So one week ago today, a band called And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA) played at the Marble Factory in Bristol – where I have been living since I started studying here 4.5 years ago (Bristol that is, not the Marble Factory specifically). If you don’t know, ASIWYFA are an instrumental post-rock band (or something that, genres are always confusing), but importantly in this case, they are from the wonderful Northern Ireland (NI).
I spent the best part of my teenage years staunchly following the NI music which I think was a fantastic thing to do: not listening to music because you ‘like the genre’ or similar bands, but purely on a geographic basis exposes you to a much wider variety of music (which I think is great). Back in the late noughties it was pretty easy to find local bands: you would just look on MySpace at the top friends of one NI band and you would find 16 more. Maybe it’s a little more convoluted now with Facebook instead exposing you to bands that have paid a little money to sponsor their status (half the time I have already liked the band, come on Facebook – catch up!), or perhaps I just don’t look hard enough these days.
Either way, seeing that ASIWYFA were playing in Bristol got me thinking. Recently I have moved on a lot in terms of what I listen to on a daily basis. ASIWYFA were outstandingly my favourite band when I came to uni, but since then I have inadvertently delved deeper into folk music, which is also great, but is pretty inconsistent with ‘instrumental post-rock’. Combined with this, I have already seen ASIWYFA many times in many different cities, and part of me was asking “do I really need to spend £15 seeing them again?”. I had listened to the new album on YouTube prior to its release and it seemed okay, pretty ASIWYFA-y. And I had lots of work to be getting on with and didn’t know anyone else who knew of ASIWYFA to go with.
Luckily, Georgina stepped in with the all-important strong decision: instead of saying “Mmm, should we go? It’s pretty expensive…” again, she said (to the effect of) “Yes, we’re going, I’ll go as well, if you’re still thinking about it you clearly care enough to go”. And we did, just bought a ticket on the door, and it was one of the best decisions I (or Georgina) could have made. As soon as I was in the door the place had the feel of Stiff Kitten or Auntie Annies. Mylets (the support act) was very cool and interesting, and I even bumped into some people that I knew/recognised who I didn’t know were going to be there, much like I used to do at gigs at home.
Then there was ASIWYFA’s performance – I won’t go into technical details because I’m not a music journalist or reviewer – but it would suffice to say it was awesome (and I mean that word literally, it filled with awe). More importantly however it brought back some amazing memories (in an admittedly over-nostalgic way). During the gig I remembered the first time I saw ASIWYFA in (the up-and-coming) Lisburn supporting Get Cape Wear Cape Fly. It was a night of long band names with Two Door Cinema Club opening, and I remembered being totally blown away. Up until then I just knew them as the band on MySpace with the really long name (and pretty shoddy HTML which didn’t suit my browser) and instrumental songs which weren’t really something I had gotten into before. But the gig (and every subsequent one) really captured my imagination and genuinely left my jaw hanging.
Anyway, back in the almost present (last week) in Bristol, I thought about that gig, and that got me thinking: during the same series of gigs in Lisburn at the Island Centre I remember having my mind equally blown by the explosive Fighting With Wire (FWW), supported by the notorious riffs of LaFaro: both bands whose albums went round and round in my car with ASIWYFA. Two fantastically cool bands also from NI who I saw on a multitude of occasions, and both who no longer exist (in an independent form, not counting GOONS). Obviously, back in the present, ASIWYFA played a number of songs off the new album, Heirs, but with every spine-tingling time change of S is for Salamander or iconic riff of Set Guitars to Kill I was transported back to a wonderful NI. Not the backwards homophobic political bit (that’s a whole other story), but the Glasgowbury fuelled, beautifully soundtracked, guitar chugging NI which made being a teenager a pleasure!
So many other bands from the same era have, unfortunately, bitten the dust (FWW, LaFaro, Here Comes The Landed Gentry, In Case Of Fire, General Fiasco, to name a handful). I don’t know the circumstances behind their demises, but in a world driven by money (another whole other story) they were possibly not aided by cash flow. And so I found myself in a state of massive satisfaction at the Marble Factory last week. Not only was I seeing an amazing band tear the place apart (again), I was even happy to pay £15 for each ticket if it helps in any way keep one of the last great bands from an era (and NI history in general) going. I now fully understand how the crowd of 50 year old men who rock the Barn Stage at Sunflowerfest when Henry Cluney of Stiff Little Fingers is playing feel – good memories and awesome music do not die!
As I write I listen to Heirs for the second time through back-to-back, and life is good. It is different to their epic debut album (and nothing will quite recreate the apocalyptic feeling of their set headlining Glasgowbury), but life was and still is good! Viva ASIWYFA, and if they have not yet made it to your city on this tour, get yourself a ticket ASAP! Do not miss the opportunity as I so nearly did…