Indietracks, synchronicity, and the first pint of the day

Me playing on the train at Indietracks 2013, watched adoringly by thousands

There’s a bit in a Daniel Kitson show where he’s talking about sitting in his car at a junction, waiting behind another car. The indicators on the two cars are blinking, out of phase with each other. But then the indicators fall into sync, and the two sets of little lights pulsate together, just for a second or two, before they diverge again. And just for that second or two, says Daniel, even though you know they’re only indicator lights, you experience a remarkable sense of satisfaction and well-being – that somehow the harmony of that rhythm extends out into the entire universe, and you say, nice one God, thanks for that, and drive away feeling strangely wonderful.

I like this because it’s like a haiku. You experience something perfect but inconsequential, infinitesimal. It shouldn’t make you happy but it does. In the end the perfection of its form is more powerful than the humbleness of its scale. Something in us responds to perfect form regardless of its context. So even if we’re feeling rubbish, we can be moved by – even experience the sublime in – small things. Indicators phasing into sync. A frog leaping from a leaf. A haiku. A pop song.

This all came back to me at Indietracks last weekend, where I played live on the train.

I knew to play my quieter songs in the middle of the set. The train runs up the line from Swanwick Junction and stops for a few minutes before coming back. If you’re smart or lucky you can time it so your softer-sounding stuff syncs with the stop and isn’t drowned out. This worked really well, with ‘The Glass Delusion’ and ‘One Day We’ll Find an Island’ coming up while the train stood still.

What I wasn’t quite prepared for was for my set to finish in such lovely choreography with the end of the journey.

Just as the last chords of the last song were chugging out of my guitar, so the brakes brought the train to a halt back at Swanwick. It wasn’t just more or less the same time: it was almost to the second.

Check out this review for corroboration: “he couldn’t have timed it any better if he’d tried”. It all reminds me of the line I wrote in ‘Where The Music Still Plays’: “Sometimes I can’t tell Providence from the timetable of my train”.

An hour or so afterwards, at the merch tent, I was talking about this with Sophie from Haiku Salut. She gave me a great example of synchronicity that made her happy. I wish I could remember what it was. But the tone for the day was established. I’d already had the first pint of the day served on the festival site. My set fell into place with miraculous precision. And later on I’d be in the right place at the right time when Helen Love was recruiting her Indietracks Glitter Army. (That’s another story for another time.)

But I’ll never forget looking around the audience lining the carriage, as the last song and the train trip were finishing, and seeing that they’d all realised what was going on too. Thirty or forty faces were lit up with the same disproportionate joy that attended Daniel Kitson as those indicator lights tick-ticked into sync. We love it when things like that happen.

Being the incorrigible attention seeker I am (yes, you can be an attention seeker and a nervous performer), I feel slightly upstaged by this – as if the songs I’d just been playing had been eclipsed by the manner of their ending.

I suppose I can claim the ending too though. It’s not like I hadn’t thought about the length of my set. Maybe I just need to share the songwriting credit on that one. With Providence, Serendipity, the Cosmos, or the train driver.

Photo: Hannah

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