In the mid-1980s, it felt like Fiat Lux were on the verge of being huge. A string of fine singles saw them getting public and critical acclaim, but the Top 40 somehow eluded them. Hired History Plus represents something of a holy grail to fans of the group in that not only does the 2CD set include the band’s only LP release (of their original incarnation), a stop gap mini album entitled Hired History, it also gathers the rest of the band’s 1980s recorded output, and, significantly, their never-released debut album proper, Ark Of Embers.
CD1 begins with a beautifully remastered (at Abbey Road, no less) version of the original six-track Hired History which was released in lieu of Ark Of Embers while Polydor (their record company at the time) waited for the chart smash to hang the full length album release on. The stately melancholy of ‘Secrets’, one of the band’s singles from 1983, is an impressive start and the first of many “How on earth was this not a massive hit?” moments of the set. ‘Photography’ follows, perhaps a less obvious single on the face of it, but a real grower (especially for those who have been listening to the Hired History vinyl for the last 35 years!)
‘Blue Emotion’ is arguably the band’s biggest all-out classic synthpop moment and its 12″ version was the one to appear on Hired History – brilliant though it is, the 7″ version which appears on CD2 as part of Ark Of Embers packs an even greater punch and perhaps is the greatest ‘lost’ single of the period – ‘lost’ in terms of missing the charts and incredibly never being afforded an appearance on CD anywhere before – in fact only two tracks from the entire set ever made it onto the digital format, and they were the A and B sides of their indie debut single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’, released on Be Bop Deluxe‘s Bill Nelson‘s label Cocteau Records, and subsequently featured on a CD compilation.
Elsewhere on the original Hired History, the twitchy ‘Sleepless Nightmare’, originally a B-side, shows the band’s less commercial side, while ‘Aqua Vitae‘ (another B-side) has some marvellous fretless bass from David P. Crickmore, one of the trio’s two surviving members along with singer Steve Wright (their bandmate Ian Nelson, brother of the aforementioned Bill, sadly left us in 2006 – the whole piece is dedicated to his memory).
The bonus tracks have that debut single, as well as several 12″ mixes, B-sides and some alternative versions of tracks produced by Bill Nelson. Notable too are the non-album single House Of Thorns (both 7″ and 12″ versions – another superbly catchy release) and the band’s only cover, the Cornish Folk song ‘Sally Free And Easy’, hardly an obvious choice for a synthpop band!
Over on CD2, Ark Of Embers begins with the understated ‘The Moment’ – it sounds so incredibly fresh, it could have been recorded yesterday. Instrumentation is tasteful and well-chosen, the songs have room to breathe and every element is crystal clear in the mix. ‘Breaking The Boundary’ picks up the pace, and is yet another that sounds like a hit in any sensible kind of a world. After listening to ‘Blue Emotion’ very often for the last 35 years, it’s fascinating to hear it in the context of its intended parent album – it really is an exceptionally wonderful single.
Almost-title-track ‘Embers’ is a contemplative track was apparently the slowest song that ace producer Hugh Jones ever worked on (his words). It could hardly have been a greater contrast to ‘Blue Emotion’ but is so effective. The ‘Photography’ and ‘Secrets’ singles appear too, (along with ‘Aqua Vitae’) while ‘Splurge’ even features a bit of distorted guitar and a more ‘indie’ direction, for want of a better expression.
‘In The Heat Of The Night’ has some lovely chorused guitars chiming away underneath a roaming saxophone, sounding like the unlikely mid-point between The Chameleons, Psychedelic Furs and Ultravox. The final track on the album is also the final single of Fiat Lux‘s 80s Polydor output, ‘Solitary Lovers’ which was unfairly released to little fanfare at the time, due to the band effectively being over by the time it appeared.
Happily, Crickmore and Wright are now back together (testing the water a couple of years back with a re-recorded ‘Secrets’, mostly due to frustration of not being in a position to reissue the original version at the time), and, after a 35 year wait, Fiat Lux fans are in the highly unexpected situation of having Hired History Plus on their hands mere weeks after Fiat Lux’s brand new (second, or is that technically first?) album, Saved Symmetry.
In a just world, Ark Of Embers by itself would now be considered one of the outstanding synthpop albums of the 1980s. This music is just too good to be a footnote – make no mistake, a lot of people have waited a very long time for this album. Hired History Plus will not be disappointing any of them.
Hired History Plus is released by Cherry Red Records on Friday 19th April 2019.