— Dan on March 9, 2010 at 2:46 am

Fire Engines
Hungry Beat


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.
control-click to download

Fire Engines – Hungry Beat


From the mini-LP, Lubricate Your Living Room. Also available on the Hungry Beat CD.
control-click to download

[expand title=PRESS NOW]
Brad Barrett

5 “Headphones”
Little known, but often-cited, Scottish pioneers of jangly post-punk get a long overdue re-release compilation; Franz Ferdinand fans, rejoice!

Like all the best bands, this lot split up after a handful of singles and a mini-album. This makes the CD I hold in my very hands an important document of the less pop-side of Scottish post-punk. Orange Juice fans can start weeping now.

Being the ill-educated, music journo dolt that I so often am, Fire Engines passed me by due to two main reasons a) I was just one year old when they split up and b) I didn’t give a flying flip about Scottish post-punk. Guess what? I now would give a flying flip for Fire Engines.
Why? Well, let’s say we take a pinch of The Fall, tear a ragged strip from the Velvet Underground and skewer the heart of Wire out and broil them all in a cauldron. The result would sound, act and, quite possibly, look as hideously ramshackle and undeniably brilliant as this.

Notes are wrenched out of guitars, not just picked or strummed, and if strings are missed or wrong notes played, well…that was the spirit of the times wasn’t it? Regardless of the technical ability of the band, the occasionally awkward but thoroughly enriching melodies are part of the painful aftermath of punk’s sneering disregard for the future. Fire Engines saw a future and it took guts, enthusiasm and directed energy – not furious misfires at a vague goal – to take a newly reborn independent music further.

At least this is what it sounds like, swimming through this bygone artefact like so much influential wine. It’s intoxicating and hard to forget that Franz Ferdinand briefly rules these isles mainly because of this band. Of course it came to nothing, like most musical fads, but that was an exciting time for us freaks and outcasts – music that enabled us to dance stupidly AND look cool suddenly became popular. We were delivered from Libertinian depression – although seemingly not it’s most studious young disciples – for enough time for us to discover something new.

Hungry Beat does all of this to the listener in sixteen tracks of simultaneously bleak and vibrant noise. PiL was the furthest extreme this music could take, Orange Juice was it’s popular face: Fire Engines were the little band that couldn’t, and with them they took a promising signpost to the future that was rediscovered and exploited. If only more bands followed their example: we’d have less bands to ignore and far more to discover.
Simon Reynolds

4 Stars
Scottish postpunk phantoms get the antholgy they deserve.

Franz Ferdinand revere the Fire Engines so highly they lured them oout of retirement in 2004 to play a surprise gig for Franz fans. Formed in 1980, the Fire Engines blurred the line between disco and discord, coming across like a scrawny Scottish tribute to James Brown (mal)nourished on potato-chip sandwiches, deep-fried Mars bars and other local delicacies. Frontman Davy Henderson didn’t have much of a voice, but he gets by on exuberance. His rhythm guitar jostles with Murray Slade’s even-more-rhythm guitar, flinting sparks like a clash of light sabers. Songcraft wasn’t their forte, so the best tracks on this compilation (their first U.S. release) are near-instrumentals of ambient music for hyperactive people. The friction funk of “Get Up and Use Me” and “Sympathetic Anaesthetic” still provides a thrilling live-wire jolt to the nervous system.
Rant Magazine
Rick Reddyoff

Fire engines are officially one of the most influential bands you’ve never heard of, racking up fans such as Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand and Bobby Gillespie. Personally I couldn’t give two shits about either of them, but Gillespie does state that without the influence of Fire Engines there would have been no Jesus And Mary Chain, and, in my view, that would be a very bad thing.

At it’s best when channeling the Velvet Underground on the all-too-brief Plastic Gift and almost veers into the realm of DC hardcore workouts with Sympathetic Anaesthetic. Hungry Beat never quite reaches the heights of the likes of Entertainment by Gang Of Four, but still stands up as a great example of post-punk bombast twenty-seven years after its recording.

Discord, for example, has pretty much the manifesto of the entire post-punk canon contained within its giddying, churning guitar line alone. Overall, a band that must have felt comfortable letting the music do the talking and only using lyrics sparingly and to maximum effect. Perhaps when you’re in the kind of band that implodes after only eighteen months together, that’s the best way of getting things done: keep your head down and play.
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Alexis Georgopoulos

Much has been made of the fact that erstwhile It Band Franz Ferdinand has professed a love of, or shall we say an indebtedness to, fellow Scots the Fire Engines. This is really neither here nor there. True, they do share a certain musical angularity and nationality. But after all, isn’t this just a case of informing you that FF knew about them before you did? If that’s true, a little background: in late ’70s Edinburgh, along with Scars, the Fire Engines played the brittle cousin to Glasgow’s post-punk sons Josef K and Orange Juice. Together for a brief 18 months, they released a handful of EPs, many on Bob Last’s fantastic Fast Product–Pop Aural imprint. Hungry Beat collects these long-out-of-print EPs — not to be confused with last year’s Domino compilation of demos and live recordings.

Underground hit singles like “Candyskin” and “Get Up and Use Me” showcase the group’s discordant chemistry — an unhinged razor funk that recalls the Contortions, the Fall, and Delta 5 and, nationality aside, predates the template of early Erase Errata much more than it does FF.

“Discord” and “Hungry Beat” exemplify what is best about the Fire Engines: a pure sugar rush; a dogged, insatiable drive that recalls Faust and disco while sounding like neither; and discordant rhythms that don’t inspire dancing as much as jerking in some frenetic way. Certainly, trends come and go — and I can’t blame anyone for tiring of post-punk disco punk — but when you’ve built up the appropriate thirst, the Fire Engines will be here.


[expand title=PHOTOS]

Davy Henderson

Graham Main

Murray Slade

Russell Burn

From the N.M.E.


[expand title=SLEEVE ART]

Front and back of Get Up and Use Me b/w Everything’s Roses single. Released summer 1980 as Codex Communications Cdx 01.

Front cover and label sticker of Lubricate Your Living Room mini-LP. Released January 1981 by Fast Product via Pop Aural, ACC 001.

Front and back of Candyskin b/w Meat Whiplash single. Released April 1981 by Fast Product via Pop Aural, POP 010.

Front and back of above single unfolded.

In 1981, most of Lubricate Your Livingroom, the Candyskin/Meat Whiplash single, and Everything’s Roses were compiled onto a compilation called Aufgaladen Und Bereit Fur Action Und Spass to introduce the band to America. It was released on Fast Product America cat no: FPA 002, manufactured and distributed by Rough Trade USA.

Front, back and inner gatefold of Big Gold Dream 12″ single, b/w Sympathetic Anaesthetic (Version) and New Thing in Cartons (Version). Released December 1981 by Fast Product via Pop Aural POP 013.


[expand title=EPHEMERA]

click for a larger version

2 versions of the plastic bag Pop Aural 12″ releases, including Lubricate Your Living Room, were sold in. In the blue version above, you can see the back of the Lubricate sleeve, which was all white except for the text at the bottom.


[expand title=LINKS]

Fire Engines on myspace
Fire Engines. On myspace.

Russell Burn on myspace
Russell. On myspace.

The Creeping Bent Organisation
They say “one of Scotland’s best independent music labels. I’d edit that to say “one of best music labels.” The grammar may suck, but the sentiment is sincere. All kinds of stuff including Davy and Rusty’s latest project The Sexual Objects. And yes, they’re on myspace.

Re-action Recordings
A fine record label care of Hungy Beat liner note writer Innes Reekie and why yes, they’re also on myspace. Download the full version of the article that was edited and tweaked into the bulk of the Hungry Beat liner notes

Heroic Leisure
Discography and information regarding Fast Records and Pop Aural.

Fire Engines on Wikipedia. Win! as well.

On the Fire Engines

John Carney on the Fire Engines

Trash Icons
A Win Discography…with some Fire Engines updates.

Domino Records
Fire Engines page at Domino Records. Their CD, Codex Teenage Premonition, features frantic early live and studio versions of most of their songs.




    Comment by Peter Martin — October 16, 2011 @ 6:45 am
  2. Hi, I’m after The Fire Engines tracks Get Up and Use Me / Everything’s Roses and just wondering if Hungry Beat is available on vinyl and if so how much to post to Australia.

    cheers, Peter

    Comment by Peter — August 8, 2013 @ 3:08 pm
  3. Hungry Beat is only a CD release (at this point). Sorry. That may change. In the meantime, there are several affordable (relatively) copies of the original 7″ on

    Comment by Dan — August 20, 2013 @ 11:32 am

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