While much of the live music scene is still in hibernation, at the start of each new year Fika Recordings bring us The Winter Sprinter at The Lexington in London, several days of great indie-pop and DIY music. This year’s event is just a couple of days away, so we sat down for a chat with Tom Ashton of Fika Recordings, the current organiser of the festival, having taken over from Fortuna Pop! a few years ago, who in turn had taken the baton from the founders at Track & Field.
WeGotTickets: You started Fika Recordings in 2011. Could you tell us about how you got started running a label and how you progressed into running events?
Tom Ashton: I’d moved to London a year earlier and found a little thriving scene of DIY pop shows and club nights down here, run by the likes of Twee as Fuck, Fortuna POP!, Scared to Dance and How Does It Feel To Be Loved, amongst others. But I missed being involved, having put on a fair few shows, club nights and events through my university years in Nottingham. Around the same time, some old Nottingham friends (Horowitz and Red Shoe Diaries) had just recorded killer EPs and were looking for labels to put them out… and I thought, how hard can it be?
Events were at the core from the very start – I launched the label with four tapes releases and a big old party at The Wilmington Arms in Farringdon with those first artists: Moustache of Insanity, Horowitz, and, from Sweden, Lost Summer Kitten and Lisa Bouvier. I seem to remember there was cake and everything.
WGT: The festival used to be run by another label, first Track & Field and then Fortuna Pop. What is your relationship with those guys and how did you end up taking over the Winter Sprinter from them?
TA: Track and Field had wound down by the time I came to London, though I’d been aware of the label for a while – they’d put out some of my favourite records of the early 2000s (Herman Dune, The Broken Family Band, Saloon, St Thomas, The Essex Green and more) and I made it down to London for some of those shows, though not any of Track and Field’s Winter Sprinter as far as I can remember!
I think I made it to almost every night of 7 years of Fortuna POP!’s Winter Sprinter though – and those were always some of the highlights of the year’s gig calendar – not just for the consistently strong line-ups, but a chance to catch up with old pals after Christmas and New Year, and an opportunity to forge new friendships over yet another pint downstairs in the Lexington’s bar after the shows. I owe Sean Fortuna POP! a massive thanks as well – he unknowingly mentored me through the early days of the label, answering endless questions over the mechanics of running a record label.
When Fortuna POP! called it a day after 20 years and Sean moved to Tokyo for a spell, I got together with two other labels (WIAIWYA and Gare du Nord) to pick up the Winter Sprinter baton for 2018. Early January is an otherwise sparse period for gigs, and I didn’t want to lose having some fun shows to go to! We’d all worked with a number of the same bands and artists, with a fair bit of crossover with Fortuna POP’s roster, so hopefully it felt a natural continuation. Since 2019, I’ve booked it solely as Fika Recordings, though you’ll still find WIAIWYA in the merch booth and Ian from Gare du Nord has played in numerous bands at subsequent Winter Sprinters too.
WGT: Are there any challenges in taking over a festival from someone else and how did you navigate those?
TA: You obviously want to ensure you keep what made it so special in the first place, and keep the essence of the Winter Sprinter’s identity, but it had to evolve a little to fit Fika’s scale. The label is younger and smaller than Fortuna POP! was, so while I still think of it as an annual showcase for the label and our artists, it’s allowed me to book headliners from outside the label to hopefully bring our roster to a new audiences. It’s been a delight to have acts like The Wave Pictures, Laetitia Sadier, Haiku Salut and Withered Hand come play at the Winter Sprinter.
I’m lucky enough that Track & Field’s Paul Wright has agreed to come DJ for us between bands one night every year too – the fact he still says yes hopefully means I’ve not destroyed the Winter Sprinter’s legacy too much. And from the handover from Fortuna POP!, the fact that Sean was 8,000 miles away in our first year took some of the pressure off too!
WGT: The Winter Sprinter has almost always been held at one venue in London. What makes the Lexington the perfect home for the festival?
TA: It’s simply my favourite London venue. Just the right size, excellent sound, and with a lively bar downstairs for a post-show drink. Delia, Marcus and the rest of The Lexington team are all fabulous too, so it’s always a pleasure putting on shows there!
WGT: We’re particularly big fans of Lande Hekt and adults in the WeGotTickets office. Tell us about putting this year’s line-up together, and did it differ in any way to previous years?
TA: I normally start planning from the same point: which bands have just put out a record with us (adults), and who’s just joined that we want to introduce to people going into 2023 (Alison Eales). This year was slightly different, as I’m still catching up on postponements & cancellations from the Winter Sprinter 2021 (which due to Covid became the Winter Sprinter 2022, and subsequently the Summer Sprinter 2022!). Randolph’s Leap, Jessica’s Brother and Steven Adams & The French Drops all missed out on June’s eventual event, so there was a large core line-up to book around this time.
I try and make sure we don’t have too much, if any, repetition of the line-up from the previous year’s Winter Sprinter too; I’ve always got a long list of new bands and artists I want to put on and see play a show for us.
WGT: How do you feel about the Indiepop scene going into 2023. Are there any artists we should be keeping an eye on?
TA: Where to start?! Soot Sprite, Schande, Fraulein, Barry, Tummyache, Whitelands, Barbican Estate for starters. Slumberland have been on a fine run of West Coast indiepop (The Umbrellas, Seablite, and The Reds, Pinks and Purples), plus Jeanines – who are on their way to the UK, having had to cancel their show for us in March 2020. Plus I’m rather excited by the return of Allo Darlin’ for some UK shows in October!
WGT: And finally, other than going to the Winter Sprinter of course, what’s the best way to beat the January blues?
TA: For me, nothing beats a long early morning run along the canal on a cold, crisp, misty January morning – some killer tunes on the headphones and the sun just starting to rise over the trees in the horizon.
WGT: We were lucky enough to get a comment from Sean at Fortuna POP! and Paul from Track & Field about the origins of the festival and their memories of running it.
Sean Price: I had some of the best times at Track & Field’s Winter Sprinter and I always thought it was a genius idea to do something in that dead week at the very start of the year, when nothing else is going on and everyone’s gagging to get back to live music and going out after spending Christmas with their family, so like many of Steven and Paul’s best and worst ideas (Herman Dune, Steven James Adams, The Loves… you decide which!) I nabbed it for myself when they called it a day. In retrospect I wish I’d re-badged it the Winter Warmer but I’m happy to have provided some continuity in the London gig scene and I tried hard not to play it safe and to keep true to the spirit of the original by making it interesting and exciting with new bands and bands from out of London and abroad. When I went to live in Japan for a couple of years I was happy to franchise the idea to Fika as a safe pair of hands, although I do wish Tom would be more ambitious and expand the format to multi-cities/countries like Track and Field did one year (London, Leeds and Stockholm, from memory), something Paul still finds it hard to talk about without shaking uncontrollably!
Paul Wright: 2000 upstairs at The Betsey was the first one we did – it was Steven’s idea. Like Sean said it seemed like a great way to get people out when there was nothing much going on. The venues loved it, Steven remembers one of the managers hugging him saying “I can’t believe how much we’ve just taken at the bar. In January!” We were total novices. We had the club, but we’d only done one or two gigs before taking on nine bands over three nights. We stood there trying in puzzle out which cable went where while Tram, who headlined the first night, looked on wondering what they’d signed up for. After that we wandered around quite a bit – The Arts Café, Water Rats, The Luminaire, 93 Ft East – but the common thread was a sense of community. A regular event where you could meet up with friends and see some great bands.