For fans of Fiat Lux, 2019 has been like a succession of metaphorical Christmases, all coming at once: March saw the release of what was technically their first album, Saved Symmetry (Splid Records), some 37 years after their debut single. Hot on its heels, April then saw the release of an expanded version of their 1984 mini-album Hired History, given the Cherry Red bonus track treatment, to include the tracks from their various singles, and, crucially, the first ever release of what would have been their 1980s debut album, Ark Of Embers, had it not been mystifyingly shelved by then record label Polydor.
Fans had been hopeful of live shows ever since ‘Secrets 2017’ appeared a couple of years back – a remake of their signature tune, (as David P. Crickmore will describe it later in a Q&A session following tonight’s show), borne out of frustration that the Crickmore and band partner Steve Wright couldn’t get their hands on their own music at that time, and wanted something of the band to be in the public domain. And now that hope has become a reality; last month Fiat Lux played their first concert since 1984 in a Bradford church, and (not counting the ‘dress rehearsal’ ahead of that show), tonight’s performance in Birmingham is therefore only their second gig in 35 years.
For those in attendance, this is therefore a very big deal, an opportunity that many would have presumably given up hope of ever getting. Tony Adamo/Ten:Ten opens the evening, billed as An Evening With Fiat Lux and comprising part of the Seventh Wave Festival Of Electronic Music, with some beautiful soundscapes accompanied by Adamo’s own graphics, which adds up to an immersive experience which the audience observe with complete respect and some fascination. Adamo is a wizard in the corner, commanding his workstation adorned with various machines and devices and he transfixes the crowd with his otherworldly sounds.
The venue itself is wonderful, an intimate theatre setting which gives the audience the feeling of being at one of those televised ‘An Audience With…’ shows with one of their favourite bands. The excitement in the room is palpable as the opening bars and radio interference of Saved Symmetry‘s first track ‘Tuesday’ ring out, Crickmore appearing playing a 12 string guitar, followed soon afterwards by singer Wright who delivers a spot-on vocal belying the relative inexperience of the live concert in recent years. The song is an atmospheric opener, the band softly feeling their way into the show as the track builds, with Will Howard then appearing and taking the place of Ian Nelson, the third member of Fiat Lux, who is sadly no longer with us (Nelson passed away in 2006).
The excitement goes up a notch as the intro to debut single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ rings out, thrown in unexpectedly early and sounding wonderful. The audience is greeted warmly “Some we have seen very recently and others not for 35 years”, notes Wright, while Crickmore announces a song from “the olden days”, which turns out to be ‘The Moment’, opening track on Ark Of Embers.
The very commercial ‘new’ single (well, February 2019) ‘Everyday In Heaven’ is next, allowing Crickmore to move to bass. It sounds like a hit in any sane world. Another fan favourite is next, second single ‘Photography’; it’s greeted like a returning hero and there is a real poignancy in the way that Wright looks at the images of the band back in the 1980s playing behind the group – the visuals are incredibly moving, and as Wright will note in the Q&A session, seeing their friend Nelson so ‘young and vibrant’, as well as images of the surviving members’ younger selves, is pretty emotional. Will Howard, the youngest person in the room by some distance, does Nelson’s legacy proud with a superb saxophone performance in the song, and throughout the evening he proves a brilliant addition to the band.
It’s followed by a couple more from Saved Symmetry, Crickmore noting that releasing a song called ‘We Can Change The World’ seems optimistic in the current climate, but also that it was actually intended to be part of Ark Of Embers but not finished in time. The almost title track of that album, ‘Embers’, is moody and magnificent, again enhanced by the imagery behind the band.
‘It’s You’ was the band’s first new song in over 30 years when it appeared last year as a precursor to Saved Symmetry and it has a feel good vibe as the band relax, while ‘Splurge’ has a more agitated, claustrophobic feel – it’s the most intense song of the night. It’s such an intimate setting that when two audience members briefly leave the auditorium, the band ask where they are going. After the inevitable answer “For a wee”, the group actually debate whether they should await their return before continuing!
‘Secrets’ sounds moodily magnificent as it always did, it’s staggering to think that it stalled at Number 65 in the charts when it came out, mainly due to poor distribution, (i.e the records were on the radio, but you couldn’t find them), a problem that sadly prevented some key songs from being big hits back in the 1980s. ‘Blue Emotion’ closes the set, a brilliant 1984 single that is one of the greatest of that or any other era. There is a real sense of “I can’t believe that this is happening” throughout the room (not least for this writer, who, on buying the single as a 13 year old, didn’t imagine seeing it played live for the first time when he was pushing 50).
An encore of ‘Solitary Lovers’ ensues, before a wonderfully candid and entertaining question and answer session, in which the audience learn of how the band found their “every utterance” catalogued and documented in a Welsh mountainside record label vault, how producer Hugh Jones was a meticulous genius, and how well they were treated by Blancmange and Howard Jones on 80s support tours. The band are affable and extremely modest as the questions rain in, spending a whole 45 minutes attending to a variety of good-natured queries.
There is even a bonus second rendition of ‘It’s You’ to cap a truly magical event. A wonderful night with a truly special band.