Support shows are not the norm for ASIWYFA any more. Last year has seen headline shows in London’s Scalia, venues in Luxemburg, Russia, Poland, Germany, Spain, France and a host of other Eastern European cities, but this short tour with The Joy Formidable give them another chance to bring their music to listeners who maybe otherwise would have missed out. Johnny believes that there is a “…cross over in the music between [the two bands]….but it can still be hard to go back to being the 30 minute support band.”
Last month saw the departure of guitarist Tony Wright being temporarily replaced by Niall Kennedy (formerly of Panama Kings). Naturally this was a something I wanted to ask Johnny about – wondering if there would be a change in the dynamic of the band. He noted that people may see a change because: “Tony was such a big part of the band”. However, Johnny was quick to add that they “…were never trying to replace Tony and still aren’t. It was a way of facilitating the tour we’d planned to do”. It’s actually Niall’s second time being in ASIWYFA after he covered on drums “…for 5 or 6 gigs whilst Chris [Wee, current drummer] was graduating from University”. Niall joins for the rest of the rest of Gangs Winter tour which sees ASIWYFA play throughout the UK, Europe and Ireland.
“…we were never trying to replace Tony and still aren’t.”
Long tours have become “normality” for the band, and are something ASIWYFA are famed for. 2010 saw them play in 17 countries across Europe as well as America. They have learnt from previous tours now “…how to eat properly and take things in moderation”. For a band whose mantra is: “write – record – tour”, the hard times for the band come on the rest days rather than on tour. Always looking towards the next tour and wanting to practice, the difficulty comes when you try to switch off “…because you don’t want to – but we’ve learnt to spend a few days apart [to help the band] then you find yourself on the phone to one of the other guys asking when are we going to meet up and play this riff and practice again”. It certainly seems obvious that touring and playing live is something the band lives for and enjoys immensely.
ASIWYFA are famed for what seems like a strong bond with their fans, second album Gangs being named because of this. Johnny feels that this is due to the honesty throughout the band’s music, only playing what they like and feel comfortable with. The instrumental element to their sound isn’t a conscious decision rather it being what they enjoy, again Johnny references the honesty that lies there. Starting off “…putting on our own gigs, and putting bands on that we enjoyed”. This hard work and DIY attitude strengthened the band and allowed them to develop: “…people started asking “How have you done this?”". The relationship between their fanbase and the band is further strengthened by the band always making time to chat to the fans after gigs as they “…enjoy it… and it’s important to give something back”. Johnny also highlighted how important it was to play gigs at home in places like Omagh, Strabane and Warrenpoint as they “…get communication from people in those areas who can’t travel as easily to Belfast, so we do the smaller shows to give people the chance to see us close up.”
The Winter Gangs tour is punctuated by a performance at the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Awards at the start of November. It’s an event that Johnny is looking forward to and believes is “…long overdue for Northern Ireland to have its own distinct awards”. It’s an event which comes at a time when Northern Ireland’s music scene is at its most vibrant. When I asked Johnny for any of his tips for local acts that he favours, he points out his best friends in LaFaro who are sounding like “…nothing anybody has ever attempted before”. There was also a nod to Eaten by Bears, and a championing of Axis Of “…who’ve evolved into something that hasn’t been done before”. Certainly the critical success that ASIWYFA have achieved over the years – notably having Gangs reviewed in the Culture section of the Sunday Times the same week as the latest Foo Fighters album and receiving a higher rating – has done no harm to the local music scene. Johnny points out that at times it’s “…overwhelming that people think we’re responsible for something at home”, due to their hectic touring schedule and a lot of time being spent away from Northern Ireland: “…being away so much, it’s easy to lose touch”.
“…being away so much, it’s easy to lose touch”
Currently there is no Belfast or Northern Ireland full gig planned for this Winter Tour, but “Never say definitely no, it depends on the schedule…if it’s the right opportunity and it is something different, and we have something to offer local fans then we’ll do it.”
The performance by And So I Watch You From Afar that evening was stunning. A 30 minute set made up of primarily songs from Gangs got an excellent response from the crowd. The band sounds tight as ever, and it certainly wasn’t evident that Niall Kennedy had only been with the band since September. - Article by Niall Flack