And So I Watch You From Afar are feeding the flames of positivity in NI music. Corralling some of the finest local talent, the instrumental rockers are the masterminds behind the one-off performance and limited EP release ‘Tonight The City Burns’.
A music industry in NI has sputtered and spat its way to life, occasional successes such as Ash, The Divine Comedy and Therapy? warming our hearts for a time, blazing sporadic and isolated. But now, with the triumph of acts such as Duke Special, Oppenheimer, Snow Patrol and Foy Vance, interest and belief have ignited like dry kindling and become an empowering inferno, blazing a path for others to follow.
ASIWYFA don’t so much follow as rampage their way towards opportunity. When I met with the band’s Rory Friers (guitar) and Tony Wright (guitar) the desire to push themselves as far as their ability allows and to see NI recognised as a genuine musical force was overwhelming. ‘Tonight The City Burns’ is symbolic of their belief in their work and, more importantly, their faith in NI music.
‘We’re picking up on the really positive vibe that’s going through the country at the moment,’ observes Wright. ‘It’s interesting, a lot of our favourite bands grew out of particular scenes - Seattle, Manchester, London, Chicago, Liverpool.'
'At different times, different locations seem to have this buzz about them,’ adds Friers. ‘Why not Belfast and NI. Why not now?’
Yes, why not Belfast, why not NI? Certainly if more bands could show the imagination, ambition and, most importantly, application of ASIWYFA then such a scenario is not impossible.
‘When we released ‘This Is Our Machine And Nothing Can Stop It’ we thought it was daring to book Auntie Annie’s for the launch,’ recalls Friers. ‘You think, "is anyone gonna come?" You’ve got to push it a bit further each time. For ‘Tonight The City Burns’ we chose Spring & Airbrake. You get nervous wondering if things are going to come off, but you’ve got to be ambitious.’
Scientists have yet to confirm whether cigarettes have any ambition or idea-boosting qualities, but as Wright confirms, they were pivotal in the conception of ‘Tonight The City Burns’.
‘I would get home from work late, maybe two in the morning. I’d find Rory sitting up. We’d sit and smoke 20 cigarettes each and come up with grand ideas. We thought it would be great to get a load of local guys to provide vocals for some tracks, to do an EP and a gig.
‘What we’ve done is progressive and forward-thinking, but it was also about adapting an old tradition to a modern environment. ‘Tonight The City Burns’ is almost a throwback to the days of the showbands, when one band would play, but different singers would join them throughout the evening.’
The selection of sirens chosen to give voice to ASIWYFA’s soundscapes is intriguing, each bringing something inimitable in terms of performance and interpretation.
‘Johnny (Black, from LaFaro) sounds like a fiercely rocking Dylan, Cahir (O’Doherty, from Fighting With Wire) has a fantastically powerful rock voice, Geoff’s (Toppley, aka Foamboy/Cruz) voice is so rich and assured and Neil’s (Hughes, from Driving By Night) voice is a thing of majesty and refined timbre.’
However, what makes this initiative so interesting is not so much the meshing of vocal style and music, but the integrating of belief, observing how the various participants have bought into the project’s ethos of ‘f*ck London, f*ck grumbling, let’s champion NI music'.
‘We didn’t want the vocalists just giving a karaoke rendition of our songs,’ states Friers. ‘It was about them being involved, bringing their own vision and creative input to it.’
Fostering a sense of inclusivity and belief that ambitions can be realised without relocating to London is essential not only for the success of projects like ‘Tonight The City Burns’, but for the continued wellbeing of NI music.
‘That’s been our attitude from day one,’ confirms Friers. ‘There are too many people who swan about badmouthing everything here and harping on about London. Well I don’t believe that. If you want to do something then do it here. There’s so much going on opportunities if you want them. DIY is the way forward. Work hard. The world’s a tiny place now, put your music out there, use the internet. The attitude’s got to be right, everything follows on from that.’
His bandmate is equally vociferous in his belief in NI, saying that there is now the infrastructure to support artists, and that success is within the grasp of those with the talent and temerity to reach for it.
‘Every necessary ingredient is now in NI. Good press, great music writers, radio stations, promoters. It’s about harnessing all the various elements and bringing the music industry here together. This place has had so much negativity associated with it in the past. I think we’re seeing the other side of that now. It’s time to put out the good shit.’
‘Tonight The City Burns’ is just one such example, a collaborative effort that encourages NI to rally behind its music and help it scorch its mark on the international stage, deep and indelible. Friers puts it so sweetly and succinctly.
‘NI could be an amazing centre for music. There are loads of fantastic bands, it’s just a case of everyone getting together and starting a f*cking revolution.’