I quite Like Apes: so long and thanks for all the tunes
This week, Fight Like Apes called it a day. I first discovered them in the Róisín Dubh in Galway and nothing was ever quite the same
Fight Like Apes in the early days
Fight Like Apes in the early days
Fight Like Apes performing at the Oxegen festival in 2011, in Punchestown Racecourse, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
I remember the first time I saw Fight Like Apes, even if the timeline is a little fuzzy. A trawl of defunct music message boards and cached blogs leads me to believe it was 2007, so I must have been around 23. I know where it was though, the Róisín Dubh in Galway, and they were a supporting a band I’ve long since forgotten.
I was on my own, spending weeks at length in Galway covering the cryptosporidium outbreak for the Sunday Tribune. After long days of trekking around the county, talking to farmers and staring into water supplies, I would retreat to the Róisín, have a pint, and seriously evaluate my career as a reporter. Fight Like Apes appeared on the stage and instantly created chaos. They were loud and obnoxious and hilarious and quite possibly drunk. I have a vivid memory of Pockets scrambling over the stage to bash a pot against a pole. It was brilliantly daft and invigorating. And the tunes were amazing.
In the early 2000s, when I was working in The Hub in Temple Bar, writing reviews in exchange for beer and free entrance to gigs, The Immediate changed everything for the Dublin music scene. In the mid-2000s, it was Fight Like Apes who blew everything apart. The Celtic Tiger was in full swing, but indie nightlife railed against it (apart from the drugs). This was a time where indie clubs reigned for a large chunk of Dublin’s young folk. People still went to Whelan’s when they were actually “going out”, Antics was carnage at Crawdaddy, and I was running the indie-electro club SoundCheck at Spy on South William Street, where the likes of Ham Sandwich, Delorentos, The Vinny Club, Super Extra Bonus Party and Phantom heads would DJ. The soundtrack to all of this was Fight Like Apes. Actually, the soundtrack to my 20s was Fight Like Apes.
Lend Me Your Face was their calling card, one minute and 59 seconds of pure joy. It made everyone else sound twee and overly serious. There’s this anecdote about the New York Dolls walking into a club in New York in all their regalia and seeing The Ramones standing around in their jeans and black leather jackets and turning to each other in absolute embarrassment about the state of their own band. Fight Like Apes’ impact on the Irish music scene was almost the converse of that. Suddenly, the prospect of some dude crooning with an acoustic guitar was lame. People wanted to be filled up with petrol, and take off like jets, as Lend Me Your Face went. Their references were then utterly unfashionable – WWF, Pavement, red lipstick, carnival synths – but it worked.
Of course, none of this would have had as much an impact without one of the best band leaders Ireland has produced. On stage, MayKay plugged into an energy that surged through her, and by proxy, the crowd. Her jet-black hair was whipped with neck-breaking exuberance, she spat water vertically, and screamed and rolled around the place. Tom, the then bassist, stood stoically, completely incongruous with an afro and a toilet paper headband. Adrian pummelled the drum kit. Pockets treated his keyboard like a drunk lad running down the street with a bomb.
It had been a while since an Irish band had brewed the type of buzz they managed to generate over 2007 and 2008, and fans were hungry for them. Gigs were brilliantly raucous. But among the sweat-soaked energy of those gigs was a gift for melody and song construction. It was the gentle moments that allowed people to connect to FLApes with not just the hedonism of a gig, with the beer throwing and fist pumping and shoes lost crowdsurfing. People connected with the dirty heart at the core of their music. We knew that this wasn’t just a messy joke, this was something very real, something strangely beautiful. The tenderness within the music that the energy around them often hid, was what formed those connections. Their best song, in my opinion, is Battlestations, a tune they nearly always finished sets with. Snore Bore Whore is another one. The trinity of Kathmandu, Thirsty and Poached Eggs are heartbreaking and gorgeous.
But a few years before The Body Of Christ And The Legs of Tina Turner came out, they were still on the rise. Signed to Rubyworks, the high profile gigs kept coming, playing in the UK with The Prodigy for one weird example. I remember a great set they played with The Ting Tings in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2008, and another excellent show with Yeah Yeah Yeahs in Belfast in 2009, where Karen O dedicated Maps to them. In many ways, these shows feel like so long ago; the two Glasto shows in 2008 were another highlight.
It was on the road with them across the UK around this time when they were inexplicably on tour with Kasabian – who at that stage were doing their best impression of Oasis-level rock and roll antics – that I grew closer to them not just as a band, but as people. The first night of this tour was spent on top of their van drinking whiskey and Buckfast in the carpark of a Travelodge, where Pockets proceeded to call all of the famous people in my phone when I had gone to the bathroom. (He left an extended voicemail for Louis Walsh. )
At the Green Man Festival in Wales, I made the mistake of taking my eyes off them for a couple of minutes and found myself attacked with a sleeping bag and rope, tied up, carried up the steps to the back of the main stage, and put on a riser that was pushed out towards the back of where a band (Explosions In The Sky?) was playing. MayKay recorded this entire incident and promptly uploaded it to YouTube.
In Carlisle, an unfriendly crowd of burly lads waiting for Kasabian were remarkably won over by FLApes. Pockets spent the rest of the night trying to find deep fried haggis in a chipper.
They did things Irish bands just didn’t do. In 2009, they built a wrestling ring in the Academy. The director Eoghan Kidney made some stunning videos for them, including Tie Me Up With Jackets. With their second album came an exciting sense of maturity, because you knew there was so much talent there, so much more to be developed, something that sounded more real than the slightly overly produced debut record. MayKay’s voice was more tortured, and the gimmicks of short sharp blasts such as Megameanie were dispensed with.
On a more personal level, Fight Like Apes united my friends, as I’m sure they did many groups of pals around town. When gigs were announced, we instantly booked tickets. These were nights out where we knew all our mates would be. It was always good. It was always crazy. It was always brilliantly soundtracked. With a band like Fight Like Apes, the fans were automatic partners-in-crime of this great Irish music industry heist they were constantly in the throes of. The next morning, coughing out stale cigarette breath, rubbing bruises from being up the front, surveying the damage done to runners covered in the remnants of spilled vodka Red Bulls, and clutching a hungover head, those tunes still rang in our ears.
You could talk about so many things; the songwriting, the label split, the band lineup changes, the delays with the third album, the sense of a band not quite sure where to direct itself in the end, the unfairness that so many artists have to put up with giving their music for free while they’re scraping a living. You could talk about the impact they had on a generation of Irish acts.
But for me, Fight Like Apes will always be about that energy they managed to conjure with their music, that brilliant, bolshy, freeing, radical, poetic, music. That’s what I love, and that’s what will remain. So, come on, let’s talk about our feelings.