Connecting from Afar

Johnny Adger on life in one of Northern Irelands’ greatest live rock bands

And So I Watch You From Afar commands an intense respect from the musical community in Northern Ireland.

Recognised here as one of the finest live acts to ever jack into an amp, the North Coast rock outfit have enjoyed an enviable career spanning over a decade, five albums and over 50 countries.

While never reaching the commercial heights of an Ash or a Snow Patrol, And So I Watch You From Afar have perhaps pipped those peers in terms of influence on the next generation of Northern Irish Bands, to young up and coming acts they are superstars the likes of Lightbody and co. but also accessible and more relatable in terms of aspiration.

There have been no UK number one albums for ASIWYFA but in this day and age in the music industry, when gigging is king, it’s all about what you leave on the stage every night and Johnny Adger, Chris Wee, Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy are number one every time they perform.

Make no mistake about it, ASIWYFA are one of the most successful acts to come from these shores in the past decade. They have a rabid fan base as a result of their uncompromising style and onstage flair. Quite simply, no live act from Northern Ireland creates the foreboding wall of sound that they do.

With almost 13 years of success behind them, the band are now seen somewhat as elder statesmen of the Northern Irish Music scene and have watched on as countless bands have formed to fanfare and disbanded to none.

They have been a standard bearer of unflinching quality and much sought after performers for events of all kinds.

When Stendhal needs a top name on the bill, they get a call, when the Mandela Hall is closing its doors for the last time, they headline, when Nine Inch Nails come to town, they warm up the crowd.
Bass player Johnny Adger has experienced all the highs and lows of the ASIWYFA journey but to him he is still just playing music with his friends.

“We came up through the scene when everyone knew everyone”, he explained, “we were just mates making music, surrounded by loads of bands that were just doing the same. We all had a real connection in what we were trying to create and a common ground in what inspired us. Thankfully that is exactly where we are today, we are still essentially just mates making music.

“Over the course of the bands life we never wanted that dynamic to change, we had heard of the potential pitfalls of what might arise when some success came along, we were wary of stories we had heard about money and other elements of the businesses coming between bandmates, so we always tried to remember that mates making music for a living was the dream and not to let anything change that.”

Johnny laughed at the suggestion that the band were now somewhat elder statesmen among the current crop of Northern Irish bands, “I suppose we are,” he admitted, “it is a bit strange but it’s cool too. The fact that people still come out to our shows and have that connection with our music is awesome.
“I remember when we were sort of just breaking through to when we just starting to get the opportunity to play big, big gigs like Belsonic and being back stage with Andy Cairns of Therapy? and being scared to fanboy out on him.
“Now we are able able to talk to those guys as peers which is something very cool indeed.
“People ask us now if it is the other way around when young bands play on bills with us. To be honest I’m not sure, but we do get young bands coming to talk to us about anything from gigging to the effects pedals we use.
“For us it is a real complement when young bands from here feel that they have a connection with us for one reason on another because we as a band feel that we never really stopped being a young band from Northern Ireland, we never really lost touch with our roots at all and we’re still the same eejits from the North Coast that we were when we started.”

With five albums under their belt, And So I Watch You From Afar have had a good output in terms of recorded material over the years, however live is where they have always been at their best and where they really made a name for themselves.

“Around the time we started up, the shift from the importance of selling records to gigging had already started,” says Johnny. “Don’t get me wrong, we’d still love to have a Number One Album, but for us gigging and getting out there to make a connection with an audience has always been the most important thing for this band. We just want to play and play to as many people as possible.
“We have been in more countries than I can count and played in more venues than I can remember,” he joked, “so that work ethic we had to have in our early days, never really left us and that’s why we’ve been able to enjoy what we do for 13 years now.”

This is a big summer for the band, this weekend they will be the last band to ever play the iconic Mandela Hall in Belfast and then in August they will close out the Saturday night of Stendhal Festival in Limavady.
“We’re really looking forward to both gigs” said Johnny “The Mandela gig will be special because the team that ran that place back when we were starting out gave us a lot of support and took a chance or two with us in terms of letting us do an album launch there and running an indoor festival there.
“It’s a real shame that it is being closed, the acts who have played on that stage are a who’s who of some of the biggest bands on the planet. So on one hand it’s sad but on the other, to be given the opportunity to be the last band on that stage is a real honour and we’ll be looking to say goodbye with a bang.”

He continued: “Stendhal is another one which will be special; we’ve wanted to play there ever since it started and we are finally getting to this year. Ironically I think I had my first ever conversation with the Stendhal guys in the Mandela way back before And So I Watch You or Stendhal even existed, so there are a load of connections for us even within the two gigs too.
“I’ve been to Stendhal as a punter three times and I genuinely mean it when I say it is an absolutely fantastic festival. It caters to all ages, so for people like me with young kids it is ideal and for people that don’t it is also ideal. The whole place has a great vibe about it and to get to play at it this year is great, particularly because as I mentioned before, it is run by a few eejits from Limavady who we knew from before either the band or the festival ever existed.”

Looking beyond the summer Johnny says that the band’s only real ambition left to realise is to continue simply being mates that make music together and if one day they decide that they don’t want to do it anymore, that they can call it quits as friends on their own terms.

“We plan on being around and making music for as long as we can,” he said, “the big thing for us as I mentioned is being able to do a lot of this on our own terms, so as far as what we want to do in the future, we are up for whatever comes our way, so long as it is on our own terms.”

Connections play a huge part in the And So I Watch You From Afar story; you can make your own connection with the band this summer at both the Mandela Hall and Stendhal Festival.

Pictures Courtesy of Ciara McMullan.