At the end of the 1970s, when punk morphed into New Wave
and both had given accepted musical categories a good shaking / loosening up,
some more 'unaligned' groups seized the moment and staggered out, blinking:
Japan, Talk Talk, Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire. None of these groups shared
attitudes or sounds, least of all the avowedly Christian After the Fire,
formerly a progressive trio who had gone to the lengths of financing their
own debut LP, Signs of Change, in
They did have one thing in common, though: they all got signed up by major
labels and suddenly began releasing singles which edged closer and closer to
the charts (yes, even Cabaret Voltaire - 'The Crackdown'). Around the country,
After the Fire had paid their dues, relying on a sketchy Christian subculture
of artists and musicians who booked Student Union gigs, ran small-time arts
magazines and let them sleep on their floors. In 1979, however, the gears
suddenly ratcheted up: in place of just a ferocious live reputation came
rumours of a CBS contract. The reissue of this material, originally three
albums, Laser Love, 80-F and Batteries Not Included, by Edsel, brings a chance for reassessment. A
dynamic live band, After the Fire struggled to capture their spark in the
studio and eventually disbanded in early 1983. Some fine music awaits
rediscovery, however; here's a brief overview.
'One Rule for You' was their debut single and at first it seemed rather
pedestrian and 'safe': a mid-tempo song with 'thoughtful', open-ended lyrics,
responding to criticism of the band's avowed Christian faith. A record
company choice? The B-side, 'Joy', was much more characteristic: a
full-throttle instrumental, often a stand-out in the live set. It didn't
trouble the charts greatly, but it received airplay and wasn't bad for a
first release; the second single, 'Laser Love' appeared in August 1979 and
was much more like it.
Harmonies, genuine hooks and, we were told, to be the title track of the
album. Andy Piercy sang well, with Springsteen-like conviction, it received a
lot of airplay, Peter Banks' keyboards were well to the fore and guitarist
John Russell and drummer Ivor Twydell (as he then styled himself) filled out
the sound. It met a similar fate to the first single.
The album appeared in September 1979 and the names of several different
producers did not suggest a coherent product. In retrospect, it contained
some of their strongest songs. The Christian press were supportive, but a
third single, 'Life in the City', appeared as a pointless, plodding remix.
Once again the B-sides of the 12” single told another story: three live
tracks, 'Listen to Me', 'Laser Love' and 'Like the Power of a Jet', a glimpse
of their dynamic sets.
At this point, staunch supporters worried: the LP finished
with a powerful, life-affirming track called 'Check it Out', but who was ever
going to hear it ?
The endless gigging continued...
80-f, the second album, lurched out in
October 1980 with a dreadful, sub-ELO wall of sound concocted by producer
Mack, who had worked with Jeff Lyne and co. The ensuing singles seemed
characterless and it transpired that line-up changes and a rejected version
of this LP had probably sapped the band's strength - well, that's what it
sounded like. The Christian press, meanwhile, had begun tipping a hot young
quartet from Dublin, who are still occasionally making CDs today.
For After the Fire, however, nothing seemed to do the trick. Singles crept
out in lieu of a third album, only to wither and die. They had a sound,
keyboard-led, and Andy Piercy was developing into a convincing vocalist,
influenced by the likes of Springsteen and Graham Parker. This was typified
in songs like 'Listen to Me', 'Frozen Rivers', Take Me Higher' - but singles
(and accompanying videos) suggested a stylistically compromised band,
listening too much to record company 'experience'. The final album, Batteries
Not Included, finds them lurch back to
something like form with a dynamic new drummer, Pete King (formerly of The
Flies) and, at the eleventh hour, a genuine hit single (in Europe), 'Der Kommissar'. But here's the
ironic twist: it isn't one of their songs, just a cover version of something
patched together by the European songwriter Falco. If you're wondering what he sounds like, his other hit was called 'Rock Me
Amadeus': go ahead and seek it out - I guarantee you'll only play it once !
After the Fire limped on into 1983 but eventually called it a day, leading to
legal problems for singer Andy Piercy, who retained the name. Here are all
their CBS recordings, re-released by Edsel: should you listen to them? Patchy
they may be, and a bit of digital tweaking wouldn't have gone amiss, but they
were a proper band, and developed into a real attraction on the live circuit,
even if that elusive hit single didn't come until it was too late. I will
listen nostalgically, if only to remember gigs at Birmingham, April 1978,
Greenbelt, August 1979 and Worcester, October 1978. The big question is: what
if? They had a steady songwriting partnership in singer/bass guitarist Andy
Piercy and keyboardist Pete Banks - what if just one of those early singles had made it onto 'Top of
the Pops'? My guess is that the story might have turned out very differently:
perhaps After the Fire would need no such explanation as this.
© M. C.
An ATF Top 10
Live gigs would find ATF taking the stage to the 'Thunderbirds'
theme: then they would launch into this furious instrumental from the
Laser Love album. Live, it was more
dynamic and faster, but the studio version's not bad.
2) 'Laser Love'
It should have been a hit. A genuine hit; not a Top 10 hit, but a
3) 'A Little Sun, A Little Rain'
Never officially released, but a
much-loved item from the 1978-79 live set - demo on the limited edition
advance-order Bonus CD which was available from the ATF website.
4) 'Take Me Higher'
Another highlight of the live sets
circa. '79 - a couple of good live versions exist.
5) 'Love Will Always Make You Cry'
Now this, one of the singles from 80-f,
still sounds really good: the long demo version (6:01) on the Bonus CD almost
outdoes the official cut.
6) 'It's High Fashion'
Live, this track from '80-f' sounded
like a single possibility. The studio version isn't quite there, but a good
7) 'Why Can't We Be Friends?'
A nod to the official ATF fan club
('Friends'). Along with (5), one of the strongest tracks from the patchy,
underwhelming 80-f album.
8) 'Frozen Rivers'
During ATF's CBS period, there were some
disastrous single choices - 'Wild West Show', 'Rich Boys' - but this, from
the third album Batteries Not Included, was a strong one. A
fine song, if somewhat over-produced, with a strong Andy Piercy vocal.
9) 'Nobody Else But You'
Recycled as a B-side twice, but
preferable to either of the A-sides ('Dancing in the Shadows' and 'Der
Kommissar'); ignore the horribly dated drum sound.
10) 'Life in the City' (original
ATF's lyrics were often humane and positive, reflecting their Christianity: highly
unfashionable, but one of the reasons their concerts were joyful occasions.
If you ever attended one, you'll remember this fondly.