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Peter Fij/Terry Bickers - Interview

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 15 / 1 / 2012

Peter Fij/Terry Bickers - Interview


Peter Fij was the front man in Adorable and Polak, and Terry Bickers the guitarist in the House of Love and Levitation. The new duo, who will be playing the next Pennyblackmusic Bands' Night, reflect on their years on Creation Records and forthcoming debut album, 'Broken Hearted Surgery'

March’s Pennyblackmusic night at the Half Moon Herne Hill sees, headlining, two former artists from Alan McGee’s Creation label united onstage. The glory years of the label’s rein remain for this writer (and doubtless for many others) the mid-to-late 80s up until the omnipresent onslaught of Britpop in 1994, after which Creation became increasingly dominated by Oasis before its demise at the turn of the century. Indeed, that pre-Britpop period saw an intensively creative and fertile period for the label, with one extraordinary, classic album after another – ‘Screamadelica’, ‘Loveless’, and ‘Nowhere’, to name just three – released in the space of barely five years. Those halcyon times are captured particularly well by the film ‘Upside Down’, a documentary film on the label, which gets across the sheer madness and barely functioning drug-fuelled energy of the musical community clustered around Creation’s shambolic cluttered office, before the arrival of Oasis – and subsequent unimagined riches – changed the label perpetually. Pete Fij (born Piotr Fijalkowski) was the singer in Coventry-based Adorable, once tagged by the weekly music press alongside the hugely hyped Suede and the Verve as part of a nebulous scene called the ‘New Glam’, and very much in the vein of the Psychedelic Furs and the Jesus and Mary Chain, as well as – natch – the House of Love. The band’s classic ‘Sunshine Smile’(still played in indie clubs!), released on Creation, was voted NME Single of the Week and topped the Indie Singles chart, and their album ‘Against Perfection’ was successful enough to see the band tour the USA, Australia, and Japan. Yet the band’s outspoken image, cultivated as a reaction to the shoegazing scene, led to a backlash of sorts, and the band disintegrated in 1994, having fallen out with Creation along the way. Fij subsequently formed Polak with his brother, who would release a number of albums on the One Little Indian label, including the album ‘Swansongs’. While low-key, he has managed to keep a cult following, to the extent that the 'Independent on Sunday’ christened him “the most under-rated lyricist since Jarvis Cocker put pen to paper.” In that same period, meanwhile, Terry Bickers was cementing his reputation as one of the best guitarists of his generation with the House of Love, to the extent that NME labelled him “a guitar god”. Led by the charismatic but temperamental Guy Chadwick, the House of Love released a number of singles on Creation before their self-titled debut, released in 1988 - the same year as My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Isn’t Anything’. ‘The House of Love’ remains a classic of its era – just check out Bicker’s extraordinary guitar work on ‘Salome’ - but deteriorating band relations, fuelled by drugs and ego issues, led to Bickers eventually quitting. He would go on to form space-rockers Levitation, who released a glorious slew of EPs and an album on Rough Trade, ‘Need For Not’, before abruptly quitting the band onstage in 1993. Bickers and Chadwick would eventually reconcile their differences in the early 2000s, reforming the House of Love (indeed, this website interviewed them shortly after their reformation). Ahead of their set, Pennyblackmusic found out what made Fij and Bickers decide to join forces for a return to the stage. PB: Pete, you were in Adorable and then left to form Polak with your brother, who had a number of low-key albums on One Little Indian, and whose debut album was released in 2000. Can you tell me about this period, and why you disbanded those musical projects? And what does the moniker Polak mean? PF: After Adorable split up I formed Polak (a slang term meaning someone of Polish origin) with my brother Krzys, and we ended up as a five piece of some really great musicians and together there was a great feeling of camaraderie and friendship, which was really enjoyable especially after the strained experiences of the last eighteen months in Adorable. I was again the principle songwriter, but we tried to take things in a slightly different direction - using samples, loops, keyboards and acoustic guitars that I hadn't really used to any extent before. We released three singles on our own label before being signed to One Little Indian for two albums. After the second of them, 'Rubbernecking', came out I was frustrated that the album had failed to even pick up any coverage - it was a record I was really proud of and it felt quite demoralising to have spent such a large part of my life on something that didn't even get reviewed. We were offered the chance to record a third album with One Little Indian, but by this time we were down to a three piece of myself, Bob and Chris, and although we had recorded some demos that sounded quite promising - in a more new-wavey style, the financial situation was such that all the members had to have day jobs (as was the case for our first two albums), and the reality was I knew that although we could record the album the other members wouldn't be able to take time off to tour or promote the album, so I was wary of spending so much effort on a project that we couldn't see through to the end. PB: Terry, after leaving the House of Love you formed Levitation. Can you tell me about the break-up of Levitation and what you did next? Can you also mention something about the House of Love’s reformation of sorts in the 2000s? TB: After the break-up of Levitation myself and my partner at the time, Caroline Tree, signed a development deal with Geoff Travis for the label Blanco Y Negro. We worked with a few different musicians and recorded an album which was eclectic if also a little unfocused. We were basically taking seeds of ideas; a chorus here, a verse there and jamming them out in the studio. The album got shelved and we were dropped before anything was released, but in spite of this it was still a very positive period in my life. Caroline and myself were a very productive creative team, and we went on to record an album as Cradle called 'Baba Yaga'. I met up with Guy in 2001 after our old agent suggested we tried to do something low key. We asked the original members if they wanted to reform. Pete Evans agreed and Chris Groothuizen declined. We enlisted the services of Matt Jury on bass (a great asset to the group) and we found our feet again as a group. I am really happy that we have reformed. We have had a quiet period for a couple of years, but we are back in the studio and you can expect to see us performing with new material later on in the year and in the late summer. PB: I watched the documentary about Creation Records, ‘Upside Down’, recently. It really captures the genius/madness of Alan McGee and the label operation during the pre-Britpop years. Do you two have any fond recollections to share, as former label artists? PF: Adorable signed to Creation for two main reasons - firstly we loved their back catalogue and heritage (House of Love being one fine example), and secondly after being ushered into lots of swanky corporate offices of major labels who were trying to sign us, Creation was such a breath of fresh air - their offices were a sprawling mess above a sweatshop in an unfashionable part of London, - there were no gold certified records in frames - it was pictures torn from the ‘NME’ stuck up with blue tack on the labyrinthine corridor walls. It was an exciting time, but being on Creation wasn't a very happy experience for me - it was quite evident from very early on that apart from McGee, no-one at the label was very keen on us, (and then very soon we started to have our doubts about McGee's commitment to us) and it felt like being an unwelcome guest at a wedding every time we were in the building. TB: Recording the eponymous album was a great experience for all of us in the House of Love I think, with the exception of Andrea Heukamp possibly who was by the end of the recording poised to leave the group and return to Germany as far as I can recall. We had played the material in well through touring and the timing of the recording was just right. We had some great gigs in the two years we had been playing out and our fair share of knocks on the road. Getting to record the album was like the reward for sticking at it. PB: Where did you two meet, and what were the circumstances? Was it in Brighton? PF: I had a mutual friend, and knew Terry was in Brighton, but I didn't meet him for some time, until our paths crossed in a baker’s shop on Western Road. I was looking for a doughnut, but found Terry Bickers instead. TB: A friend put us in contact with each other when Pete was in Polak, but it was not till a few years after that we began to work together PB: The last time I saw you live, you had a few covers, including Nancy Sinatra and Spacemen 3. What drew you and Terry to these songs? PF: I used to be very anti-covers, and Adorable had a strident 'no covers' policy. Maybe it's an age thing, but I like the idea of doing them now - maybe it's because I'm comfortable with the idea of playing other people's songs. We seem to slip a cover in to most of our sets these days and take turns in picking them - 'These Boots Were Made For Walking' was one of my choices - I've always been a big Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood fan, but liked the idea of taking the song and turning it into something a bit darker which is hinted by the lyrics. TB: I always admired the musical craft and atmosphere in many of the songs Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized created, and 'So Hot' is a particular favourite of mine. I had tried to play it several times in the past,but it did not sound quite right without the keyboard part. This time I found a picking pattern and it worked and sounded authentic. PB: Is it true that someone in Spain or Italy had paid everything from flights to accommodation to have you play songs at a wedding there? PF: I recently flew out to play a solo gig in Verona in Italy which was kind of like a private party, but it wasn't a wedding. I think our songs and style are a bit too downbeat for a wedding. A wake, maybe. PB: Still on the subject of continental Europe, how have you found playing Spain, France, and Germany? PF: It's been great - I'm always concerned that there will be a language barrier problem as so much of the weight of our songs are about the lyrics, but it seems that melancholia is an international language. TB: We went to Munich in 2011 and had great hosts. The band Mexican Elvis made the trip a great experience as they were such positive, friendly people, very inspiring! It has been enjoyable to travel and play in Europe again. The cakes are much better over there. PB: You’ve adopted the maxim “quiet is the new loud” and described your forthcoming album, ‘Broken Hearted Surgery’, as “like a three-in-the-morning jam in which Johnny Cash, The Velvet Underground, and The Everly Brothers try not to wake the neighbours”. Do you want to elaborate on this? And how does this collaboration differ from each of your previous bands? PF: For me it's been really interesting just focusing on one other musician, just one other dynamic and opinion. The style of this is very far removed from Adorable or Polak where pretty much the kitchen sink was thrown into a lot of the recordings - whereas here it's a far more stripped down affair, with a 'less is more' attitude. TB: Each of the songs Pete wrote for this album and the one we co-wrote 'Breaking Up' demanded a different approach in terms of the instrumentation and arrangement. Some songs are very stripped down, but others have a lot of overdubs including bass, percussion and keyboards all of which were played by Pete or I. I like the recording method of letting each song dictate what it needs in terms of parts and instruments, it has been an enjoyable experience making this album, using keyboards has been something I have only had limited experience of in the past. PB: What are your plans for 2012? PF: To release the album and to play some more gigs in UK and Europe. We've already started tinkering around with some ideas of album number two, so it would be nice to get that under way as soon as we can. TB: Ditto. PB: What can we expect from the Pennyblackmusic night? PF: Questionable sock choice from Terry, and mumbling in-between song banter from me that borders on the incomprehensible. TB: Undoubtedly some effects pedal tweaking mid-song and some half-remembered reminiscences. PB: Thank you.

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Peter Fij/Terry Bickers - Interview

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