Friendly Fires are a rarity in that they’re one of the very few bands to have been invited to play Edinburgh’s Hogmanay on more than one occasion. That they’re back is little surprise though. Their music is a dazzling, upbeat and decidedly dancefloor-friendly combination of electronic pop, club sophistication and big-chorus anthems, and their second album Pala has been one of the year’s most rewarding records. They offer the perfect combination of unashamed party spirit and emotive depth for a concert of this scale.
What does guitarist Edd Gibson remember of the band’s first Hogmanay appearance in 2008/09? “It was ****ing cold,” he laughs. “Really, really cold. I had about four or five layers on and I still couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers, which as a guitarist was a really frustrating thing. I looked over at Jack (Savidge) on the drums and he was like a bull, there were jets of steam coming out of his nose. But yeah, it was so much fun. There are people as far as you can see and it’s a really otherworldly scene at the foot of the castle.”
Inadvertently, Friendly Fires have found themselves giving what’s been a successful 2011 a double send-off in the company of Scottish audiences. Following the cancellation and rescheduling of a bunch of tour dates due to singer Ed Macfarlane’s laryngitis, they ended up playing their last regular show of the year at Glasgow Barrowland five days before Christmas. “We were all excited to play the Barrowlands because we’d never been before,” says Gibson the morning after the show, having travelled back to London overnight. “We’ve done the ABC and the Academy, but the Barrowlands is always a place that people have spoken of highly. It was a fantastic gig, and I thought the venue was really beautiful with all that neon on the front lit up. It was fun having it as the last gig too, knowing that we could give it our all and not have to do it all over again the next day.”
It was the final hurdle of a “relentless” year in which the band played around 140 shows.
“It’s hard to pick highlights from 2011,” says Gibson. “Glastonbury was definitely incredible. We had a fantastic slot just as the sun was setting and it was the first time we’d played with our Hawaiian dancers. We had a good time at Benicassim too, just outside Barcelona. We went on at three in the morning, just after the Strokes – I like to think they got the crowd white hot for us, that they were supporting us.”
He also names a three night residency at London’s Brixton Academy as being a personal high, as while growing up, it was his venue of choice.
“It felt really weird playing it from the other side. We’ve supported people there before, but just to know it was our own show and people were there for us was incredible. But everywhere else we’ve played it’s been bigger and better, it feels like it’s always accumulating, we’ve not stepped back in any way. And we didn’t want to assume it would go that way when the record came out, we felt we had to prove ourselves all over again.”
Commercially, Pala has been a step up from the 2008 debut Friendly Fires (the latter failed to break the UK top 20, while the former went to number six), and it’s also an artistic progression from an already well-formed sound.
“I was so pleased with it,” says Gibson. “I think the sound is something very personal to us, a little more so than our first record. You can hear a few more influences poking through on our first album, but this one feels like we’ve found a character of our own, a hybrid of all the styles we listen to and enjoy rather than just a reworking or a pastiche.”
It’s also an inescapably upbeat album, which probably soundtracked many sun-kissed summer holidays this year. “That’s just the way we lean when we start writing music,” says Gibson. “We’re far more excited by big, bright, colourful sounds. I don’t think we’re ever going to wallow in our misery for too long.”
There are plans to start recording a new album in 2012, although none so concrete that Gibson can indicate how it might sound. One ambition, he says, is to complete a track they’ve been recording with producer Andy Weatherall, although hopes that he might work on the rest of the album are slim.
“He’s a busy guy,” Gibson notes, “and I’m sure a lot of other people want to work with him too.”
Weatherall is, however, inadvertently responsible for Friendly Fires’ appearance at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year, mainly through his work on Primal Scream’s seminal Screamadelica album, to be played in its entirety by the headliners.
“When we were invited we instantly said yes,” says Gibson, “because we were aware that Primal Scream are doing it and it’s great to be involved in anything they’re a part of, they’re a big inspiration to us. Plus we know it’s going to be a great party, and it’s nice to be the ones putting it on for a change, rather than scrambling around the streets looking for something to do.”