And So I Watch You From Afar
Instrumental rockers talk music, serendipity and what's in a name ahead of Christmas gig at the Ulster Hall. Click Play Audio to listen to their track 'Set Guitars to Kill'
Thin Lizzy. Rory Gallagher. Them. Ash. Therapy?... Down the years the Ulster Hall has played host to some legendary Christmas headliners. But this year a new – and particularly long – name is being added to this venerable list: everyone’s favourite instrumental rockers And So I Watch You From Afar (or ASIWYFA to their fans) are touching down at the Ulster Hall on December 18.
Speaking ahead of the gig ASIWYFA guitarist, Tony Wright, can barely contain his excitement. ‘Without doubt this is our most important gig to date – we’ve played to bigger crowds but this is really the big one,’ he says. ‘For a four piece instrumental band from the north coast (we’re basically country bumpkins) to be playing the Ulster Hall at Christmas is just amazing.’
Wright had a cameo with La Faro during the latter’s turn at the Do You Remember the First Time? showearlier this year, but this will be his first time on stage at the Ulster Hall with ‘my brothers’, as he refers to the rest of ASIWYFA. ‘It’s a real cliché but if you are a band growing up in Northern Ireland you really want to play the Ulster Hall.’
We are all accustomed to northern artists waxing lyrical about how the Ulster Hall ‘changed their life’, but in the case of Wright it really is true. If it wasn’t for the Bedford Street institution the guitarist would not be sitting across from me in Queen’s Students Union, eating breakfast at two in the afternoon and furiously searching for a rehearsal space in Belfast.
‘My parents actually met in the Ulster Hall,’ he explains after finishing his sausage roll. So what was the band that brought Mr and Mrs Wright together? Black Sabbath? Thin Lizzy? Gallagher? ‘It was Fairport Convention,’ Wright jnr laughs. ‘You can say I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Ulster Hall. And you wouldn’t be here talking to me either.’
Ignoring the Sliding Doors-esque implications of Richard Thompson et al’s gig way back when, I ask Wright about the one thing that has puzzled me since I first stumbled across ASIWYFA’s unique brand of instrumental rock - think Fugazi without the lyrics, crossed with Mogwai. Throw in some heavy metal riffs and you’re a quarter of the way there - what’s with the name?
‘Johnny (Adger, the band’s bassist) came up with it.’ Zelig-like, the name seems to carry as many meanings as the band have fans. ‘People have so many different ideas about what it means,’ Wright, who is just back from a major European tour, remarks. ‘But I’m quite a paranoid person. I like to think of it as an Orwellian thing – ‘we’re watching you’.
‘I hate the whole CCTV thing,’ the musician continues. ‘I don’t like the idea of people having information about you. I don’t have a credit card. I don’t like using Facebook. I didn’t even use the Oyster Card when I was in London.’
Thankfully Wright seems to have no qualms about speaking to the media, and his honesty is refreshing. His knowledge of the history of contemporary music isn’t bad either. Whether it’s discussing Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s definitive book on the American Underground in the 1980s, rock critic Simon Reynolds’ oeuvre or Brian Wilson’s nefarious father, Wright is a lucid and engaging interlocutor.
‘I always loved the fact that in the summer of 1980 the most played song on underground radio in New York was ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Its like early hip-hop was influenced by four white guys from London.’
Wright’s interest in music in the broadest sense of the word is shared by his bandmates. ‘We’re all interested in musical crossovers. We want every time a person hears us for the first time to be like ‘I didn’t expect that’.’
ASIWYFA’s eponymous début album enjoyed rave reviews - Huw Stephen named it ‘Album of the Week’ on BBC Radio 1, Kerrang! awarded it four Ks and it was listed in Rock Sound’s Top 50 Albums of 2008 – but Wright is determined to change it up for album number two.
‘We don’t want to make a copy of the first album. I’ve been listening to more and more dance music, mainly because we want to make a move away from what we’ve done in the past. There’s no point in releasing And So I Watch You From Afar 2,’ he says of the second album, which the band are due to start recording in February.
But before that there is the small matter of the Ulster Hall show. ‘We are basically transferring what we did in a dingy back room bar in Portrush to a major internationally recognised venue,’ he says of the band’s intentions for the night.
If that sounds like a tall order, Wright doesn’t look unduly perturbed. Perhaps it is because in LaFaro, Cashier No9 and Adebisi Shank ASIWYFA have enlisted the support of three of the hottest young properties in Northern Irish music. Although it may also be because the band have no idea how sales for the Ulster Hall gig are doing.
‘We never like to ask (about sales) for any of our gigs,’ Wright admits. ‘I think it’s probably because if they’re going shit I’d have to go and cry.’
Wright is unlikely to be reaching for the Kleenex anytime soon mind. ‘Trans (the promoters) asked "Do you want to know how sales are doing?" We said no, but they told us that they are happy with the sales so far so it should be OK on the night.’
ASIWYFA look set to enter the Ulster Hall annals, but don’t be surprised if you spot them out front during the gig. ‘All four of us will be out in the main auditorium watching the three other bands. They’re all great. Why would we sit in the back when we could be out enjoying their shows too? No way would we want to miss any of it.’
And So I Watch You From Afar play the Ulster Hall on December 18 supported by LaFaro, Cashier No9 and Adebisi Shank.
Tickets are £8 in advance (£10 on the door) and are available online at www.waterfront.co.uk, from the Ulster Hall and Waterfront Box Offices and by calling 028 9033 4455.