Fightstar at Wembley: “This is a celebration”

Returning for their first gig in over eight years tonight (22nd March), FIGHTSTAR have a lot to celebrate.

Words: Ali Shutler.

It’s a month before Fightstar headline Wembley Arena to celebrate their 20th anniversary, and it’s slowly dawning on them just how much there is left to do. The band haven’t started rehearsals yet, but they have been revisiting their ferocious four-album back catalogue and sorting out things like lighting and sound. “Did you know Wembley Arena doesn’t come with its own stage? You need to bring your own,” says vocalist Charlie Simpson with a grin.

Right now, the mood is a mixture of “epic awesomeness and total ass-flickering dread”, according to drummer Omar Abidi. “That mixture of excitement and nerves will push us to make something really special, though.”

“It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done by quite some stretch,” adds Charlie. “There will be a lot less nerves when we’re all in a room together, though.” Which has always been the driving force for Fightstar.

The band first formed in 2003 while Charlie was still very much a part of Busted, a pop-punk group who pulled heavy influence from Blink-182 and Green Day but were still lumped in with pop groups like Sugababes, Atomic Kitten and Blue.

“There was no real ambition to Fightstar, other than make the music we wanted to make,” explains Charlie, who first bonded with Omar and guitarist Alex Westaway over a shared love of Rage Against The Machine with mutual friend and bassist Dan Haigh getting involved shortly afterwards. “It was quite insular,” continues Charlie, just four mates making music in a “shitty” rehearsal space in Clapham. “We were just doing it for our own enjoyment… and I don’t think that’s ever changed.”

“It still felt like a liberation,” adds Omar, with the band providing escapism and an emotional outlet for all involved. After playing a string of self-booked shows, Charlie quit Busted at the height of their fame to pursue Fightstar full-time. “That’s when we started thinking about what we actually wanted to achieve. We didn’t set out to do anything, but as time went on, our ambitions got grander. I always dreamed of playing the [2000 capacity] Astoria, and once you’ve done that, you just keep going,” says Charlie. “First and foremost, though, it was about making records we loved.”

“Our entire mantra as a band is light through darkness. It’s hope over fear”

Charlie Simpson

Debut album ‘Grand Unification’ came in 2006, with ‘One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours’ released the following year. “I don’t think people expected that much from us,” says Charlie. “People have tried these extreme genre shifts before, and more often than not, they don’t work out. I always believed this band would, though, because I genuinely believed in what we were doing. There was nothing fake about Fightstar and people connected with that.” The band became a part of the snarling Britrock scene alongside the likes of Funeral For A Friend, Biffy Clyro and Bullet For My Valentine.

In 2009, Fightstar shared ‘Be Human’ but went on hiatus shortly afterwards, with Charlie launching a folk-tinged solo project while Alex and Dan formed celebrated synthpop group Gunship. There was no bad blood between any of the members, and they reunited in 2014 for a ten-year anniversary tour and new album ‘Behind The Devil’s Back’.

“When we wrote ‘Grand Unification’, there was no pressure to impress anyone or live up to anyone else’s expectations. We had the same mindset for ‘Behind The Devil’s Back’,” says Omar. “If we made another record, I would want it to be the same,” adds Charlie.

“Those two records really reflect the unadulterated sound that is Fightstar,” continues Omar. “If you look at our repertoire over the years, there’s a certain loyalty to what has been our most genuine and no-bullshit writing.”

“Some of the things we did on those records were just so unnecessary, but by the very nature of what we’re doing at Wembley, those songs found their way into people’s lives and stuck with them,” says Charlie, who’s constantly asked about what Fightstar are doing next. “To be part of someone’s life like that is an incredibly humbling thing.”

“I don’t know why it resonated at the time, I don’t know why it’s still connecting today, but I know what Fightstar’s music does for me. Our entire mantra as a band is light through darkness. It’s hope over fear. Fightstar’s music can be brutally heavy, but there’s a lot of heartfelt hope to it,” he continues.

20 years on, are the band worried about reconnecting with the fire and fury that drove those early records?

“A lot of the fury wasn’t personal,” explains Charlie. “Sure, there are songs like ‘Death Car’ that are deeply personal, but that first record was a concept album about the universe and creation, death and destruction. Everything that followed was us looking out at the world and our reaction to it.” 

“When you’re younger, it is much easier to tap into that anger but with where we are in the world right now, there’s plenty to be angry about,” says Omar. “Looking back, the world seemed a nicer place when we were an active band, so I don’t think there’s any shortage of rage.”

“There’s so much division in the world right now, but when people can use music to come together and form a community, that’s brilliant,” Charlie says.

“Unless we can all give 100% to something, there’s no point doing it”

Charlie Simpson

Fightstar haven’t played a show together since 2015. There were talks of a tour in 2020, but Alex didn’t feel like it was the right time. “We’ve always respected each other’s veto. If it’s not right for one of us, it’s not right, full stop,” says Omar. “And thank god, we would have had to cancel those shows because of COVID anyway.”

“Wembley felt like the right time,” says Charlie.

From the moment the show was announced, though, people have been questioning if new music will follow.

“We’re open to doing stuff, but there is nothing currently on the cards,” says Omar. “This is a celebration, and we’re only going to start talking about what comes next afterwards. Whatever that is, it has to feel right, though. It has to start with us all feeling enthused and inspired, because otherwise it will feel like we’re forcing it, and that’s not where we want to be.”

“Unless we can all give 100% to something, there’s no point doing it,” says Charlie. “Especially because the last Fightstar album was my favourite. You don’t want to do something just for the sake of it.”

This year not only sees Fightstar headline their biggest ever show, but Busted continue a victory lap that’ll take them to Download Festival. “That would never have happened 20 years ago,” Charlie grins, with heavier bands like My Chemical Romance getting bottled at the festival in 2007.

“There was a time when Busted fans would have hated me doing anything with Fightstar, and Fightstar fans would have felt betrayed knowing I was back with Busted. That tribalism always annoyed me because it felt so unnecessary, but thankfully, those walls have come down now,” he continues. “For me, music has never been about scene. It’s always been about creating something genuine, regardless of genre.”

“Stepping out onstage at Wembley Arena will be incredibly humbling but there’s also a sense of vindication to it as well,” continues Charlie. “It will validate all the difficult decisions we made throughout our career in an attempt to do things the way we wanted to do them.”

Taken from the April 2024 issue of Dork. Fightstar play London’s OVO Wembley Arena on 22nd March.


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