Band that’s helping to unite the world
Northern Ireland’s music scene is positively thriving with a record number of bands and solo acts landing record deals and reviews in the national press.
One of the most promising of these acts, And So I Watch You From Afar, has organised a showcase of local music this weekend — to celebrate and nurture the talent that’s out there, and encourage the local |musicians of tomorrow.
I’ll always remember the first time I saw North Coast four-piece And So I Watch You From Afar play live.
It was a couple of years ago and their brand of post-apocalyptic instrumental noise was going down a storm as part of the now sadly departed local music festival belFEST.
Fast forward a couple of years and the boys have not only got better — receiving rave reviews from the NME, Kerrang, Hot Press, Rock Sound and even Gary Lightbody — but this week landed a record deal for their debut album with the Smalltown America label.
Not everyone, however, “got” their hernia-inducing sound in those early days, as guitarist Tony Wright explains.
“Our early shows were very different to how they are now. Over the course of half our shows, we’d be playing three or four tracks, real long crescendo-based nonsense. We were outsiders really and didn’t know too many people in Belfast, but we would always get a random poet or singer who would say ‘you need a vocalist and I’m f**kin’ great’. We still get those people now, but we always politely decline their offer.”
“I think if we could do it all a little differently, we’d maybe have held off launching the band until we knew exactly what we wanted to be playing, which we’re a lot closer to now,” offers guitarist Rory Friers. “We’ve never said ‘right, no singer’, but we don’t need one now. I think we’re all dead excited about where it’s going.”
And so they should be because after a year of hard slog on the road putting on incendiary gig after incendiary gig, ASIWYFA have made both the UK and Ireland sit up and take notice. At the moment the band (completed bassist Johnny Adgar and tub thumper Chris Wee) are working on their first full-length album, but in the meantime they have the thunderous slab of wax that is the This Is Our Machine And Nothing Can Stop It mini-album in the shops to keep the faithful happy.
“We’re flattered people think that we’re one of the most driven bands in the country,” says Rory. “We work so hard for this, but it’s a pretty natural thing for us too. Coming from the sticks you had to really do it yourself to get anything done. We kinda have a rule to accept as much help that’s offered, but to depend on none of it.”
“Yeah we’re definitely driven because this is all we have ever wanted to do,” continues Tony. “I think the same drive is apparent everywhere you look, though. You only have to go to a local rehearsal space and hear the amount of bands working really hard and that keeps us going too.”
Of course, Tony is being typically modest; how many other musicians do you know who get hospitalised, then go straight out to play a show?
“Yeah, that story is true,” he laughs. “It happened last year. I was drunk, got hit by a cab, woke up in hospital with a drip hanging out my arm and then sneaked out the next morning. The guys met me at the gates and we high-tailed it to Derry for Fighting With Wire’s album launch where we played a killer show. I had a bad headache afterwards though.
“That aside, my personal favourite show was our first EP launch (Tonight The City Burns) in Auntie Annie’s. We were expecting 20 people and ended up selling the place out. For us, it signified the fact that we could take the band a lot further than we first thought. That was a year and a half ago and here we are about to play the Mandela Hall and I’m bricking it.”
Ever since the band formed three years ago in “the middle of nowhere” (according to Tony and Rory), they’ve been ticking achievement boxes in double quick time and this weekend marks possibly their biggest venture to date — their own music festival.
Taking place in the Mandela Hall, Speakeasy and Bunatee in Queens Student’s Union, the bash is called A Little Solidarity (named after their song A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes a Long Way which featured on this year’s Oh Yeah album) and boasts a shed-load of Ulster’s greatest bands all playing together. The line-up includes the mighty Fighting With Wire, the hotly tipped General Fiasco and the sublime Two Door Cinema Club among many others, and it’s an event which is close to the hearts of ASIWYFA.
“The idea came about after Tony and I spent one of our usual nights sitting up smoking too many fags and discussing our grand schemes. I remember saying to Johnny Black (vocalist/singer in LaFaro) outside the Limelight that ‘we’re gonna do a show in the Mandela next year’ and he was like ‘let’s do it then’. That was that really.”
“It’s an extension of the show we did last year called Tonight the City Burns, which was all about collaboration and the strength of the scene,” adds Tony. “We wanted to take it up a notch and get as many heads involved (as possible). The scene here is amazingly strong and there’s too much great music that we don’t want to go unnoticed.”
Once the idea for the get-together was put forward, it didn’t take long for the boys to put a bill together and in a show of scene spirit it ended up a matter of trying to fit everyone in rather than struggling to find willing participants.
“Putting A Little Solidarity together wasn’t hard to do at all,” insists Rory. “These bands are down with the cause ... it’s not ASIWYFA’s show plus support — it’s everyone’s gig. There’s no messing about with this lot. The hardest bit was having to somehow select who was playing. We could have done two weeks straight.”
For the first time in many years, the NI music scene seems refreshingly free of sniping and back-biting and, while ASIWYFA will hate to hear it said, much of this is down to their positive outlook and efforts to unite everyone.
They feel that it’s hard enough for a local band to get the breaks they deserve — so why make things harder by engaging in endless feuds? Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to play their gig tomorrow as if their lives depended on it. They’ve still got a point to prove.
“We’ve actually got a decibel contest between ASIWYFA and LaFaro,” jokes Tony.
“That’s why we opted for the Mandela Hall — they’ve a bigger PA. For any of you gamblers out there, the smart money’s on us.”
As well as bands playing for your aural pleasure, there will also be exhibitions, a speed networking panel for local musos to get some face-to-face time with industry types, and competitions for studio time too. Basically, if you’ve ever had any interest in music, A Little Solidarity should be your only port of call this weekend.
“We’ve tried to make the festival as pro-new music as possible, so we have loads of opportunities for some younger bands to meet people and get their music out there,” says Rory. “We have a speed networking session with some great industry people from NI and the UK, we have demo drops, free studio time, choice slots for new bands, reviews and airplay up for grabs, gigs on offer and generally just a lot of people who are there to support who’s gonna be killing it next year and beyond.”
Rory concludes: “As for our own ambitions over the next five years, all we want to do is write, record, tour, write, record, tour. We always said that if we could pay rent and eat from playing music, then we’d need nothing else, so I’d say if we could be doing that in five years and getting to see some cool places, we’d be laughing.”
A Little Solidarity takes place tonight and tomorrow. Tonight’s show features LaFaro, Desert Hearts, Pocket Billiards and Axis Of and kicks off at 7pm in the Speakeasy. Tomorrow from 1-6pm in the Speakeasy is Two Door Cinema Club, Mojo Fury, Team Fresh and Yes Cadets. Later that night in the Mandela Hall, We Are Knives, Panama Kings, General Fiasco, And So I Watch You From Afar and Fighting With Wire all play. Doors are at 7pm. Tonight’s gig and tomorrow’s matinee show are £5, the main event in the Mandela Hall is £9 and limited two-day tickets are available for £12. The new album from ASIWYFA is out on March 23. www.myspace.com/andsoiwatchyoufromafar