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Some facts about St Albans: the Campaign For Real Ale started there in 1972; it’s home to the Royal National Rose Society; and a number of episodes of Inspector Morse were filmed there. In other words, it’s suburbia writ large. Ed Macfarlane, Edd Gibson and Jack Savidge didn’t really have much choice but to form a band.
Say hello to Friendly Fires, born of commuter belt boredom, now one of the most exciting new bands coming from the UK. Last year, a super limited seven-inch, Paris, was judged to be the single of the week in both the NME and The Guardian. They were the first unsigned band to appear on Channel 4’s Transmission show. Now signed to XL, they count Radiohead, Vampire Weekend and Adele as their labelmates.
It’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. The aforementioned Paris is a deft combination of clattering percussion and a blissed out, hum-along hook, In The Hospital combines a driving punk funk groove with an unstoppable pop melody and Macfarlane’s joyous vocals in the chorus of Skeleton Boy give the song such a lift you could dust under the band’s amps. Then there’s the brilliantly wonky waltz-like rhythms on White Diamonds, which point to their love of German techno label Kompakt, while the Paul Epworth-produced first single Jump In The Pool is an inspired collision of loose Liquid Liquid drums and My Bloody Valentine atmospherics. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that they recorded it entirely themselves on a laptop, laying down one instrument at a time and using a “crappy microphone gaffer taped to a mic stand”.
Macfarlane (vocals, synths, bass), Gibson (guitar) and Savidge (drums) met at school. They formed their first band, called First Day Back - “I know,” says Savidge with a wry smile - when they were 14. They played a hybrid of Fugazi-inspired post-hardcore with lots of math rock guitars and no vocals. “I think we took everything a little too seriously back then,” says Macfarlane. “Obviously, it’s changed a lot since then. Writing a pop song wasn’t very high on our agenda, but now we definitely want to write songs with a pop edge.”
Looking to the future, the band have a busy year ahead of them. As well as the album, they have a string of high-profile appearances at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds in the UK, Summersonic in Japan, Melt in Germany and Plage De Rock in France as well as a handful of dates on both the East Coast and West Coast in the US (see below for tour dates).
The last word goes to Macfarlane. “It’s not long ago that I thought things might not happen for us.” Now they are, he puts it down to “songs that are catchy and don’t mess about.” Simple really.