Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fire - Underground and overheadThe alternate Fire

The origins of Fire can be traced back to their formation in 1966, in Hounslow, Middlesex, near the Heathrow Airport. The trio -- David Lambert (vocals/keyboards/guitar), Dick Dufall (bass/vocals), and Bob Voice (drums/vocals) -- originally were called Friday's Chyld, and released one single before changing their name. Based on the promise of their next batch of demos, they were offered a contract by Decca Records, in 1967. Their managers also negotiated a publishing deal with Mike Berry, head of Apple Records' publishing division. Fire's first single -- "Father's Name Was Dad" -- was produced by Decca staff producer Tony Clarke, but wasn't released until several months later, in March 1968, before being withdrawn a week later. Apple's Paul McCartney heard the track, however, and arranged for Fire to record it again, this time with Lambert doubling his guitar parts (they were also brought up an octave). Macca's improved mix was re-released, but it too failed to chart. 

The band's next batch of demos were rejected, but the band was persuaded to record "'Round the Gum Tree," which had been written by Apple's Berry. This didn't sit well with Fire, and they refused to play on it, although Lambert eventually agreed to provide the A-side's lead vocal. The single was released, with minor results, in November 1968, and Fire was dropped by Decca. Pye Records eventually signed a licensing agreement with the band's management. In January 1970, the band began recording The Magic Shoemaker, a whimsical concept album about a shoe cobbler named Mark and his pair of magic shoes. This time, Fire was assisted by the Strawbs' frontman Dave Cousins on banjo, and guitarist Paul Brett (of Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera). When it failed to perform, Fire disbanded. 

Voice and Dufall joined Paul Brett's Sage in 1970, while Lambert did session work and recorded demos with the Strawbs' Rick Wakeman. He later provided soundtrack music for a Michael Caine movie, X, Y and Zee, before being recruited to join the King Earl Boogie Band (they had evolved from the chart-topping act Mungo Jerry). Shortly after the release of their Trouble at T'Mill album, Lambert accepted Cousins' invitation to join the Strawbs, who were moving in a more prog rock-glam direction. Lambert also guested on Cousins' solo album, Two Weeks Last Summer, and after the Strawbs broke up, recorded his own solo album, Framed, released in 1979. Today, Lambert works a ski instructor in Austria. Fire's "Father's Name With Dad" frequently appears on compilations of British psych-pop, including Nuggets II, and many others.

1. Father's Name Is Dad
2. Treacle Toffee World
3. Happy Sound
4. Spare A Copper
5. Will I Find Love?
6. Man In The Teapot
7. Only A Dream
8. It's Just Love
9. Magic Shoes
10. I've Still Got Time
11. I Know You Inside Out
12. Reason For Everything
13. Alison Wonderland
14. I Just Can't Wait
15. I Didn't Know You
16. Can't Be So Bad
17. Green-Legged Auntie Sally
18. Mama
19. Oh Johnny
20. Father's Name Is Dad (alternative version)

Fire were around for several years and managed to issue a couple singles and an album, but those releases were not wholly representative of the band's entire repertoire. This 20-track CD does much to fill in the gaps, dominated as it is by 1967-1969 unreleased recordings, as well as featuring both sides of their 1968 single "Father's Name Is Dad"/"Treacle Toffee World." (Their second and last single, "Round the Gum Tree"/"Toothie Ruthie," is not included; the band didn't play on it anyway, though Dave Lambert sang on the A-side.) This shouldn't quite be judged as a missing Fire album; apart from it being recorded over a fairly long period of time and three of the songs getting re-recorded for their 1970 LP (The Magic Shoemaker), much of the material obviously would have benefited from considerable polish had it been prepared for official studio release. Much of it shows a heavy influence from the best British mid- to late-'60s bands that both rocked hard and sang harmonies: the Who, the Move, and the Kinks. Those are good influences to have, and Fire absorb them more credibly than many of their peers. "I've Still Got Time," though not the most sophisticated of these efforts, quite accurately mimics circa 1966-1967 Pete Townshend-sung Who recordings in some respects, while "Happy Sound" sounds just a bit like early Marc Bolan. But they don't match those groups' songwriting talents or combine the influences into anything nearly as original, though much of it bounces along amiably. A few tracks show them breaking off into harder rock-influenced directions and stretching out into much longer songs (including a ten-minute opera of sorts, "Alison Wonderland") with less satisfying and occasionally overwrought results. As Fire were one of those bands that were above average as obscure groups went but not nearly as interesting as the top British acts of their time (though "Father's Name Is Dad"/"Treacle Toffee World" is decent in its early Move-lite way), overall this is a compilation for deep '60s British rock collectors who want to fill in the cracks.

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