The Lexington – 6th to the 9th January
January: the time of year when the majority of people are avoiding their bank balances and credit card bills, are looking in the mirror with sadness at their Christmas weight gains and bemoaning the fact that they have to return to work. It is not, it must be said, when most people would consider putting on a residency at The Lexington. But perhaps Fortuna Pop! aren’t most people, and the fact their annual Winter Sprinter showcase has proved the perfect antidote to those post-winter blues for half a decade now is testament to the fact that the format has legs, helped in no small way by the quality of its roster.
So it proved from the outset this year, with the honour of starting the latest edition on the Tuesday falling to affable Queenslander Bill Botting, best known as Allo Darlin’s perennially happy bassist. Understated and simple, though no less charming or heartfelt as a result, his early solo acoustic offerings (such as ‘A Love Letter To Paul Rains’) gives way to a band made up of various Allo Darlin, Wave Pictures and Owl & Mouse members for a final three-song flourish. Next comes longtime Fortuna artist Simon Love, with backing band The Old Romantics. Blessed with a prominent sense of mischief and a razor-sharp wit, his 60s-influenced songwriting – including one number written from the perspective of Elton John’s former wife Renate Blauel – displays a sense of accomplishment and depth that makes it far more than a mere pot-pourri of profanity. It all leads nicely into a solo set from Edinburgh-based songwriter Withered Hand (née Dan Willson), whose work is poignant in any form but stripped down near-tangibly stuns the Lexington into silence, recent offering ‘Fall Apart’ proving a standout.
Wednesday begins with highly-acclaimed Melodic signings The Drink (subbing for Mega Emotion, who had to step out due to illness). Propulsive, rhythmic and possessing a certain effortless cool, it’s difficult to imagine their Electrelane-esque stylings will remain in the likes of The Lexington for long. The same applies to Mammoth Penguins, a Cambridgeshire trio including former Standard Fare head honcho Emma Kupa and Violet Woods’ Mark Boxall who mix personal lyrics with tunesmithery as instant and catchy as it is muscular belying the fact they’ve only played together for 8 months and who, in ‘When I Was Your Age’, have a ready made fists-aloft anthem. The night concludes with Darren Hayman and his Long Parliament. Sufficiently confident and relaxed to throw in a cover of ‘Raspberry Beret’ (“’Bold fucking move, Hayman, how can you follow that?’ I hear you say! Well, I can’t…”), attention soon turns to gusto-laden picks from his prolific output, including several from Harlow-based folk-opera Pram Town. It all lends an air of a vamped-up take on The Kinks’ ‘Village Green Appreciation Society’ viewed through a broken window pane of doomed encounters and sundry regrets, and gives a lasting impression of a quintessentially British gem of the week.
The minimalist tones of Fulhast form the clarion call to herald the start of Thursday’s evening. The brainchild of Swede Nik Vestberg (fleshed out on this occasion by a drummer) may prove to be one of the week’s more ramshackle offerings, but it’s nonetheless difficult to not be smitten with his unique brand of breathless angst-punk and the way it contrives to make The Ramones seem overproduced. It opens the door for energetic, precocious scamps Evans The Death to demonstrate both that they’re on a constant mission to make misery seem exciting and that imminent second album Expect Delays is as suited to their self-imposed challenge as their self-titled début. Durham’s own Martha close the night with a set that felt like a genuine coming of age moment, where fearsome takes on the likes of ‘1997, ‘Passing In The Hallway’ eliciting infectious mass singalongs and their frenetic and hyper-melodic tales of growing up and adolescent identity-finding ensured no-one left without a gargantuan grin etched into their face.
With many having done the whole week, the final night on Friday had a last day of term buzz about it; a state of affairs most bands making their first gig would wilt under, but not The Hayman Kupa band. With the eponymous members having both a wealth of songwriting nous and a set apiece under their belts already that week, the band – bolstered by Fever Dream’s Cat Loye and Michaelmas’ Michael Wood – flew through a set that showcased a new set of expertly-crafted standards and a wealth of ability, and added sense of expectation for the album due later this year. It’s a tricky act for loyal Fortuna signings Milky Wimpshake to follow, but Pete Dale & co give it their best stab, attacking their back-catalogue of pop and politics with enough verve and aplomb for several audience members to declare them afterwards to be their new favourite band. High praise indeed. So it’s left to Tigercats to bring the curtain down on a week of high quality entertainment, with the band shrugging off keyboardist Laura Kovic being stranded in Dubai to deliver a set that showcased not only their musicianship and ambition but also their versatility. The nuanced, reflective and sophisticated offerings from imminent second album Mysteries sits snugly next to the energetic, joyous and excitable offering form their first record.
In a way, that diversity seems emblematic of the diverse talent on offer all week, and the way the Lexington was packed out over the four nights seem to suggest that Fortuna Pop! Are onto something. Not only in terms of putting on the event but also with their current roster – with so many of the artists playing over the residency due to release albums over the coming few months, rest assured the label has hit upon a rich seam of gold for the future.