The Life and Times of Pete Fij
This month the Time Machine takes a swerve and explores the life of a musician who’s been resident in Worthing for 16 years. His story doesn’t all concern Worthing but he’s one of ours so we’re going to celebrate him – Pete Fij. He was, after all, for a brief spell in the spring of 1992, the frontman of Britain’s hottest guitar band. He took that ride until it crashed and has, more recently, seen critical acclaim and his highest profile since, working as a duo with Terry Bickers (of The House of Love and Levitation). But let’s hop back to the start.
Born Peter Fijalkowski to Polish parents, he had a happy childhood in Guildford. The family was artistically inclined but not especially musical. It was his only brother Krzyz, seven years older, who upped the ante, sending home cassette compilations from university featuring Echo & the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs et al. Something of an outsider, Fij didn’t enjoy school but flourished at Sixth Form College in Godalming.
“I found the delights of buying odd-sized suits in Oxfam,” he recalls, “going round looking like a cross between David Byrne and Robert Smith.”
He headed to Warwick University to study film theory but soon decided he wanted to be in a band and initially picked up a bass “because I thought it might be 33% easier to play than a guitar”. He joined a band, Bubblegum Flesh, who soon changed their name to The Fuzzyfelts.
“We were rubbish,” he says, “but luckily everyone else was equally rubbish. We were twee and punk at same time. People shouted abuse and we just stared them out.”
The latter half of the Eighties was a prime time for wilfully lo-fi indie bands and The Fuzzyfelts developed a small following. One holiday Pete wrote a song on his brother’s four-track and used it as the basis for a new band in which he played guitar and sang, The Candy Thieves.
“The House of Love were a massive influence,” he says, “I wanted to sound like [their breakthrough tune] ‘Destroy the Heart’.”
There was a thriving band scene in Coventry with groups being signed left, right and centre. The competition between them was inspiring. They learnt off each other, sending out demos, playing London, wooing the then-all important music press.
“Although the personnel and sets were the same, we decided to con record labels into thinking we were a new band by changing our name,” Fij remembers, “Almost straight away we received attention, including from labels who’d already passed on us.”
The new name was Adorable. Their indie pop-rock thrived amid the popular shoegaze movement whilst not being part of it, and they scraped onto the bottom of an NME unsigned showcase, headlined by PJ Harvey, also featuring Suede on the bill.
“We just performed our arses off – one of best gigs we ever did,” recollects Fij. “Coming offstage I said that if we didn’t get signed then, we never would: we absolutely nailed it.”
The next day their manager was inundated with offers but only two labels interested them; Food – who’d just signed Blur and Jesus Jones – and Creation. The latter, overseen by Alan McGee, who’d later sign Oasis, was the definitive ‘80s indie mecca, with a roster including My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride.
“Alan McGee and I never really hit it off,” Fij recalls, “but he had an incredible enthusiasm for music. Creation worked out of ramshackle offices in an untrendy part of east London above a sweatshop, things torn out of NME and stuck on walls with Blu Tack. I had a real go at him when we first met as he’d just dropped My Bloody Valentine and done it by phone. I made him promise that if were ever dropped, he’d do it face-to-face.”
Initially things looked good. Adorable signed Creation’s biggest ever deal. Their debut single, ‘Sunshine Smile’, performed well in the indie charts, indicating a solid future. They toured the world and, at their peak, were headlining 800 capacity venues as far afield as California, Australia and Japan. However, there was a backlash almost from the start…
“We wanted to be pop stars,” says Fij, “We wanted the glamour back in pop, but when Wil [Stephen Williams] and I did those early interviews and were perceived as arrogant. Two years later Oasis had that kind of swagger and it was fine but we were out of step with the times. From then on, we got such a kicking in the press.”
Fij is keen to emphasise that multiple factors played their part in Adorable’s slow decline. He states that, although they didn’t know it then, their first few months were their peak and the rest was downhill. In late 1994, after two albums, the band fell apart and Fij retreated to a new base of Brighton and “a year-long state of shock, a daze”. Alan McGee never did drop them face-to-face either.
Fij became a second hand book dealer (his mum had worked in a book shop) while dabbling with a pop project, Casino, featuring the writer Siân Pattenden, before deciding to launch a new band, Polak, with his brother. They signed to One Little Indian and made a couple of albums but members were starting to settle down with jobs and families, and it petered out in the new century. Fij recorded a solo album but never did anything with it, leaving it in a drawer for years.
Then in 2009 he was invited to play the Brighton Fringe and realised that “if I didn’t do the gig I’d never do music again.” He invited Terry Bickers who he knew vaguely, to join him, which had a certain symmetry since the guitarist’s work with The House of Love had kickstarted Fij’s own career. Their collaboration was a success and they made their debut in the top room of Worthing’s Dome cinema to 40 people. From there on the Pete Fij/Terry Bickers project has blossomed, resulting in two lovely albums of poetic, heartworn acoustica which the duo occasionally tour successfully.
It leaves Fij in a good place, with a portfolio career, also working at his beloved Shelley Care Home (recently rated ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission), running the Shoreham Flyover Car Boot Sale, and putting on his ever-busy Never Stop nights of alt/indie ‘80s music. The title of the latter might be his motto. Never stop, indeed.
Adorable’s first album ‘Against Perfection’ has been re-released in July on vinyl by Music on Vinyl
Pete Fij / Terry Bickers 2017 album ‘We Are Millionaires’ will be released on vinyl on Dec 11th 2018 on the Broadcast Recording Label.
Thomas H Green