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Brand New Friend

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          It isn't as often as you'd like that a band and their sound are seemingly one. Youthful, flying in the face of luck and chance, bright-eyed and winging it, just like their blazing guitars; in tune with their feelings and growing up with the subtlety of keys winding through unexpectedly revealing lyrics; and facing up to life by avoiding the ordinary through a rhythm section navigating and plunging forward without fear.

          Brand New Friend have come further than they'd ever thought possible while brother and sister Taylor and Lauren Johnson dreamed and played in Castlerock, hanging off of Northern Ireland's north coast. In just a few years, they've gone from Taylor receiving his first guitar for doing well in his GCSEs to signing with Xtra Mile Recordings and releasing their debut album. "Just the experience of playing in pubs with our mates, that was the dream to us," says Taylor, a bundle of energy who can't quite believe what's happening despite being the chief motivator. "We never expected to write an album or go on real tours or sign a record deal, get management. To us, playing those small grungy gigs was just everything. Every second we're able to do this and avoid real life is the best thing in the world. We'll ride this 'til the wheels come off!"

          After recruiting his little sister, classically-trained singer and pianist, to help Taylor sing the songs he'd blared from his guitar and words he'd transferred from mind to ink, the duo just started playing locally. With no money to speak of, they convinced producer Rocky O'Reilly - who fell for their music in a pub show with people barely paying attention - and two mates with drums and bass to help them put together their first EP, 'American Wives', released in 2016. A fuller sound than their duet setup, it pointed them to the future via the past in the form of a chance meeting at their first ever gig. "It was in this tiny bar and the band we were supporting had Aaron (Milligan), our bass player, and Luke (Harris), our drummer," explains Taylor, still sounding awed. "We kept in touch and one day Aaron sent me a message asking if we'd ever make Brand New Friend a full band like on the EP."
          Quickly assembling a four-piece, they gigged locally, transforming the duo's songs and propelling them with "their punch and energy".

          Since then, it's been a giddy sprint without a step wrong or a look back. Lifted by the strong, compassionate and pay-it-forward attitude of the Northern Irish music scene they grew up in and guided by slightly older bands like their beloved Hot Cops, they picked up support gigs, Bandcamp downloads, and fans. They captured the hearts of audiences on their first Irish tour in January 2017, fired up the BBC Introducing Stage in Hull (during its City of Culture year), played festivals including at (and while living up to the name of) Whelan's 'Ones To Watch', and sold out Belfast shows, all the while getting consistent love from BBC Radio Ulster's 'Across the Line' show and Radio 1's Phil Taggart. This has culminated in a headline show at the legendary Duke of York in Belfast, with their first UK tour in the pipeline for March 2018, and of course a full-length record.

          'Seatbelts for Aeroplanes', their debut album, captures the live feel of their supernova pop with Taylor's songs filtered through the musicianship around them. It also charts the rollercoaster journey of his first proper love. "Something you think is going to be incredible sometimes isn't, but that isn't the end of the world and you learn that," he says. From the highs depicted in 'Mediocre At Best' and 'I Hate It When You Have To Go', to the harder times in 'I Was An Astronaut', 'A&E', 'I Love You, Goodbye' and 'The Blame', Taylor is happy to admit that the album's journey is one "that happens to chronicle this period of my life which coincided with me growing up in all sorts of ways". Songs may flare with vigor and abandon, but do more than skim the surface and you'll find a depth of emotion here that Taylor, catapulted by the rest of the band, can't help but exert.

          "I was never taught to play or write songs. I do it by instinct, so what you're getting is exactly what I want to convey but I could never explain how I've done it or why it comes across that way, I just did it purely on feeling and every song I've written is exactly how I felt, so I think it's just so honest that people will get that."

          The relatively sudden leap from tentative but tenacious two-piece to joyful power-pop played with precision and exhilaration has transformed Brand New Friend from hopeful chancer to impressive prospect.
          They channel raw feelings to music that connects, sounding so thoroughly themselves for all the world, and have only been at this for two years.
          2018 will surely see the rest of the UK as awed by Brand New Friend as the band themselves feel about their future.

          Photo by Ruth Kelly

Brand New Friend

Brand New Friend