Delights feel like a passage back to something you don’t often come across anymore. While the internet is a fertile breeding ground for instant, meteoric success, the four-piece have paid their dues: since they were teenagers in baggy blazers and school ties, they planted their roots firmly in the soil of Manchester’s music scene. They know what it is to play to sparse rooms in venues since boarded up, be the small-print supporter beneath local heroes who have since fizzled out, and to be confronted with the drawing board more than a few times. Yet, in a time where the tried-and-true grassroots avenues into live music are confronted with dead ends and elbows are sharper than ever to rise to top billing, against all odds, Delights’ star is truly is ascent.
Take a closer look, and it’s easy to see why. When the band emerged in 2017, there was no denying they shared instinct for rollicking indie anthems and beer-sloshing choruses. But beneath all that, they were always guided by their North Star: the melody. It’s that which makes every Delights song such a moreish confection you keep reaching for, burrowing into your mind as you find yourself absentmindedly humming their choruses.
The release of their first “mini-album”, Cool Sports, heralds a band not of college boys anymore, but young men who have since mastered an entirely new, eclectic sound. Demonstrating taste through an appreciation of legacy, their rose-tinted, psychedelic grooves nod to a lineage of established artists from David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac to the blue-eyed soul of Ned Doheny. Listening to Delights evokes a Sunday afternoon in a distant time, under different skies.
Across its seven acts, from the disco-indebted “Iris” which earned its first spin on BBC Radio One to the sun-kissed dreamscape of its forerunning single, “1989”, amassing streams in six figures felt not only deserved, but inevitable. Delights are a band unconcerned with the entanglements of ego; of the suits, furrowed brows and falsified cowboy drawls that seem to dog the trajectory of the guitar-led bands before them – rather, Cool Sports was brought to life over beers in the spare bedroom of their shared student house in Manchester. Vocalist Adam Maxwell captures their essence: “We’re just best mates, messing around half the time and having fun with it.”
A series of serendipitous events and accidental happenings define the band’s story. Nothing, beyond the music itself, is designed. Things have a habit of simply falling into place. Since secondary school, Maxwell, along with guitarist Ben Squires and bassist Ben Kirkland, had been performing in another band called Educated Risk. Back then, drummer Leo Willis was a bassist in a band of his own but was a devoted fan and friend of theirs, who could always be found in the front row of every show, whipping up a mosh pit in their honour.
As school came to an end, they were forced to recalibrate, finding themselves lacking a drummer. As it happened, Willis’ shed was nominated to keep his band’s drum kit: “I just started to play drums for them very, very poorly,” laughs Willis. Before they’d played a single show, they’d released all their songs online, tinkering with them on Logic while they studied music technology together in college.
Their name was similarly stumbled upon. “It’s the worst band name story that ever existed. Every time anybody asks us about it, it’s just like a collective cringe between all of us,” grimaces Willis. “We just wish it was better,” says Maxwell. “Our parents said, ‘When you get interviewed, just lie!’ – and we were like, ‘No! We’re not going to lie about it.” The band, who on Monday would be The Relics, and then Tuesday change it to something loosely tied to a Bowie album, couldn’t settle on something that made a comfortable fit. Squires and Willis were on the bus home from college, riffing on ideas after being pressured to come up with something for a local festival poster, pointing things out that they spotted on the journey to try them on for size. Willis recalls, ‘I said, ‘How about: The Lights’, and then Squires went, ‘Oh… Delights. I like that.’”
The same edge-of-the-moment logic guided them towards the title Cool Sports – which, when pressed to define exactly what makes the cut, is defined as anything that requires a great shirt. Bowling? Perfect. Darts? Even better (“especially if you can rock up in the pub and be the best geezer in there,” says Maxwell). Golf can work, too, on a particular nice summer’s evening. Hockey, though? Not cool. And football? Well, you’ve got to be careful with that; the kits used to be much better back in the day – now, not so much.
The idea arose once again from something half heard. They were struggling to take “1989” from beyond the bridge, and Kirkland said to Maxwell, ‘Do something like Sports’, referring to the Oklahoma dream-pop duo, Sports, whose sound has proven to be highly influential for the band. Squires remembers, “I think I just went, ‘Okay. Cool, Sports’ – just agreeing with them.” Maxwell and Kirkland latched onto it, singing it over the top of the track’s melody, and so Cool Sports naturally stuck. Now, the pair have matching stick-and-poke tattoos of the title on their legs.
Kirkland says little, but his actions in Delights speak their own volumes: it was him, after all, who traced the letters upside down at 2AM onto their skin, and who Willis describes as “the centre point of creativity for all of us”, before adding, “I’m blowing smoke up all your arses now, you have to be nice!” Willis gave Kirkland his old bass pedal with built in loop functions and pre-set drum kits, and confidently attests: “I’d probably say he’s written 90% of all our tunes on that, a little creative hub for him.”
But there is a fluidity to the way Delights write their music. While someone may command a particular instrument, they all play to a range of strengths. “Everyone’s mucking in, doing a bit of everything,” explains Maxwell. “There are no red lines which exclude someone from getting involved in something else.” But something they had to learn quickly was how to leave the personal egos at the door; entering a session meant being prepared to kill their darlings. “It’s just being with your best mates, you know what it’s like,” Willis shrugs. “You can’t pretend to be somebody else, or do something a little bit stupid, because they’ll just call you out for it and have a go at you. We all know each other too well for that.”
The lyrics are often a patchwork quilt of all their experiences, stitched together with a little nonsense and abstraction. “Iris”, was the last track brought together on the mini album on a time limit, and they wanted to create wordplay around a name. Their conundrum was solved after plugging ‘attractive girl names’ into Google, with Iris ranking at number twenty-six. “Discothèque” was guided by the melody, with the lyrics based loosely around an incident in Forrest Gump, Maxwell tells me. But “Tender”, on the other hand, was anchored to more specifically to an experience rooted in own life. But Delights like to keep their lyrics deliberately vague, and their themes universal, so that their audience can see their own stories reflected within them.
Cool Sports was the first project where they’d set out with the intention of creating a cohesive body of work, rather than a string of chronological singles. “We had between fifteen and twenty things that could’ve been fleshed out,” Maxwell remembers. “It didn’t really matter if it became nothing, because we could just write whatever we wanted, and whatever we liked, we could flesh out. It was kind of nice refining that down, finding consistency in the style and chiselling away to get into what that is.” The only common thread that ties the five core songs together is a keyboard they introduced when they released during the “Telephone Baby” era, which lends a subtle, but distinct sound to Delights’ output which they have come to associate as their signature.
The band agree that Cool Sports is their most diverse body of work so far. They still hold affection for their earliest music, and so do their fans, who continue to request even the most carefully buried SoundCloud deep cuts at shows. “It’s cringy, but it’s a time and place,” says Willis. “It reminds us of being young and everything, but I wouldn’t listen to it now, per se.” Maxwell tells me he had to sit through hearing one of their first releases on a jukebox at work, but while the enjoyment of the song itself might not necessarily be a given, the self-reflection it allows between the band Delights were then, compared to now, is incredibly rewarding.
“The hardest thing about being an indie band is that everyone’s in an indie band” – Leo Willis
After signing to northern record label, Modern Sky, whose roster boasts SPINN and The Blinders, they were insistent Cool Sports would include a remix to raise the artistic stakes and push their thinking outside the box. Initially, Willis was going to rework “Iris” himself, but other commitments meant that labelmates Volleyball stepped up to the plate (aptly matching the album’s sport-related theme, while, unsurprisingly, being accidental). The remix draws something warped and altogether subterranean from the song’s bones, making a foray into a dense, ambient woodland. “It was absolutely brilliant. You could even put the two songs next to each other, and if the lyrics were different, you’d never assume they were related at all,” says Willis.
But while the band’s artistic ambition has broadened immeasurably, it was important that they leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to where it all began. They chose to close the project with the ‘Bedroom Version’ of “Under Your Spell”, stripping the studio gloss back to that makeshift bedroom studio in Manchester. “As much as having polished production is brilliant, you do lose that sense of authenticity a little bit,” Willis tells me. “The bedroom version, for me, ties everything together by taking us back to how it was all written and where it started. You can hear how we write the songs, and then how they differ when we go into the studio and work on it.”
To find a band in the vein of Delights who broadly fit within the all-encompassing bracket of ‘indie’ who successfully break the surface beyond their city is something of a rarity. The band formed in an era when anything guitar-led still had a firm stronghold in youth culture, when reaching the commercial heights of Blossoms, Wolf Alice and Circa Waves was an ideation shared by teenagers from forgotten corners of the country, stifled by their hometowns.
Surely belonging to a genre with such violent ebbs and tides poses its own unique challenges? “The hardest thing about being an indie band is that everyone’s in an indie band,” Willis laughs. “Everyone who can play an instrument, at some point, has formed a band and tried to make it work.” But the implicated truth is that guitar bands and indie music will always have its place. “There are always going to be kids coming up, teenagers discovering new music and getting into going to live gigs and seeing new bands.”
The staggering popularity of Harry Styles and the fresh contortions of indie’s principles by the likes of Dayglow and Boy Pablo has carved an entirely new pocket in the public imagination of what it means to be an ‘indie’ artist. “I think it’s more on people’s lips than it was, I would say,” Maxwell feels. “With Harry Styles, I look at some of the stuff he plays, and I think, ‘I could see a band doing that, you know. That’s an indie band song.’ It’s brilliant that he brings a whole new audience to that sound.”
Ask Delights how they choose to define success, and of course, they can’t reach consensus. Rather, there are a number of interweaving avenues to reach it, and the common denominator between all of them is, put simply, to just have fun. Live performance is intrinsic to the band’s identity, and despite their regular haunts being converted to apartment blocks, and ticket prices hiking to spare the venue, they’ve drummed up a national following that has allowed them to headline a UK tour. Their biggest draw, however, is always Manchester. To return to the warmth and familiarity of the city, whether that be a ten-cap basement or the venue they dream of, Apollo, is something that Delights always look forward to.
I ask if they ever reach a point of satisfaction with their music, and Willis answers immediately, “No.” Maxwell adds, “I think we can enjoy the view on some bits, but the making of the music, that’s where we’re the most picky… oh my god.” But they are forever chasing that “honeymoon period”, that first flush of love that comes from bringing a new song to life. While Cool Sports is a point of pride, the band have their gaze fixed firmly on the future. Their debut album is underway, and already, Delights are evolving far beyond their initial promise. Cool Sports is only the warmup.
The Cool Sports EP is out now