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Winter Sprinter: The Essex Green / Herman Dune / St Thomas / James William Hindle
- 7th January 2004 Water Rats

January eh? What’s the point? There’s not even any snow to liven things up a bit, just incessant pishing rain. The best you can do is stick The Tyde on yer headphones and be thankful that the bus windows have steamed up so you can’t see the grim and greasy London streets sliding by outside. Big New Year’s cheers then to Track & Field for having the nous to gladden these dark days with their annual Winter Sprinter, now into its fifth cockle-warming year. damn right

It looks like everyone’s in need of some guitarry goodness ‘cos tonight’s sold out with a waiting list of 30 sorry souls hoping to get in. Oh you silly people, you should have got yourselves Winter Sprinter season tickets. £12 for three nights. That’s £1 per band – bargain!

We ensconce ourselves in a corner and let the folky meanderings of James William Hindle twangle around the room. I’ve risen from my sickbed to be here and am feeling rather temperaturey, a fact not helped by the rising sweatiness in the room. Remembering my tendency to faint in such conditions, I prop myself against the wall and let the Hindleness trundle on pleasantly. I’ve seen JWH a couple of times before, but I can’t even remember what he looks like, let alone individual songs. Still, he’s the greatest folk singer from West Yorkshire. Ever, apparently. I don’t know, I haven’t done a survey.

The greatest folk singer from West Yorkshire. Ever
Top drawer onstage capering
St Thomas is a new signing to the impeccable Track & Field roster. Main man Thomas Hansen is a curious little Norwegian mod-guy who offers up some of the best onstage capering since Stuart Murdoch threw down his northern soul moves. The music is not for giggling at though. Simple strummy songs played on guitar and banjo with boom-ker-tish drums and obligatory cute melodica girl building into sweet sway-along anthems. Thomas’ voice is both plaintive and powerful.
First song ‘Winter Sprinter’ (hey..!) seems to be about going out in the snow and having some fun and makes me think of the book I’m reading, ‘Popular Music’ by Mikael Niemi (I know it’s about Sweden/Finland, but it’s all Scandinavian innit?). ‘I started writing down English pop songs by listening to the Top Ten…I still didn’t understand the words, and had to write phonetically, learn them off by heart and then sing songs such as ‘Ollyu Nidis Lav’ and ‘Owatter Shayd Ovpail’*. Not that Thomas’ English is that dodgy, although he raises some laughs with his (accidental?) comedy Scandinavian routine. He has the audience eating out of his hand, not least because there seem to be some hardcore fans here. Judging by the cheery campfire glow in the room, he’s just won himself a few more.
An audience realignment takes place; glamorous Scandinavian boys are replaced with shuffley blokes for the mighty Herman Dune. It’s almost unbearably hot, but everyone’s packed in for some home-baked backwoods indiefolk rumblerock. David Feck leads David-Ivar Herman Dune onstage and at first we fear the worst, might The Dune be undermined by Comet Gain style ramshackle drunkenness? No, it’s okay, they launch into a mesmerising droney song followed by a wee country-crossed-with-‘Roadrunner’ number (the Jonathan Richman song, not the cartoon bird) and we all settle down for our trip to planet Herman. Requests are taken, new songs are played. Warm, slow, lazy, twanging. Cracked vocals and sweet sounds. Andre, bedecked in a fine ‘Girls & Sports: A Winning Combination’ t-shirt, miraculously takes his everpresent shades off, though his roll-up never leaves his lips even when it’s his turn to sing.
Planet Herman

Meanwhile, centre-stage, sister Dune, Lisa, dances to a different drum, occasionally singing, but mostly just feeling the groove and wriggling out her own dance routine. She doesn’t seem bothered that her own private dance floor is the stage and this fits in perfectly. When David-Ivar takes out a ukelele for some off-mic songs, Lisa sings out backing from beside the drumkit, her voice morning-dew-clear. It’s simple, spare and moving. Herman Dune yodel ‘I would never ever, ever hurt you baby’ whilst the bass drum goes kerbOOmf! in our hearts. They do a Velvetsy tumble and sing, ‘We are zombies. Yeah living dead’ They’re not though, this band is about the deliciousness of feeling alive; scratching your head, stretching your arms and wriggling your toes.

As some kind of freakish, heavy-handed living metaphor, the air-conditioning finally kicks in for the Essex Green and their breath-of-fresh-air breezy AM pop. It’s still sweltering enough in the room for the band to ponder why its hotter than when they played here in August, but we’re soon off and swinging down tree-lined avenues to their grassy sounds. According to Elephant 6 band lore, Rob 14 Iced Bearman is in attendance. It’s a little known fact that bands of this ilk aren’t actually allowed to play a note in London until Rob has shown up and skinned up. He’s going to be kept busy, because over the course of the Winter Sprinter The Essex Green warp and mutate to become The Finishing School and then The Ladybug Transistor, each band with a slightly altered line-up (undetectable to the untrained eye) playing their version of shimmery, folk-dappled mellowed out pop from another era. The Essex Green’s take on proceedings is led by singer/guitarist Christopher with added ice-pure vocals from Sasha Bell, looking 60s secretary chic in buttoned-up tweed behind her Korg keyboard.

throw-open-all-the-windows it's bloody boiling in 'ere

Think radio-friendly radiance, think The Carpenters cutting loose with big-hearted guitar solos, think tripping down the street in the morning swinging your handbag (boys too). Stand out song is the gorgeous ‘Our Lady in Havana’, a throw-open-all-the-windows epic of swooniness. The sunbeam harmonies of ‘The Late Great Cassiopia’ swirl around the room bringing proceedings to a close. As the band twitch and swivel, I decide the icing on the cake would be some pop-art projections to up the grooviness factor to the correct level. When you sound this perfect, you need to look good too.

* ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ – get it?

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