A Fight You Can't Win
Filthy pop grungers talk to Peter Geoghegan about bad cider, good years and a debut album
If you could relive anytime in history when would you choose? Perhaps you would plump for the early years of the fifteenth century, when the first flourishes of the Renaissance were being felt in the opulent Florentine courts. Or the exciting, tumultuous years that followed Christopher Columbus’ successful sailing to America, in 1492. Maybe you have always longed for the Wild West’s open spaces and near limitless opportunities.
But as far as explosive Edinburgh-based rockers A Fight You Can’t Win are concerned there is only one historical moment worth recreating – and they’ve already lived through it. ‘1993 was the best year ever full stop. Nirvana had released In Utero, everything was right in the world,’ says Matthew Bakewell, lead singer and one of two Northern Irishmen in the trio’s line-up.
‘But personally it has to be 1996,’ Bakewell continues. ‘It was the year I started drinking lazer cider. It was so poisonous you had to leave it out to breathe so all the sulphur would rise off it.’
Our table in the gritty working man’s bar on Edinburgh’s fashionable Broughton Street is filled with pints of Guinness rather than half drank bottles of Mug Shot or Hooch but you can almost catch a whiff of sickly sweet alcopops in the air as the singer recalls his teenage glory days.
Lazer cider might have disappeared off our shelves but AFYCW show no signs of giving up on the last decade of the twentieth century just yet. From the heavy, Bleach-era guitars on ‘Oren Rath’ to the Faith No More-tinged ‘Sitting Bull’, the influence of early 90s grunge acts resonates throughout the band’s excellent eponymous debut album, which was recorded in Belfast’s Oh Yeah! Centre before the turn of the year.
Bakewell admits that his singing style owes a debt to his musical heroes. ‘I nick everything off Eddie Vedder (from Pearl Jam) and (Soundgarden’s) Chris Cornell and PJ Harvey. I’ve got a high range,’ he smiles, his trim goatee beard riding up both sides of his face.
When asked if the band have any more contemporary influences, before draining my first pint. ‘Kelly Clarkson,’ Bakewell says. ‘Really?’, a note of surprise in my voice. ‘Yeah, the fact that her face is exactly the same size and shape of the Honey Monster's’.
Joking aside, AFYCW hark back to an even older musical ethos – a commitment to quality, hook-laden tunes. ‘We’re really a pop band,’ Bakewell remarks. ‘It’s all about making pop music but with fast guitars. And it all has to last less than two and a half minutes.’ True to their word, their debut album’s 12 tracks clock in at just over 26 minutes.
Despite some nifty chord changes, blistering tunes and great pop hooks AFYCW aren’t about to start talking themselves too seriously. All over 30, with full-time ‘proper’ jobs, the music is more a passion than a profession. ‘We all work for the man,’ says bassist Paul Diamond, an accountant by day.
‘We have managed to finance all of this ourselves,’ says Bakewell of the album. ‘It doesn’t cost lots of money to make a record but you do have to have that disposable income. Without our careers we could never finance this.’
AFYCW is no vanity project but both Bakewell and Diamond, who grew up together in Coleraine, are amazed that after almost fifteen years in various bands, they have finally recorded their first album. ‘We moved over to Edinburgh in 2003 to play music,’ Diamond recalls. ‘But until about a year ago we had probably only played four or five gigs in all that time.’
It was the success of their friends and Coleraine contemporaries And So I Watch You From Afar that convinced the duo to give rock ‘n’ roll another shot. ‘We all grew up together. It was like f**k, if they are our age and they are doing it, why can’t we?’ Bakewell says.
But the duo was missing one vital ingredient – a drummer. Diamond initially found the wonderfully monikered Rufus Stone on a Scottish music forum, but Stone was unwilling to roll across from Glasgow for band practices. But just when the search for a sticksman looked hopeless, Diamond received an email from a Dutch drummer living in Edinburgh.
‘I saw their [advert] and basically got in touch with them out of sympathy’, says Sander van den Driesche, who sounds like a bizarre cross between Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Rab C Nesbitt. ‘I was already in one band at the time but we were going nowhere, so I thought why not try a change.’
Twelve months later the stocky, jovial van den Driesche is practically an honorary Norn Ironer. He arrives sporting a La Faro t-shirt, speaks fondly of the north coast and even speaks fondly of a day idled away shopping in Victoria Square during the recording session for the album. He says, smiling, ‘I bought a nice pair of earrings for my wife’.
AFYCW have already played a couple of low-key gigs in Belfast but they plan to return to Northern Ireland in the summer to show the folks back home what they’re missing. ‘We’re going to just head over and make some noise and then get the boat back,’ laughs Bakewell.
‘I’ll be wearing my orange top for all the gigs,’ van den Driesche interjects. His band mates look genuinely worried. ‘The World Cup will be on. I’ll be supporting my country. Come on Holland!'