by Kevin Attics of Mercury Girls
There’s a video online of Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris playing an intimate show in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008. The scene is beset with Christmas lights (an immediate visual cue that you’re watching a small show in an events space or house) as Elizabeth, armed with just a ukulele and a glockenspiel accompaniment, sweetly sings out a cover of of Montreal’s “Du Og Meg”. When she finishes you can nearly count the handclaps.
Later that Summer, Elizabeth (this time joined by the full band) would perform at Indietracks, the cult indiepop festival that inspires fans the world over to travel to a small train yard in Derbyshire, England, for a too-brief weekend in July. With just 20 festival-only EPs to sell (their “Photos” EP had sold out long ago) the group’s set was scheduled for a moving steam engine. Artists relegated to the “train stage” provide attendees with a compact side-adventure when the crowds at the festival’s main stages become too much. I’ve been on that train. It seats MAYBE thirty people. Standing isn’t an option.
Now, Allo Darlin’ is set to play their final show ever in their home-base of London. The venue has a capacity of nearly 1200 and is well on its way to selling out. There shouldn’t be any surprise about that, though. Why, just a few years after playing that steam train at Indietracks they came back and headlined the festival.
Such has been the career trajectory of this UK quartet who, over the course of eight years, became one of the most beloved indiepop acts in the world. Founded “in the back of a cab”, the group consists of Elizabeth (who played in the Amelia Fletcher-helmed group Tender Trap, amongst others), Bill Botting (who backed Hefner-singer Darren Hayman for a time), illustrator/animator Paul Rains, and Mike Collins who joined the group as the drummer… despite not thinking of himself as a drummer by any means.
Somehow it clicked and, after only giving the project “serious focus” for a couple of months, they set about recording their wistful, self-titled debut for Fortuna Pop!. The resulting work, clear-headed, purposeful, and delivered on firm-footing, was both refreshing and a necessary pivot for the indiepop genre. The Twee du jour sound of the mid-aughts had just given way to a backlash against any sort of preciousness and critics were happy to over-correct the course of conversation by championing genres like “shitgaze”, “witch house”, and the like.
It’s general practice for feckless writers to show great reluctance in praising a band that shares its lineage with a cooling genre so it’s to Allo Darlin’s credit that they received so much critical acclaim so immediately. And they did it by writing honest-to-goodness songs that were just that: honest and good. Each one is a pocket novel. One that lends you a little bit of wisdom by the end.
They could have given us just one fantastic album. That’s a feat unto itself and usually the chemistry needed to catch that sort of lightning in a bottle renders a group especially unstable (this is a band whose tour van almost killed them during a disastrous string of European dates supporting their first LP). Most great acts don’t last long, especially following a strenuous run like that. But as the years rolled by we were treated to a tone-perfect trilogy of LPs and over a dozen singles.
In September of this year, the group announced that the difficult balancing act of being a functioning band and being functioning adults couldn’t continue. Life leads us places we could never imagine and there’s something heartening in seeing partners acknowledge that going forward is untenable; that the most emotionally resonant path is to have a proper swan song and begin the task of moving on. They conducted themselves with grace from start to finish. Released earlier this month, their farewell single, “Hymn on the 45” is a powerful, perfect goodbye note to the world. They go out opining the power of music and imploring us to “turn it up”. It’s both conciliatory and heartbreaking.
They’ve given us the cue that it’s time to bid adieu to the project and isn’t that a core value in music? There’s no meaning in A Long Forget. There’s no theatre in a formerly great band slowly becoming weekend warriors slowly becoming obsolete. Things are supposed to burn out instead of fade away. Few bands’ stories are seemingly so prosaic yet infused with such poise and judgment. It’s just like any one of their songs: a pocket novel that lends you some wisdom. Goodbye. Farewell. So long Allo Darlin’.
Allo Darlin’s final single, Hymn On The 45/Wanderlust, is released December 9th
Mercury Girls released cassette of demos, a 7″single, and a 4-way split in 2016 – listen here
Saturday 10th December, 2pm – MOTH Club, London – SOLD OUT
with Night Flowers
Saturday 10th December, 7pm – MOTH Club, London – SOLD OUT
with The Hayman Kupa Band + DJ Scared To Dance
Sunday 11th December, 7:30pm – Scala, London – SOLD OUT
with Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums + Josie Long + DJ How Does It Feel To Be Loved?
The Hangover Lounge (Allo Darlin‘ Special) – FREE ENTRY
Sunday 11th December, 12 noon @ The Water Rats, London
(Please note – the band will not be appearing live at this)
photograph by nigel king