In the 1980s, it looked for all the world that Fiat Lux would be huge: their sophisticated synthpop was both commercial and critically lauded, and brilliant singles like ‘Blue Emotion’ and ‘Secrets’, though drawing the band a dedicated fan base, didn’t quite break into the Top 40. Their full-length debut, Ark Of Embers, never saw the light of day, with only the stop gap mini-album Hired History appearing.
And now, in 2019, this lamentable situation is being addressed…and then some! Not only have the band just released a full length album of new material, the extremely wonderful Saved Symmetry, but a two disc set is coming soon from the ever-reliable Cherry Red Records, who have not only rounded up Hired History with all of the 1980s singles and B-sides, but included Ark Of Embers in the release in all its glory. It sounds so fresh it could have been recorded yesterday.
God Is In The TV caught up with David Crickmore and Steve Wright to chat about the new stuff, the old stuff and, well, playing hopscotch with a member of The Velvet Underground…
GIITTV: Is 2019 shaping up to be the biggest year in Fiat Lux’s history with both Saved Symmetry and Hired History Plus being released?
Steve: I don’t know, the history goes back a long time doesn’t it, it’s…35 years! We’ve probably had bigger years but it’s certainly a great thing to have, when you think about it, three albums coming out within the space of a couple of months really. It’s a good year – Saved Symmetry has been a lovely thing to do and we can both say that we’ve enjoyed what we’ve done with it.
David: I think you’re right in saying it’s quite big year for us because I don’t think there’s been as much Fiat Lux output ever coming out in such a short space of time. Some of that has just been coincidence, the way that things have worked out. The Saved Symmetry album itself was constructed as a result of us tentatively testing the water with a couple of singles in the last couple of years, and the first one, which was a remake of Secrets, one of our old 80s numbers, was really done almost out of frustration that we couldn’t get any of our old back catalogue out. At that time we were frustrated by the lack of communication with the people who owned the master tapes and we were just not getting anywhere with that trajectory at all, so we thought “What could we do now?”
…So is that how Secrets 2017 came about?
David: Steve and I have always been in touch, but we were possibly closer together than we have been for some time and it just occurred to me, (I was making an album for Sabrina Piggott, which is coming out soon), and she kept asking for these 1980s noises and it occurred to me that I still had all the kit, and I had a studio, and there was nothing stopping us from recreating one of those old favourites from the 80s, so that’s where Secrets 2017 came in. That was really well received, so we thought we should do some more.
When you were releasing the 80s singles like ‘Blue Emotion’, was Ark Of Embers meant to be the album released at the time, but Hired History ended up coming out instead?
Steve: Basically, Hired History, at the time, was a stop gap, and it was a compilation of singles and B-sides and that kind of stuff, and that was it. I think that Polydor were reluctant to release what became Ark Of Embers because they said we didn’t have a hit single to release it on the back of.
David: I think that was a particular thing in that time, in that era; had we been a band operating in the 1970s, there are countless examples of bands who made several albums without having a hit single and then they built a career out of that, but in the 80s they spent so much money on the recording and so on that they thought that there had to be a hit single to be recoupable. It’s a really odd mindset, because you think they won’t make any money if they don’t release it, but that’s the way it was.
Ark Of Embers sounds so good – who remastered it, were you involved in that side of things?
David: It’s something we helped to curate, the way it went was that we were hoping to release Ark Of Embers ourselves, which is now on the second disc of what has become Hired History Plus, we were some way towards negotiating that with Universal Music, who now own the copyright, when they happened to mention to us that Cherry Red were after doing something with our old masters, so we then started to talk to Cherry Red, as the last thing we wanted was for two things that were quite similar to come out around the same time. They were delighted with the idea that we might actually have some input as the artists in the project, so they handed over the curation of it to us. It should be called Hired History Plus Plus Plus Plus because after you have got past the Hired History part, everything that we released at the time is on there, all masters! Universal have a very good system of storing the masters and we discovered that they had every utterance that we had made onto tape there, documented with all the paperwork, it was a real Aladdin’s cave!
In the 80s, was there a single where you thought “This is going to be the one to go overground”?
Steve: At the time, we were new to it, obviously, but you thought that any single that you put out, Photography was the first Polydor one, and it’s majestically produced by Hugh Jones, when you hear the remastering of it, it’s got some wonderful parts on it, and you think, “This is good, this is real, this is major!” Every single that we put out, we had faith in.
David: Polydor were always telling us that this next one was going to be the hit single, they had a lot of faith in the A&R department. ‘Secrets’, then ‘Blue Emotion’…they were convinced that that was going to go into the Top 10, and perhaps it should have done given the amount of radio play that it got at the time. In this day and age you couldn’t fail with that kind of stuff behind you! There was a failure in the system somewhere.
Steve: We never payed a ‘buy on’ fee for a tour, we were always invited. We were playing with Level 42 in Europe in Germany and Switzerland, and at the time, I think it was ‘Blue Emotion’ was outselling their latest single, so instead of us supporting them, it became a double headed tour. That’s what was going on at the time and it was really quite encouraging.
David: Yet in this country we would have people coming to see us who told us they went to the local record shop and couldn’t get the record. I think that blighted us quite a lot. We did better in Europe, there was a great desire to have an album out in the Benelux countries which is one of the reasons I think Hired History happened.
Sometimes distribution of records could be a real problem in the 80s, records would be all over the radio and sometimes you just couldn’t buy them…
Steve: We had a plugger called Sonny Rai, who was wonderful, and she was called into Top Of The Pops meetings and all that kind of stuff, and she was espousing the fact that this single, ‘Blue Emotion‘ was going to go mega and so on and so forth, and we really should be on Top Of The Pops, not that we had any great desire to be on Top Of The Pops, and it came into the charts at something like Number 89, and had its ‘own legs’ in record company parlance, and they expected it to go up, so they took it off what they called the ‘strike force’ which was basically guys who went around record shops with the single in their boots and all that kind of thing! They said ‘This single has its own legs, we don’t need to promote it any more, and BOOM…’
David: …It disappeared!
Steve: The record company would call us up and tell us to stop working on the album and record a new single, and it had to be 122 beats per minute and so on. We kicked against it, and so did producer Hugh Jones, who was just wonderful. He would say ‘You can’t do this to working artists!’
You toured in the 80s with people like Howard Jones, Blancmange, Thomas Dolby…even John Cale!
David: Yes, we did selected dates with John Cale. Most of them were in Europe, we did get quite friendly with John Cale as he was looked after by the same management that we were and he was a lovely bloke. I particularly got on well with him, I remember going out for meals with him in Bayswater, the Columbia Hotel was the hotel for the pop and rock acts to stay in in London – I remember one merry night with John Cale when we had been for a meal just down the road in Queensway, and we were doing hopscotch with him down Bayswater Road! A lovely fella. The major tours we did (in this country) were Blancmange and Howard Jones.
…Any good memories?
David: They were lovely to us.
Steve: Oh yes, Howard Jones bought me a bottle of champagne on my birthday!
David: They were both lovely to us, both acts, as we were the green guys just turning up…both tours we turned up in a big theatre in Glasgow…
Steve: …the great thing about both Howard Jones and Blancmange was that their sound crew didn’t hold anything back. Sometimes the support band’s sound can be held back to pave the way for the main act, but they didn’t hold anything back, both lighting and sound. I’ll always be grateful that they gave us the same as the headline act, which is great.
David: Both artists greeted us as we joined the tours, they both said “You might as well share the posh dressing room with us rather than use that grotty one upstairs!” I remember Howard saying “Look at all this food guys! There’s only one of me, I can’t eat all of this…join in and that can be the case for the rest of the tour.” Both were just brilliant.
Do you think you will tour the new album?
David: (Pause) There’s a question!
Steve: A moment of silence!
David: We’re working on it…we’re definitely not ready to do such a thing at the moment, but we are testing the water.
Steve: David and I used to be in a band called The Juveniles, where it was just “Load the stuff in the van and go”. There’s so much more to it these days. So much more.
David: So we would want to get that right and make it a decent show if we did go out live. We’ve been concentrating so much on getting the records right that to be honest we haven’t dedicated much time to that so far, but there’s a bit of a pause now and we are looking at it.
Did you discuss getting back together over the years?
Steve: We never discuss anything, it just happens! We record music, we get on, brilliantly, we are simpatico in what we like…it’s great.
Part Two of In Conversation with Fiat Lux will appear soon.
Saved Symmetry (the brand new album) is out now on Splid Records.
Hired History Plus (the reissue including the lost album Ark Of Embers) is released on 19th April by Cherry Red Records.