce my guitar teacher and his friend to The Thyme Machine, Horowitz and MJ Hibbett and for which I have certainly earned my place in Indiepop heaven. Getting invited to parties is ace (Jeremy’s party the following month was lovely, too) and I feel so bloody lucky to have my indiepop friends.

November

More fun times with Kriss Foster and Friend, along with Spook School fringe show giggles.

Kriss Foster and Friend.

Kriss Foster and Friend. Always brilliant.

The last indiepop gig I went to in 2014 was The Sweet Nothings, which seems an apt finale to the year. We all have a band that we “get” and that somehow seems to “get” us back and for me that is The Sweet Nothings. We have all waited far too long for their first album! Maybe 2015 will be the year for it. I do hope so.

The Sweet Nothings. Not at The Red House!

The Sweet Nothings. Danielle in celestial light.

December

I didn’t get to any indiepop gigs in December. Boo. Rubbish. Etc. But I did host Xmas Indiepop Singalong at my (well, my Landlord’s) house, which was magical and delightful in all sorts of ways. I even played my guitar and Tonieee carried THE BIG ORGAN downstairs, so there was some plastic ivory tinkling too.  Also sleigh bells and a cover of Low’s Just Like Christmas. Here’s Danielle from The Sweet Nothings at the aforementioned bash. Apologies for the blurry photo, it was a blurry sort of a night.

Danielle at the Xmas Popsingalong

Danielle at the Xmas Popsingalong.

I could have gone to a party last night but for a variety of reasons (not least the recent South Yorkshire Snowmaggedon) I stayed at home typing this. I’ve written a lot about the past on this blog (like here) and even though New Year’s Eve is just another day, really, I suppose it can put you in a reflective mood, if you’re so inclined, particularly if you’re one of life’s natural ruminators. So forgive me…

The last time I was alone on New Year’s Eve was in 2010. Living “separately” in what was just-about still my marital home, the long drawn-out decision to part finally made some months before, solicitors letters now pending. In separate rooms since forever but still aware of his presence in the room next door, there was definitely some yelling, something along the lines of “Just go to the pub, will you?” and more than likely an overdramatically slammed door. I tucked myself up in a bed that was far too big for me now, bringing in the year by watching Casino Royale on the laptop that I’m typing on now. You can always depend on Bond.

This New Year’s Eve is a much more joyous one and I’m much more happier Kelly that I have been, probably at any point of my life. Period. Part of this is time (all those cliches are cliches for a reason), part of this is Sheffield (don’t ever change you beautiful, beautiful city all grimy and Northern and witty and talented and pretty) but a lot of it is to do with Indiepop. And picking up a guitar. And having something to write a blog about. I think I’ve found where I need to be.

So if we’ve chatted at a gig, exchanged nods across a crowded bar, if I’ve listened to your music, booked train tickets and a hotel room to watch you play, danced at your disco, if you’ve listened to me swear as I try to master a strumming pattern, if I’ve bought your jewellery at a gig, read your blog, laughed at your tweets, snogged your face off, bought you a pint, discovered a band based on your recommendation, THANK YOU for making last year sparkly and good. I’m not a big fan of national anthems, but if Indiepop was a country, I reckon our anthem would be this.

Happy New Year! xx

On Nottingham and Indiepop and Belonging

At the start of this month I went to the Nottingham Pop Alldayer, my first visit to one of the mainstays of the indiepop calendar. I love how I’m part of a scene that has regular big events that punctuate the year with pop. No matter how tedious or difficult your everyday existence, you never have to wait very long until the next time you’re standing in a room watching bands that you love with people that you love. Become part of indiepop and you’re always safe in the knowledge that you’re never more than nine weeks away from a fresh opportunity to apply glitter.

Nottingham was great. Must admit I’d had concerns over the venue. Too hot, I’d heard. Poor ventilation, said another. Not phrases that fill someone who experiences regular migraine attacks with any confidence that they’d reach the end of the evening without keeling over, losing speech or experiencing the fleeting paralysis that my tiny brain can achieve all without the aid of strong drink. As it was, my fears were unfounded and I had a great time.

Knowing that I can no longer stand up for twelve hours, I reluctantly opted not to join everyone for pretty much all of the first half of pop fun. And whilst I was sad to miss City Yelps, The Hobbes Fanclub (I’d caught their album launch last month and they were ace), The Fireworks, Night Flowers, Manhattan Love Suicides, and later, When Nalda Became Punk, I knew I’d potentially saved my friends the hassle of having to look after a poorly me later in the evening. With the rest of the Sheffields that I’d arrived with now safely ensconced in the venue, I had some time to explore. The Maze is in an interesting part of Nottingham and a few doors down from the venue was a lovely real ale pub that did superb veggie food. Not far away from the lovely real ale pub was a gorgeous second hand bookshop (complete with authentic 1930s till), so mashed potato, John Donne and a disorganised hotel check in provided the entertainment until I arrived late afternoon to catch the majority of  the noisy tuneful aceness supplied by Slum of Legs.

Another trip for delicious veggie food later, I was back to watch The Spook School. Bloody hell, I love The Spook School. Niall’s between song banter is a delight (I wonder if he’s seen Peter Cook’s Revolver…) and for other bands it might upstage the music but this is The Spook School and their quality catchy tunes refuse to be in anything other than the limelight. They can do light and shade with the best of them, too. The moment of hush in the audience when Nye sang a song so clearly rooted in personal experience was both breathtaking and humbling. I hope that my own writing and creative endeavours can match that level of emotional honesty. As a band, their songs don’t half stay with you and five days later you find yourself singing I am bigger than a hexadecimal to the bemusement of a South Yorkshire pensioner, as you select a “reduced for quick sale” loaf in Asda.

Oh, Milky Wimpshake! It occurred to me during their set that if I stood any closer to Pete Dale I’d either a) be on stage with him or b) be issued with a restraining order. The mighty Wimpshake have been my post Indietracks soundtrack having purchased Popshaped from the merch tent (remember I’m really new to Indiepop so I have lots to catch up on). Bus journeys to work have been vastly improved by listening to Hackney and Cheque Card over the past few months. This was only my second live Wimpshake experience. I want more. If The Sweet Nothings didn’t exist (let’s not imagine this) I’m fairly certain Milky Wimpshake would be my favourites. Or would that be The Mini Skips? Or perhaps Lardpony? Or The Swapsies. Oh, you’re all my favourites. Especially if you’re the Nothings.

The School gave us that bit of Indiepop that is all 60s harmonies and melodies and loveliness and glock. Music that if you close your eyes transports you back in time into a world of Dansettes, pretty frocks, beautifully applied eyeliner, boys with ace haircuts and permanent sunshine. Or Indietracks, as we like to call it.

During The School, the headline acts started to arrive. You can tell they are the headline acts because the haircuts become more expensive.  I faintly recall that back in mists of time I may have woken up in Spearmint T-Shirt that was not my own. Scandalous! They played some new stuff and this was when their set came alive. I like watching how bands interact when they’re playing newer material. Observing the freshness and urgency of delivery can be just as fun as hearing an old favourite.

Topping the bill were The Lovely Eggs. During their set I committed the ultimate act of indiepop treason. Yes. I sat down during The Lovely Eggs. If there ever was a band you’re supposed to enjoy standing up it is The Lovely Eggs. Look, I was still doing the sausage roll thumb hand aloft, I was just giving my feet a rest at the same time.

The bands were ace, so was the jewellery stall and the record stall. But even acer than the bands was catching up with everyone. You all feel like family now. Even those of you whose names I don’t know yet feel like the distant cousins whose presence at a wedding feels rather comforting. If this awkward only child has ever belonged anywhere it is here: Indiepop.

Thanks to all the Nottingham pop organisers, you’re all heroes in my book (The Bumper Lost in Indiepop Annual 2015).

Happy New (Indiepop) Year!

I’ve had the same Christmas stocking since I was about 3 years old. No fluffy handcrafted from the shedding coats of organically-raised alpacas then shipped to John Lewis stocking for me. I was born in 1977 to a mum and dad who were “lucky to get an orange and a bag of nuts for Christmas” and grew up in a small mining town on the outskirts of Stoke. Therefore my stocking is bright red plastic, with an odd faux-Victorian font and a picture of Santa’s face on it. I love it. Its arrival outside my bedroom door (or at the foot of my bed when I was really little) can still produce childish squeals of delight, albeit these days these squeals of delight are generally interspersed with whimpers and me clutching my forehead having risked a small festive gin and tonic on Christmas Eve.

There are presents within this stocking that I can rely on being there every year. Pens. Writing pads. A Terry’s Chocolate Orange wedged into the toe of the stocking. And, as I got older, a calendar. Always a calendar. These last few years I’ve got a Jack Vettriano one. The Vettriano calendars are great (if you like Vettriano, which I do) because they delve into the er, earthier parts of his repertoire that is difficult to get hold of in framed print form, presumably as most reasonable people wouldn’t contemplate having a painting of an immaculately attired gentleman with his hosiery-obsessed companion Dominating their living room wall. Well, they do say that January is the longest month…

There’ll be some indiepop in a minute, I promise.

Anyway, calendars are great because you can write things in them that you can look forward to.

At this time of the year, if Indiepop is important to you, you can get a bit gloomy. You’ve just about managed to clean the Indietracks dust out from between the cracks in your heels. You’ve poured over photos of owls on flickr. Watched endless videos trying to spot yourself in the crowd. You’ve played almost everything you bought in the merch tent about a zillion times. It’s a bit like filling that time between Christmas and New Year. The trimmings and trappings of festivities are still around you but you’re too exhausted to do anything but sit and watch telly.

But wait! Indietracks may well be “our Christmas” (copyright everyone in indiepop) but that means that we’ve got a whole year of Indiepop ahead to dance our sparkly trainers off to! Rejoice! Send your Dad out of the back door with a piece of coal and make him walk in through the front door of POP!

If you haven’t been to Sheffield then JOIN US as we bring in the new Indiepop year. Sheffield’s a great city, with fab pubs that serve piles of cake from the bar (as well as delicious ales) and we’re dead friendly like. It’ll be like going to Edinburgh for Hogmanay. Or summat.

On Friday 22nd August, MMIS are putting on an ace do in the upstairs of the Rutland Arms in Sheffield. Look at the poster! Adorable! And now the line up…you’ve got David Leach with his magnificent ukulele playing, superb knowing lyrics and cheeky audience asides, Jupiter in Jars who are all multi-instrumental and will instantly transport you away from any lingering thoughts of your working week and Alexander Christopher Hale, who I haven’t seen yet but who I am reliably informed offers “Heart-breaking musical vignettes that dabble in obscurity and obscenity, but always sincerity.” The upstairs room of the Rutland Arms is a magical venue for acoustic indiepop. You should join us here.

On Sunday 24th August the completely fab Ladiyfest are hosting what looks like a total cracker  (I’ll give up with the Christmas imagery in a minute) of an event, with a line up including Colour Me Wednesday, Hallie and the Annies, The Middle Ones and, fresh from Indietracks, Elopes. Not forgetting the zine stall, vegan cupcakes, BBQ and ace invert Dj-ing. The following day, August Bank Holiday Monday, is my second Indiepop Sheffield Friends Anniversary, so it’s bound to get emotional. Or at least beery. Or possibly beery and emotional. Either way there will be cake.

And also…D-I-S-C-O-S

You like 90s Indie, right? Then come and watch the Master of Indie and Pop at work. Daniel Hartley (Pop-o-Matic) offers you Come Out 2Night, a 90s Indie night “Playing loads of 90’s britpop, grunge, college rock, lo-fi, baggy, hip hop, shoegaze, dance and other made up genres.” Trust me, this is the disco of YOUR LIFE. Or should that be This Life? It’s on 13th September, which my calendar tells me is a Saturday so you’ve got all day on Sunday to travel back from whence you came. Dan will even give you five whole days to recover (he’s nice like that) before MMIS offer you The Hobbes Fanclub’s album launch party, with Sheffield’s very own The Sweet Nothings and others in support. I can’t link to this event because it is HOT OFF THE PRESS.

Have the complete and utter misfortune of being based Darn Sarf? Let me offer you my heartiest condolences. But don’t fear! Sheffield has recently exported two of its indiepop finest, The Mini Skips, to Bristol. In their promotery/label guise of My Little Owl they are preparing a plethora of perfect pop to delight you on Saturday 6th September. The venue looks lovely and the line up includes not only The Mini Skips but also The Hi Life Companion and Peru! And many, many more. Eh, maybe the south isn’t so bad after all…

There are tonnes of other things going on as well. So don’t mope. Well, you can mope for a bit if you want. Then stick those dates on your calendar and start crossing them off like you’re Peter Barlow in The Big House. Before you know it, it’ll be time for you to put on your sparkly trainers and dig out your glitter gun. Pop is waiting for you. Now go and get it. Happy New Year!

Lost in Indiepop’s Indietracks 2014

It really isn’t hard for me to single out my Indietracks highlight this year. The Sweet Nothings (well, three quarters of them) in the merch tent on my birthday, dedicating their set to me. An unexpected and delightful birthday surprise made all the sweeter by Daniel Hartley playing ukulele instead of his usual bass. I’m half tempted to abandon this blog and to start a tumblr of burly broad-shouldered men holding ukeleles. Anyway, thanks to the Nothings and to everyone who made this possible. It really did make my birthday.

This was only my second Indietracks (you can read about the whirlwind of utter giddiness that was my first Indietracks HERE) and so I can barely describe myself as a veteran, but I did arrive with some knowledge of what to expect. My Indietracks Birthday Saturday was a smorgasbord of Indiepop Loveliness. The Mini Skips brought birthday cakes, Tonieee (ex Velodrome 2000) and Jo got me some lovely notebooks and my not-from-Indiepop friend Andy – who in a past life accompanied me to Pacha in Ibiza – swapped glo sticks for steam trains for the day. I had my first non-acoustic experience of MJ Hibbett (he was GRATE), Indiepop singalong made a triumphant return to the beach and I conquered some old demons by managing to watch the final song of what looked to have been a stonking set by Gruff Rhys, who I last saw whilst standing in a field in North Wales in yet another past life over a decade ago.

There were non-birthday highlights, too. Staring open-mouthed with wonder at The Wendy Darlings. The Thyme Machine throwing Tunnocks Tea Cakes into the crowd and then watching Kriss Foster in the Merch Tent afterwards looking genuinely overwhelmed at the amount of new fans that he’d made. Dancing to The Swapsies.  Feeling a bit like how a promoter must feel when I followed up a chance conversation at a bar with a couple of messages that led to one of my favourite performers delighting the indiepop singalong crowd. Watching a couple of my married friends behaving like loved-up teenagers as they were freed from parental responsibilities for the weekend. Seeing my lovely friend Vinnie back on stage for the first time in ages. The nice comments I got from a couple of people about my writing in Ray K’s zine Shut Up, Morrissey  The ten minutes of the Ready Steady Girls disco I got to before my migraine made its annual Indietracks appearance (someone forgot to tell it you’re not allowed to appear two years in a row). Chatting to Trev Odd Box and buying records for the first time in over twenty years. Buying up half the jewellery at the merch tent stall.

For various reasons, my Indietracks was a bit low key this year. I got the 22:45 from Swanwick Junction to Butterley on the Sunday and my wristband was off before midnight. But that didn’t make it any less important. To spend a whole weekend in a place that is driven by enthusiasm rather than profit and powered by the love of music can only be good for the soul. Thank you Team Indietracks for everything you do to make so many people so happy.

STOP PRESS: Now with added photos courtesy of awoodvine. Cheers A!

Your first Indietracks…

Last year was my first Indietracks. Eee, it were grand.

Anyway, if this is your first Indietracks here are some pointers on preparing for and making the most of the best weekend of your life.

Sort out your accommodation

Hmm. Good luck with this if you haven’t do so already. Those chain hotels book up really quickly. I blame Lenny Henry. If you’re one of the brave souls who are camping, pack a spare tent in case your tent gets flooded/hit by lightning/taken over on the last evening by someone who has declared the campsite to be the first indiepop republic and wants to use it to house the Department of Sparkly Things.

Go to some warm up gigs

You need to put the hours in to perfect that indie kid shuffle. My preferred way to warm up my shuffling feet is to attend Going Up The Country (GUTC), a lovely charity all-dayer in a pub beer garden in Congleton (look it up). Of all of the indiepop events I’ve attended, this one feels the most Indietracks-like. As well as all the ace music there are lovely merch and craft stalls, a tombola and the event even has its own ale, the infamous Pristine Chrstine. Kev and Linda go to great lengths to secure a wide range of quality acts that delight the indiepop kids and bemuse (and eventually delight) the locals. If you’ve ever wanted to sing If You Don’t Pull in a mass indiepop singalong in a pub full of aging men who still think that Buddy Holly is topping the Hit Parade, this is the event for you. Stick it in yer calendar for next year, you won’t regret it and as well as ace bands you’ll get to see loads of people that you haven’t seen since Indietracks.

Here’s a photo of The Sweet Nothings on GUTC’s famous side-of-a-truck stage:

The Sweet Nothings at GUTC 2014

Perhaps you could go to their gig in Cambridge tonight to warm up your indiekid shuffle? It’ll be ace, I promise.

Pack your entire wardrobe

Check that weather forecast. Then check it again. Then check it a third time. Then give up and pack for every possible weather eventuality. Sundress? Check. Snorkel? Possibly. Cardigan? I’m not dignifying that question with an answer, this is Indiepop.

Get there

Last year the trip to the hotel from the station by taxi took longer than my actual train journey. Be patient. Allow yourself plenty of time like I didn’t.

Tell your friends if you have health conditions

Although I can now personally vouch for the friendliness of the team of Red Cross Volunteers.

Take some breaks

See above. Take a look at that schedule. That’s a lot of bands. Keep your energy levels up. I particularly enjoyed my emergency waffle and the delicious Gopal’s curry.

Bring spare shoes

It’s dusty. It might be a bit muddy. I didn’t account for this last year and wrecked two pairs of shoes in the process (including my beloved DMs 1992 – 2013 RIP) so bring footwear that enhances your outfit but that you wouldn’t feel distraught about chucking in the recycling bin afterwards.

Visit all the stages

Try and get around all the stages if you can. The atmosphere in the church can be magical (it was well worth queuing in the rain to ensure a seat for Haiku Salut last year) and where else can you go to a gig on a moving steam train? The indoor stage, the engine shed, is by the bar so gets really busy (especially when we have the rain that is definitely not forecast for this year) but is a great place to make new friends. The outdoor stage feels surprisingly intimate and I may have had a little weep there last year during The Wave Pictures lovely set.

Get chatting

Everyone’s dead friendly like, so even if you’re a bit shy don’t be afraid to break into conversation with the person in front of you in the queue for the church/ladies/curry. You might make a new friend or even get some free badges.

Have the time of your life

Like the song from that film where the girl with the curly hair gets the guy with the amazing shoulders (for some reason I’ve always loved that film) doesn’t quite go “You’re having the time of your life and you’ve never felt this way before” so ignore everything I’ve said above and just go with whatever works for you. Fall in love with a place that makes your heart beat as fast as it did for the first boy at school that you fell for who played a guitar.  Now click your sparkly trainers together three times and repeat after me: There’s no place like Swanwick Junction. There’s no place like Swanwick Junction. There’s no place like Swanwick Junction…