Fighting Kites – Mustard After Dinner: a Retrospective

Existing between 2006 and 2016, London’s Fighting Kites tore up the genre rule book to pursue their own idiosyncratic vision. Ranging from a looped neo-classical style through krautrock, ambient and fuzz to the unstable hybrid of post-rock and noise-pop, the band were musical magpies, stealing influences from anywhere and everywhere in a stubborn refusal to settle into any one box. Keen-eared listeners will spot nods to The Shadows’ 60s pop, Japanese noise rock and the experimentation of Tortoise, each representing an ingredient that went into forming the Fighting Kites sound.

This extended as far as the line-up, with the original duo of Neil Debnam and Daniel Fordham releasing a self-titled EP before going on to become a trio with the addition of bassist David Stewart. After showing off their heavier sound on 2009’s Vlaams Tapes, they eventually added Luke Johnson to bring further dimensions and directions to the music. Because, far from being hyperactive pick and mixers, Fighting Kites utilised every element with consideration and care, crafting detailed and evocative soundscapes that eschewed the cheap crescendos so common in instrumental music in favour nuance and depth. The project culminated in 2012 with a self-titled album on Variant Records, the quartet enabling them to show off their richest, most intricate sound yet.

fighting kites band live shot

Post-Fighting Kites, its members have spread far and wide. Neil Debnam performs under the name Broken Shoulder and also founded the excellent Kirigirisu Recordings in Tokyo, Luke Johnson runs a band for adults with learning difficulties, The Gorgie Go-Getters, while David Stewart and Daniel Fordham went on to form The Drink, putting out two highly acclaimed albums on Melodic Records. While Fighting Kites is no more, the talents and energies that made it so are still very much at work in the world.

Still, in the spirit of a farewell tour, Audio Antihero can’t let sleeping dogs like, delving into the archives to share some of the stuff we might not have heard the first time around. As we saw with the Tempertwig release back in March, resurrecting the dead can be far more than an exercise in nostalgia or morbid curiosity, with some gems waiting to be unearthed from relative obscurity.

Mustard After Dinner – An Anthology of Fighting Kites collects material from a variety of sources—self-releases, compilation appearance, sessions, live recordings and even a collaboration with our good friend Benjamin Shaw—displaying the full range of the Fighting Kites experimental sound across twenty-two tracks and serving as something of an evolutionary tree for the band.

fighting kites mustard after dinner anthology artwork

To get a better picture of the anthology’s scope, we invited the band to give a little context to each release, explaining how the project evolved over its lifespan.

Self-Titled EP

I worry a bit about how appalling my memory is: friends recount in great detail incidents from years ago of which I have absolutely no recollection. But this is so far in the past that for once I don’t think I have anything to feel bad about on the memory failure front. Here are four (it was going to be five but I ran out) things I can remember.

1. Fighting Kites was just Neil and me then. Gigs were a shambles of inept looping, instrument swapping and nervous breakdowns. To be honest it was a great relief when Dave said he would join in. Luke, a little bit later, was icing/cake.

2. We recorded (some of?) it in my bedroom in a house I shared with friends in Muswell Hill. It was very cold in that house in the winter. The cellar was full of old, crappy furniture which one of my housemates used to like to burn on the fire to keep us warm. I think we recorded the drums for Kita Senju and Slowly Slowly downstairs in our dear friend Michael (aka Woah! Melodic)’s room. He had more microphones than me.

3. The crackling sound at the beginning of Anthony Gankin is (I think) the sound of me scrunching up a plastic bottle, put through some effects. I was very pleased with it at the time. I still think it sounds great.

4. Slowly Slowly took its title from the slogan on a risqué t-shirt that our friend Richard Medina bought when we went with him to Barcelona once. Fortunately the internet doesn’t seem to have an image of the t-shirt, so I can’t share it here. You’ll have to imagine it.

– Daniel Fordham

The Resonance FM Sessions

Alright, I’ve no idea when this is from – see above re memory – but I do sort of remember doing it. Mainly I remember being terrified beforehand. Live radio! (I’ve done more terrifying things since, but not many.) It’s your first taste on this anthology of what I think of as the fully-evolved version of Fighting Kites, once we had Luke and Dave on the team. There are some occasional wonky spots from me – those nerves – but I think we give a pretty good account of ourselves here.

– Daniel Fordham

Northern Territory

No idea why it has this name but I remember Neil and Dan being particularly euphoric when the idea was dropped – is the very last thing we recorded as a band. It was recorded on a dark and wet December night in what would become New River Studios in North London, just a few weeks before our last ever gig at The Victoria on 21 January 2012.

It was a strange time as both Neil and I had said we would be leaving London – and as a consequence the band – so the recording session had these blue undertones and, when we finally managed to get it recorded, which took a lot of doing as we had to get it in a oner, I felt a punch to the gut because it was over.

I love the track, especially the chugging final section, which was super fun to play live and an indication of where we were heading had we continued. I know Dave was talking a lot about Hawkwind at the time – particularly Masters of the Universe – and I’m sure some of that bubbled over into Northern Territory.

– Luke Johnson

fighting kites band live picture

The Vlaams Tapes

In the summer of 2009 Fighting Kites went on an international tour. Admittedly it was a one date tour, but that still counts, right? We made our way to Kortrijk to play at Farm Fest which was relocated from the farm to the city centre and renamed Vlas Fest. In order to mark this exciting occasion we recorded a mini-album of rehearsal studio jams, homemade noise fuckery, a few live recordings and one super structured and meticulously recorded piece (The Hedgehog Incident) which, if I recall rightly was ‘commissioned’ for an internet kids TV show or something like that.

The concept was to make something a bit like the Faust Tapes, with some proper songs and some sketches and ideas stitched together into one semi-coherent whole. There were 50 copies made from brown paper and each featuring a unique photo, printed from some slides Luke found at a car boot sale. If you look closely you can find little riffs and ideas on here that would later bloom into whole songs on later recordings. This release also has a couple of our best song titles I think. The show in Belgium wasn’t our most successful. It was pretty hot outside and even hotter inside the venue which probably affected both our performance and reception. But the experience was awesome, I had a great time and will be eternally grateful to the Vlas Vegas guys for having us. Later on in the same trip, with me and Dan enjoying the feeling of being international musicians and after having enjoyed some of the delicious local refreshments I sleep-walked off the top of a bunk bed and broke my shoulder.

– Neil Debnam

Grey Starling (Live at Ryan’s Bar)

Grey Starling was a live staple of ours ever since its inception. The first incarnation of it can be heard on the Vlaams Tapes as the freeform jam Hat Luxury/Winkelplezier. This track was also informally known as Chicken Strut because Neil thought his guitar part sounded like a chicken pecking, which it does, however, when it came to our album proper we felt we couldn’t steal the track title from The Meters, hence we settled on another little pecker, the Starling, and made an offering to the nautical pun gods by adding Grey.

The track is taken from one of our live sets at Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington – a tiny 80 capacity basement that we could hire for free and programme with some of our mate’s bands. These gigs were some of our best and also the most fun to play. We’d spent a long time being at the mercy of other promoters trying to get the odd support slot here or there, so when we decided to start organising our own gigs it felt pretty exciting and reminded us that everything is better when you do it yourself, Fr.

– Luke Johnson

fighting kites band live photo

This Christmas (I Just Want to Be Left Alone)
w/ Benjamin Shaw

Oddly I do have quite vivid memories of doing this. Recording the band, live and as I recall in fairly rudimentary fashion (although Ben made it sound great, as is his habit), at the rehearsal room we used near Manor House. And then of me recording the horns and the all-important sleigh bells at home on my own when I was supposed to be “working from home”. My Christmas present to myself. The sax line borrows the opening melody from another well-known Christmas song: see if you can spot what it is.

– Daniel Fordham

Mustard After Dinner is out now via Audio Antihero and Old Money Records and you can buy it from Bandcamp.