The Fire Engines formed, did absolutely everything in the most chaotic and unconventional manner possible, and broke up 18 months later. They started their first single with a mistake, never released a proper LP and basically flew in the face of every convention of rock-n-roll, yet they managed to leave a lasting impact on the Scottish music scene and post-punk in general. Considered one of the three main movers on the fertile Scottish post punk scene of the early 1980s with the much poppier Orange Juice and slightly more accessible Josef K, Fire Engines drew from similar influences but leaned towards darker and more abrasive sources: Velvet Underground, the Voidoids, Television, the artier end of UK punk and early post-punk like the Subway Sect, the Pop Group and the Fall, and perhaps most importantly, a copy of No New York, particularly the Contortions.The Fire Engines music was angular but funky, discordant but melodic, terse and energetic. They had strict rules, drummer Russell Burns was to set the tempo based on the intensity of his adrenaline-rush and wasn’t to use cymbals or hi-hats. Guitarists Davy Henderson and Murray Slade weren’t to play barre chords and well, Graham Main played bass.
During their brief career they released 3 singles and a mini-LP, all of which are contained on Acute’s new compilation Hungry Beat. They premiered with the self-released Get Up and Use Me, single of the week in the NME and Sounds. They then signed to Pop Aural records, a new imprint from post-punk pioneer Bob Last of Fast Product, the label that gave us the Human League, Mekons and Gang of Four. For their first collaboration, the Lubricate Your Living Room mini LP Lubricate Your Living Room, Last suggested the band not wait and put out a conventional album but record some “extreme muzak”, improvised functional wallpaper music for a new generation. For their next release they were taken in the other direction. Starting with their clearest pop song yet, Candyskin, over the top string sections and back-up vocals were added. Of course that just made the grating guitar hooks and tribal drums that much more interesting, while the flipside, Meat Whiplash was one of their most frenetic songs yet. After this critically-acclaimed single the Fire Engines released one final stab at the charts. Big Gold Dream, with it’s female back up singles, funky rhythms and catchy chorus would be their most acessibile record, and it would be their last.
Before their first potential US tour, the band imploded. Davy and Russell formed WIN, if not New Pop’s most successful band, certainly it’s most subversive. They’d later move on to form the noisy rock outfit Nectarine No. 9 and most recently, the Sexual Objects. However, after 20 years, spurned on by invites from the Magic Band and Scotland’s latest success story, Franz Ferdinand, Fire Engines have been playing shows again. Who knows, maybe they’ll finally get the chance to play No New York City…
For more in-depth biographical background reading, as well as a bit of an update circa 2005, check out the article Innes Reekie wrote that we edited and tweaked into part of our liner notes. You can download the pdf here.
Fire Engines – Meat Whiplash
From their second single, released on Pop Aural in 1981. Also available on the Hungry Beat CD.
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Fire Engines – Hungry Beat
From the mini-LP, Lubricate Your Living Room. Also available on the Hungry Beat CD.
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