There are some reviews that come easy, even have become happy new traditions. Due to a resurgence in U.K. Indie and the strength of some legendary 1980s & 1990s bands making the rounds, our opportunities for music coverage (& experience to see bands live) at home in Toronto is currently robust and regular. A time loop has lately closed. A formerly bitter reporter has seen the light. Everyone still at it is there for all the right reasons – and not only the cream that rose to the top of a heartbreakingly difficult industry – but these days, it’s even more refined: the creme de la creme. The musicians we’ve always loved have, by now, conquered a lot of life, and are here to tell the tale, up on stage. Not one line is throwaway anymore, even the most danceable New Order refrain can cause an intake in breath. We get it now: How fleeting inspiration and art can be, no matter what we wish or believe when we are young. How bands are usually burned out and broken up before we’ve even found them. How everyday survival makes bricklayers and couriers and booksellers out of our unsung poets, our would-be giants, and how it only deepens them, and our love, when we know the poignant back stories. This is not an easy story to write, because it is so very singular that it’s almost sacred.
Enter, to all of this context, the story of Adorable. It is one we’ve followed closely and celebrated here in the recent past, with Pete Fij’s work with Terry Bickers as a duo of several albums’ output and live shows we even got to see (itself a miracle, and we heard an acoustic version of “A to Fade In”) before that, when there was no story ongoing but the graciousness of Pete Fij and Rob Dillam to sit for lengthy interviews about things that happened once, times done and gone, even as the former band members were still in touch and on good terms. Before all of that, Adorable was the band that got one of the rawest deals music itself has ever delivered to young men of talent, poetry and dreams. They had such promise, and not the sort of band cursed with potential, either (that damnable faintest of praise) but realized potential. Proven worth. England owed them a living! Despite the band’s experience with their label and some shockingly ill-advised promotional tactics someone dreamed up for an American tour, Adorable still produced two solid albums of beautiful music Against Perfection and Fake. Whatever else Adorable did or didn’t do, they can be compared to even our number one lost musical love gone-to-soon, The Smiths, who, legendarily having never released a bad track and having put their very best on wax, left us with a catalogue, however brief, they can all be proud of, forever.
But in the case of Adorable, these facts add to the sting of great, unsung, unheard bands. It’s that bittersweetness that feels a part of their utterly romantic DNA, their songs full of cresting highways and vintage cars one loved like a person, and links back to young love’s adventures. The barkeeps that have seen it all, the profundity of the “Sistine Chapel Ceiling”, the classic movie references romantically interwoven into the imagery and the images of the artwork that was produced in Adorable’s short time on the scene. They were so great. Everyone missed them. Even now, up and down their own country, we fans act as missionaries for the good word along our tour to see them, getting them played in a legendary Manchester music-scene pub, across from the former Factory Records. We say as if it’s a casual fact instead of a part of our religion, to the young but savvy barman: this is a great band you don’t know about, and should. So the story of Adorable is a sweeping vista; a well-loved, perhaps magical white leather coat; a guitarist who can still take air because he’s so joyous to be right here with his friends; a story of loss and some kind of redemption on their own terms; a story of love. The good ones are never easy, and are often crushing.
As if all the secret whispers of their devoted fan base has proven that social media is good for something, Adorable announced three gigs in the spring, the first to take place in the historic, intimate and atmosphere-soaked Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and a further two nights at Bush Hall in London. The word spread like a fire, and the tickets were snapped up within five minutes. Suddenly, the fans of today got to be a pressing part of the incredible and important lore of this band. Who got tickets, who didn’t, and what it all meant to these four men who were shown (in five minutes) in the most tangible way there is, what they needed to know (but one never can be too sure of, in the unreal world of online fandom): that they are loved and missed, very, very much. (Later it will be revealed, in the storied walls of the Trades, that people in our group of day one ticket buyers have come from places as far as Japan, across Europe, the States, and some madmen road trippers from Belgium, who did a non-stop sleepless ricochet (as told to us by our local barman.)
The result was a boost to a band that deserved such a lift to see them through to their goal: three nights, and no more, fitted into autumn school break, to try to minimize family disruption. It was understood by all the fans, from the first, that it was not to be the start of a return of this band, but a much-deserved bit of anniversary love, and equally, a forthright bit of closure. We are all entitled to write our own ending, if we are able. And so they would. But the ticket sellout that crashed websites, required some scrambling. A second date was added to Hebden, and a third to London. The whole week would be one of playing and traveling down the country. All these tickets were rabidly absorbed as well, with it now being one of those sport fans on the road joys: How many nights did you get? Will you go to London as well? in utter euphoria, pretending it was a casual, everyday thing. Because that’s joy. That’s Christmas-style spirit, and it even comes with the gift you’ve always longed for. One they said didn’t exist.
And so the first week of November would belong to Adorable for the first time in 25 years. Music fans rallied for one another, plans were made, and the summer months were spent in a surreal haze. Can this really be? It’s hard to get your head around. It’s all so unexpected. Fans like us have a story that matches so many others even as they are deep and precious: This was our wedding song. I looked for you for years after seeing a single video on TV, and found it again in the late 1990s. We danced to “Homeboy” every weekend for five years in the best, tiny club our city ever produced, and many more besides. Like all good music, the songs of Adorable easily and seamlessly soundtracked our lives for years and years, their unfinished story continuing undimmed in so many lives, on circuitous, romantic and stoic routes; we ourselves could share even more stories private and magical of musical healing and health crises, but we won’t. But as you know, the greatest music is part of your deepest sorrow, most difficult hurdles, and happiest days.
Today’s story of Adorable is entirely, beautifully organic, and their fans are connected in the deepest of ways: the online, and later, social media world is important to the trajectory that would see us all gather again. We are well past the pine barrens of the aughts, when only stolen music showed up on Napster and its lessers, mislabeled: insult to injury. We hung on to signposts like Fij’s post-Adorable project, Polak, which produced characteristically great tunes. Fate allowed some of us to catch Fij & Terry Bickers in their newest project as a duo, on occasional tours and an appearance at an important new Indie music festival, Shiiine On Weekender, that we certainly believed and expected was the one chance we’d ever get to hear “A to Fade In”, played heartbreakingly, on acoustic guitar. The membrane of artist and fan is thin these days; your hero might thank you for giving his music an airing, or invite you to a film club, or share personal stories that are worthy of being printed and bound, from a Facebook post. The world is weird and good now, and it creates strange opportunities for the weird and the good out there who never thrived under corporate rule and never would, or should. The walls of old, the industry (of which artists are shaped into the products) have crumbled, leaving everyone who loves music bare and unashamed, the phonies and the grifters easier to spot. We are all in it together, everyone’s intentions are purer, there’s less interference to just create and do the thing and share the results, and love has triumphed over money, for what it’s worth.
And in this climate, a little crack opened up in our reality about a long gone band. Adorable’s members were not the first to know about their debut record getting a re-release in the spring of 2019 by Music on Vinyl – one driven by all of the steady community-building going on of late around them- but this event was a catalyst for a reckoning. Anniversaries matter: We are still here. We still have love. We still exist. You are all here with us, our friends and family, our community. Raise a glass…Without a label or record deal, there were now new kinds of opportunities, bespoke ones, and ones that favoured artistry and quality of experience for all in attendance, over cash. They only ever wanted this, one imagines. To play their music and to have it be art, not product. Thus came the dates in out-of-the-way (and so perfect) Yorkshire and London: the city that must always be conquered if you can.
We can now say to anyone and do say in disbelief to one another, that we were there, for those first two shows in a gem of a place we’d barely heard of, in a venue with its own special history, legacy, and layers of salt-of-the-earth to boot, with newer friends all with the same intentions and music appreciation, from disparate places, ourselves over from Canada, all around a table like family hashing out music stories like old friends, while a canal-wet dog called Ava hung close by and people filled that room up with electric anticipation no matter how far the journey. Those of us that were greedy / lucky enough to see two shows did it right: for after so many years it takes more than two hours for the surreality to calm down and to be present (coupled with, in our case, intercontinental exhaustion). The shows of both nights at The Trades are excellent, shimmering, and vivid, the music shockingly relevant and pressing today, as ever, unsung classics. At this juncture I decide, and probably disclose to a passing pub dog, that Adorable’s debut rivals that of Stone Roses, and I mean it. This band stands tall against any band of its era, and then some, and truly should have earned the chance to be part of the new classic music of its time, and of the wider canon. And it still can be. It must.
While it doesn’t dampen the show in any way, night one (mostly by comparison) reveals the expected nerves of such an evening. Fij’s energy is tightly-coiled, his stage banter is minimal, and in this beautifully intimate venue, his eyes seem to see everyone in the room, directly, at one point or another, leveling a serious and intense gaze from beneath his hair. He is intense, and intent tonight, his live energy (that many have never seen before) at odds with the recent online persona fans have gotten to know: affable, open, calm, and funny. But he has something deep to prove to himself tonight. He is listening to every note and is, perhaps, fraught with the knowledge that people here tonight have over two decades of anticipation in their back pockets, have traveled many miles and spent all you do for such adventures, and all the sorts of concerns that a sweetheart allows to trouble his mind, so long having not been a rock star (if ever). As for the Canadians, one of us is able to be in the moment and needs to be to shoot photography, the act in itself a centering. For the other, friends (quite rightly) look out for her, one-eyed, like dads, as if she were a toddler on the loose, here standing on the banquette in a prime place her kindest of friends has made for her, now standing with her guy shyly almost-weeping, then bombing around the room, losing pints, stepping on coats, a mere child. The emotion is overwhelming, the tears frozen somewhere in the ducts, the massive fear of the moment passing her by so tumultuous that it nearly does from sheer, all-nerve anxiety. But she’s happy, and full, and it’s breathtaking. Our example is a dichotomy no doubt echoed around the room as people are cloaked in the immense layers of “Breathless” a song that defies explanation, and the peak of fast-slow-fast early 90s greatness: “Homeboy” that is, as ever, a tour of our young hearts. This isn’t just love and fondness. This band performs pitch perfect and note for note sounding as if they’ve teleported from their Uni days. One can only hope that the ripples started here, this night, echo to the people out there who’ve yet to discover Adorable but will become devotees once they know better.
Night two is something different. It has all gone well. Even an artist hard on themselves and thinking themselves rusty (never) has to admit that, and release himself from the imposed tension. Adorable here and with us is now becoming a tiny habit, gaining a sense of elegant however brief ritual, as some people, or even many people, are back again, the nerves having burned off of everyone and the mood feeling a little like that thing music fans long for but simply doesn’t exist in this world: A replay; a two-hour encore. Tonight,”Sunburnt”, a stellar b-side, is subbed in for “Feed Me” (Fake). Fij is relaxed, more effusive, and his humour is evident, engaging casually with call-outs during a tuning, keeping control of the room in that gorgeous way that only the mightiest of pure poets can ever do, with wit and ease. On this occasion Robert Dillam takes flight, and Fij looks worryingly close to flirting with an audience dive. As packed in as they are, is this crowd that sharp tonight when it comes to coordination of hand and eye? We in the booths with what passes for a bird’s eye booth exhale as the singer seems to think better of it.
Our corner is full of all manner of fans, friends, and the sort of people in between that form the essential core of extended family of all bands. All are humble and natural about these intersections or their connection to Adorable, for everyone who is present has a deep link to this band: their fine music, and our love for it. Their truncated legacy, their deserving celebration. A man who is an entire music video unto himself startles everyone in his vicinity by being absolutely lacquered drunk, almost bonelessly swaying and bobbing to and fro from – where else, standing in a booth, and constantly seems about to but never falls. Remarkably, he still knows and sings every word to every song, his eyes shut in rapture, only opening to connect and grasp strangers’ hands in joy every fifteen or twenty minutes. Guess what? He “LOVES THIS FUCKING BAND.” His proclamation to us is our truth carried through the room. He’s a wonderful slice of humanity, a musician himself, and just for once he’s not alone with this music.
The entire room is different tonight, we are different, the world is different. People seem freer, more lubricated and a bit wilder, as even a mosh pit forms in its exact, expected spot, while girls hold onto their front of stage perches, unbothered by laddish “spontaneity”. Pete Fij doesn’t miss a beat when someone calls out from the middle of the room to play a certain song, mid-tuning, without an upwards glance, he lightly informs that the request cannot be fulfilled with only two band members on stage, and also, that number had already been played. Beauty is only fleeting, which is why artists for all of time have tried to pin it down, in paintings, in literature, in song. Euphoria is either spontaneous or earned; certainly, something you wait for. Adorable deserves to know of the unwavering joy they’ve delivered to us down the years. They leave us shattered with joy, an adventure that is once in a lifetime, worth the wait, and simply glorious.
With heartfelt thanks to Adorable, The Trades Club, and Gareth.
Word by Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Dave MacIntyre.