Finally they're the band of the summer. So why did Friendly Fires take so long to get going, asks Ally Carnwath
Jack Savidge, drummer with electro-funk trio Friendly Fires, is thoroughly satisfied with his afternoon's shopping. "I've got a new pair of pants," he says triumphantly. "I've got a new toothbrush and toothpaste and socks. It'll certainly make up for the fact that I've only got one pair of trousers for the next five days."
The group had assumed they would get a day's respite from their touring schedule to head home and do their laundry. No such luck: following the evening's gig at a sold-out Roundhouse in north London, they were due to drive overnight to Belgium and then on to Switzerland, an itinerary that at the very least necessitates a washbag and a change of underwear.
Ask the trio of affable 25-year-olds what it's like to be in one of the most exciting and critically feted British bands of the past year, and these are the type of observations you get. Hailing from St Albans, where they met as teenagers at the city's all boys public school, they are far too middle class and self-deprecating to indulge in self-aggrandisement. Instead, there's a stream of amiable banter and studenty humour - routines honed over more than 10 years of friendship.
Since the start of the year, when the trio appeared alongside Glasvegas and Little Boots on NME's annual tour of tipped new artists, their schedule has felt like some particularly masochistic homage to Phileas Fogg. They have played throughout America and Europe, returned to Britain for a headline tour and have trips to Australia and South America coming up.
All of this is designed to capitalise on the slow-burning success of their brilliant self-titled debut. It reached number 38 when first released last September but, 10 months later, has attached itself, limpet-like, to the upper reaches of the album charts and there's been a corresponding swell in the number of people shouting back the lyrics every night.
The band had visions of their concert in Mexico being attended by a small group of bored-looking Latin-American Anglophiles. But "it was the loudest crowd noise we'd ever had. We had to be taken through the crowd by bouncers," remembers singer and chief songwriter Ed MacFarlane. Forty thousand people attempted to buy tickets for their gig at the Roundhouse. "When I heard that I was like, 'Fucking hell, that's ridiculous,'" he says. "It feels like people are starting to give a shit about us and that this is our time."
And last month, they played to an audience of more than 35,000 fans at Glastonbury, a performance that put them up with Blur's return and Lady Gaga's fire-spitting boobs as one of the weekend's main talking points. Just before their mid-afternoon set, their record company had had to abandon its plan to release a cascade of balloons during the chorus to their best-known single, "Paris", but the natural buoyancy of their anthems was enough to send the crowd into fist-pumping ecstasies. And like the consummate crowd-pleasers the band are, they even managed to bring the sun out.
It's a far cry from their early days, playing at birthday parties in St Albans for their teenage friends. The trio's original incarnation, First Day Back, specialised in earnest instrumental rock and covers of jockish nu-metal bands. "It was a broad church," observes guitarist Edd Gibson wryly.
But they survived beyond the life span of most adolescent groups, reconvened after university, and by the time of their first gig as Friendly Fires - at the Old Queen's Head in north London in September 2006 - had even developed a minor industry buzz of the sort that can beef up and then swiftly kill off a fledgling band.
They stifled that through the clever expedient of giving a lousy performance. "Half the PA broke, we only had about two good songs and we didn't have any fans; it was just A&R people jotting notes," remembers Ed. They returned to St Albans, no longer flavour of the month but with the time and space to develop their sound. They are now reaping the benefits.
"We've been able to do things at our own pace and make an album we are content and happy with," says Ed. "We have been playing the record for two years and if we weren't happy with it, we'd be a lot more insane than we are now."
Having taken several years to emerge and the best part of a year to take off commercially, it's an album that, in many ways, has peaked at the right time. Its intuitive grasp of itchy art-funk, electronic euphoria and stadium anthems - a sound described by one critic as "sophisticated but unashamed pop music" - make it the perfect distillation of the year's prevailing musical trends. That defining Glastonbury performance has brought them more attention and this week the shortlist for the annual Mercury Music Prize is announced, with the band widely expected to make the cut. How do they feel about that?
Ed is diplomatic: "I think it would be great if we were nominated and to win it would be fucking amazing but I'm not going to say I'll be disappointed if we don't." Jack is cheerily fatalistic: "We've had people talking to us about it, which instantly jinxes it. We are definitely not going to get nominated now." And Edd is philosophical: "We were nominated for the South Bank Show Breakthrough award and we got beaten by this guy who choreographed a Kylie video so we're used to rejection."
But happy as they are to pay lip service to the honour of a possible shortlist place, the band give the impression of having other things on their minds. All three are keen to start working on songs for the new album.
"We have sketches but I don't want to start writing the music on a laptop on the tour bus because it's going to sound like this totally inorganic, computerised mess," says Ed. "As much as I love touring, there are two sides to being in the band.
And Edd is obsessing slightly over their September homecoming gig, at the unlikely sounding Alban Arena. It's not so much the prospect of playing to a venue full of people he grew up with that worries him, more a fear that the band may not live up to the venue's illustrious heritage.
"I've seen Sooty there, I've seen Paul Merton, I've seen The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," he says, brow wrinkled with concern. "I mean, Sooty. A puppet. How do you follow in the footsteps of someone with no feet?"