Fire Engines

a jarring blast of nervy, insect-warriors-duelling-to-the-death guitars

Feature by Milo McLaughlin | 16 Apr 2006
Perhaps Edinburgh's most original and uncompromising band, the Fire Engines are Davey Henderson (guitar/vocals), Murray Slade (guitar) Graham Main (bass) and Russell Burn (drums). They released their debut single Get Up and Use Me in 1980, a jarring blast of nervy, insect-warriors-duelling-to-the-death guitars and the exhilarating near incoherent yelps of singer Henderson.

Inspired by Subway Sect, the punk-funk of James Chance and the Contortions and deconstructed rhythms of Captain Beefheart, their edgy sound and intelligent, literary mindset fit in perfectly with the 'Sound of young Scotland' led by the Postcard bands Orange Juice and Josef K. But although Postcard boss Alan Horne offered them a deal, it was Bob Last, founder of the rival Fast Records, who was to sign them.

With Fast Records, Last released plastic bags containing photocopied collages and pieces of orange peel that he intended to be "promotional items for a non-existent product." These soon became collector's items, inspiring the aesthetic values of Factory Records and many other DIY labels (including that of Fire Engines' manager Douglas McIntyre who runs Creeping Bent).

The band's first release, 'Lubricate Your Living Room', came out on Last's new Pop:Aural imprint, intended to be a more commercial version of Fast. But the album, envisioned as "background music for busy people", was mainly instrumental and only eight tracks long - not your usual chart fare.

A song which for some reason the band considered a joke, Candyskin, was the next release, and was the band's only hit - it contained all the elements of a classic indie pop single and even featured strings. But their subsequent single Big Gold Dream was not the success they hoped and they split up in 1981, with Henderson and Burn going on to form Win, and later, Nectarine No.9.

Thankfully, an offer to support Beefheart's old cronies the Magic Band in 2004 was too good to resist and a mutually beneficial joint single with Franz Ferdinand saw the band begin to get some of the credit they deserved for inspiring the new wave of post-punk bands such as Franz themselves and the Rapture. Domino Records also released a new compilation 'Codex Teenage Premonition' last year, although the earlier 'Fond' remains the must have Fire Engines record.

Despite suggesting that their Optimo gig last September was to be their last, they couldn't resist reforming again to support the Sun Ra Arkestra (cosmic jazz guru Sun Ra was another of their heroes) for this year's Tryptych, on a bill that includes the hotly tipped Creeping Bent signings Bricolage. They also play Dunfermline in May as part of Tigerfest. With live sets that famously last for little more than fifteen minutes, don't blink or you might miss a rare chance to experience post-punk in it's original form.
Fire Engines support Sun Ra Arkestra at The Liquid Room, Edinburgh on April 28.