mon 04/03/2024

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers, Worthing Festival 2023 review - lyricism, amusing anecdotes and gorgeous guitar playing | reviews, news & interviews

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers, Worthing Festival 2023 review - lyricism, amusing anecdotes and gorgeous guitar playing

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers, Worthing Festival 2023 review - lyricism, amusing anecdotes and gorgeous guitar playing

Indie duo make heartbreak entertaining on a warm summer evening

Pete Fij (left) and Terry Bickers

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers are bathed in muted red light. They are sat side-by-side, Fij with an acoustic guitar, Bickers with a vintage 1970s CMI hollow-bodied electric. Behind them, oil wheel lighting gloops and bubbles gently, bespattered with glowing green circles cast by the stationary disco ball hanging high above them. “It’s surprising to see how much life you can fit into the back of a van,” sings Fij, dolefully, then adds, “It only took two trips.”

The line, from the song “Broken Heart Surgery”, sums up part of the duo’s appeal, combining, as it does, a world-weary mournfulness with wry, dryly humorous lyricism. It’s all a long way from their more storied pasts. Bickers was guitarist in Eighties/Nineties indie doyens The House of Love and psychedelic mavericks Levitation, while Fij fronted brash Creation Records outfit Adorable. Well-preserved these decades later, both still have mops of hair. Bickers also has an elegant goatee and moustache, and is clad in an embroidered western shirt, but it’s Fij who sings lead and chats away between songs.

The concert takes place in Heene Church Rooms, a cosy Victorian church hall, the stage bordered by red curtains adorned with fairylights. It’s part of the Worthing Festival, a busy, ten-day multi-venue affair that launched this year. Indeed, at one point Fij jokingly proclaims, “In yer face, Gaz Coombes!”, because the Supergrass frontman is playing a nearby venue but Fij & Bickers’ gig is still sold-out.

Support comes from Brighton three-piece Patients, usually an indie-rock proposition but tonight playing a bouncy stripped back set. By contrast, Fij & Bickers’ first few songs are almost comically miserable, yet their sound is also delicately luscious and welcoming. Fij’s cracked but full-bodied voice giving emotion to heartbreak, while Bickers, a player of fluid, unforced intuitiveness, adds subtle, harmonic counterpoint, the clanging tone redolent of his work in the band that made him famous (at least, with readers of the NME and their ilk!).

They draw from their two albums, playing songs such as “The Sound of Love” and “If the World is All We Have”, balancing Lee Hazlewood-esque balladry and Leonard Cohen mordancy with something of John Barry’s twangy cinematic sound. Fij tells us the gig celebrates 10 years since their first release, the song “Betty Ford”, and that one of those who supported the Kickstarter campaign behind it was “the rabbit from Donnie Darko”. They play it… “Hope, it’s more addictive than coke, yeah, it’s Cupid’s cruel joke”.

Fij cheerfully acknowledges that their downtempo sound isn’t for every occasion and tells a very funny story about their being hired to play a sizeable chartered accountants' do because the boss liked them, but then being swiftly bundled off and paid after 37 minutes.

They’re not all mopey songs. “I Don’t Give a Shit About You” is a much-needed explosion of rage, while a new song proclaims, amusingly, “Don’t listen to old men with guitars/Trying to tell you who you are”. And then there’s the two-song encore which begins with a thoughtful version of Adorable’s shoegazer-ish slowie “A To Fade In” but concludes in unlikely but enjoyable fashion with Three Dog Night’s hairy 1970s rocker “Mama Told Me Not to Come”. Initially calm and deconstructed, the pair finally rock out a little during its latter half. Part of me would have enjoyed more in this mode but, then, that isn’t really the point of Fij/Bickers or what anyone here came for.

Tonight is, apparently, their last show for a while as Fij is working on a solo album and Bickers has his own projects. It’s a lovely way to step back, two successful local musicians playing a venue that’s opened especially for this series of Heene Sessions concerts. The capacity crowd wanders out to a hazy, sun-touched seaside evening.

Below: watch the video for "Love's Going to Get You" by Pete Fij/Terry Bickers

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