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Winter Sprinter 2018 review – a place where wry, literate indie can feel at home

David Tattersall of the Surfing Magazines.
New waves … David Tattersall of the Surfing Magazines. Photograph: Gav Squires

For most, the post-Christmas return to work was 2 January – about a week too early for some of the musicians involved in the Winter Sprinter, which began its annual King’s Cross residency on Tuesday. “Doing a gig the day after New Year’s Day…” says the singer of the opening band, bemused at finding himself at one of London’s last traditional indie venues a scant 38 hours into 2018. But if there’s one way to maintain the illusion that the holiday isn’t quite over, the Winter Sprinter is it.

As it has almost every January since 2000, this bleak-midwinter festival presents a dozen bands of varying shades of semi-fame. Currently overseen by Fika Recordings, after lengthy stewardships by the Track and Field and Fortuna Pop! labels, it’s an escape hatch for people intrigued by the news that members of the Wave Pictures and Slow Club have combined to form tonight’s headliners, the Surfing Magazines. Fans of the wry and rueful: this is your natural home.

Tonight’s lineup is all-male and guitar-based, though within that framework, each act offers something different. Opening trio Jessica’s Brother’s shambling nerdcore is clearly a passion project intended to please only themselves. Good for them. Vocalist Tom Charleston and drummer Jonny Helm bicker about whether Charleston’s guitar is in tune; Charleston defiantly croons, “I’m just a lazy singer.” Their pivotal number Polstead Instead, loosely based on the 1976 Jonathan Richman track New England, is a jingling rush that would have headed John Peel’s Festive 50 in another life.

Former Weather Prophet Pete Astor has brought his own audience, whose battered-but-still-standing appreciation mirrors his. His patch is literate melancholy filtered through wispy vocal cords, and he has the years and the authority to do it justice. Teacherly in glasses and a suit jacket, he slots references to Marilyn Monroe and Wittgenstein into the same song, and Philip Larkin into the country-rocking My Right Hand.

The Surfing Magazines’ combined forces of Wave Pictures bassist Franic Rozycki and guitarist Dave Tattersall, with Slow Club’s Charles Watson on guitar (“my bumbling sidekick Dr Watson,” as Tattersall has it) produce a moreish sound untraceable to either group. Surf and garage rock, basted with the appropriate dose of shambolic Englishness. “Should we have a go at Summer?” Royzcki asks hopefully when the Neil Youngish Voices Carry Through the Mist grinds to a halt. “We get paid the same either way.”

•Winter Sprinter continues at the Lexington, London, until 5 January. Box office: 020-7837 5371.

This article titled "Winter Sprinter 2018 review – a place where wry, literate indie can feel at home" was written by Caroline Sullivan, for The Guardian on Wednesday 3 January 2018 12.48pm

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