Tuesday, September 28, 2004

fire engines have candyskin

Today's selection comes from a big pile of dusty 45s and 7"s that I got while thrifting in my home town in southern Indiana. It cost me a quarter and is certainly worth it. Fire Engines sound Scottish, I mean- yeah, they *are* Scottish, but they sound like it! That's a good thing. While I was looking around the web for the words to help me describe the them, I came across the perfect summary, so I am just plain going to copy it from Al Crawford.

Back around 1980 or so, the London based music press had one of its rare remissions from the parochialism that usually afflicts it and noticed that, wonder of wonders, there was a music scene in the desolate wasteland that was everywhere outside London.

The focus of this attention was the central belt of Scotland and on four groups from that area in particular. On the west coast they found Orange Juice and Aztec Camera and through in Edinburgh in the east they found Josef K and The Fire Engines.

In the time since then, the reputation of the first three of those groups has grown, based on the legend of the Postcard label. Orange Juice (and the later solo work of lead singer Edwyn Collins) garnered much critical acclaim and had limited chart success. Aztec Camera went still further, matching their reviews with commercial success. Josef K were the critics' favourite, but like all the best dark horses, split before their reputation exceeded their abilities. Singer Paul Haig went solo and guitarist Malcolm Ross decided to complete the set by playing with both Aztec Camera and Orange Juice.

All this left the one remaining group, The Fire Engines, out in the cold. They were the black sheep of the scene. They turned down the opportunity to sign to Postcard Records, preferring instead to create their own Pop:Aural label under the guidance of Fast Product boss Bob Last. It's probably just as well since, although there were resemblances, The Fire Engines were a rather different beast from the likes of Orange Juice and Josef K.

The word most frequently used to describe the Postcard bands was 'jangly'. Light, guitar based rock with a distinctive label sound, lyrics concerned primarily with the usual topic of young love, and a certain tweeness (well, except for the dour Josef K) that was later to give birth to the excessively twee anorak-clad C86 scene.

The Fire Engines were the evil twins of the Postcard groups. While their sound was also based around guitars, they were 'jaggy' or 'spiky' rather than 'jangly' and, on those rare occasions when you could actually make out what Davey Henderson was singing, they weren't about anything much, rarely made any sense, and certainly were not about young love or similar boy-meets-girl topics. The Fire Engines were Orange Juice trying to be post-punks, or post-punks trying to be Orange Juice, or maybe neither, or possibly both. They were awkward that way.

Rather than blunt lyrical nihilism (i.e. "No future"), their lyrics were made nihilistic by their very lack of meaning, by Henderson's combination of shrieks and yelps and strangled shouts. The twin guitars, while throwing out shards of broken melody with alarming regularity, poked and jabbed rather than jangled, and the overall sound was a paradox, a mixture of shambolic amateurism and driven mania.

It was, perhaps, The Fire Engines detachment from the musical scene with which they were associated that caused them to disappear from sight when, inevitably, the music press got bored and turned inward to London again. While the legend of Postcard has grown as the years passed, the Fire Engines have somehow been forgotten. All that remained to show of The Fire Engines existence were a long deleted album (released with a few track changes under a different title in the US) and a trio of obscure singles.

Here is one of those singles...

Fire Engines - Candyskin

I gotta give a big thanks to 20 Jazz Funk Greats. A little while ago they ran a contest to see which band has/had the most Suicideness. Well, I won. Check it out.


At 12:04 PM, Anonymous année zéro said...

Hey ! Check my pages on The Fire Engines and Postcard Records at:


Go to EASY ACCESS for direct links



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