Grapefruit/Cherry Red CRESEG099T
Best known for their cult psychedelic classic The Magic Shoemaker, originally released in 1970, on PYE records, Fire was always remembered as a footnote, or steppingstone on guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Dave Lamberts journey towards success in the Strawbs, a band he joined originally in 1972, and who he left in the late 1970’s, re-joined in the late 90’s and has been with ever since.
However, Fire was much more than that, a fact acknowledged by Lambert when after over 40 years, the original Fire reunited to perform the Magic Shoemaker in its entirety live in December 2007, as well as reuniting for one last time to perform in 2009 at The Strawbs 40th Anniversary event, bringing the band full circle.
This impressive triple collection released on August 20th 2021, brings together for the first time in one place, everything Fire recorded, including a few unreleased demos from the Dave Lambert archive, under one tidily packaged slipcase box, with the albums neatly in replica record sleeves and an extensive booklet, complete with plenty of history from Dave Lambert.
Disc 1 is the compilation and demos collection Underground and Overhead (singles and demos) which pulls together the two Fire singles (the classic Fathers Name is Dad, and the not so classic Round the Gum Tree) as well as selections that were submitted to Decca for release, but which didn’t get the green light.
Showcasing Lamberts songwriting skills, as well as the musical performance of the trio (Dick Duffall on bass and backing vocals & Bob Voice on drums and backing vocals) Fire grew out of a Hounslow based band called Fridays Chyld and when they changed their name to Fire and turned professional, they got a publishing deal with Apple and a recording deal with Decca.
First released in 1968 Fathers Name is Dad, backed with Treacle Toffee World finally landed, although after a week it was decided (by Paul McCartney who’d heard the track on the radio) that Fathers Name is Dad wasn’t powerfully enough, so they remixed and added more parts to it.
Both versions of this classic stomping rock track are here so you can make your mind up, with a classic Lambert riff and some great classic late 60’s lyrics this is rightly considered a classic of the era now, although with little promotion from Decca the single didn’t garner much attention.
Lambert however is still rightly proud of the track, and it opens and closes this anthology.
The B-Side Treacle Toffee World is another classic Lambert piece and is reminiscent of its time.
The struggle with Decca to get a second single released saw some classic Lambert tracks like Happy Sound and Will I Find Love? being rejected and left in the archives until this collection brought them back to life.
Of interest to Strawbs fans is the original demo of Lamberts It’s Just Love, which eventually found it’s home on Hero and Heroine by the Strawbs, and it’s of interest to see how fully developed the song already was at this stage.
Meanwhile the three Fridays Chyld demos appearing on CD for the very first time here (It’s Not Easy Falling out of Love, Boys and Girls Together, I Just Can’t wait, and I Didn’t Know You) already showcase the musical building blocks that were in place to give Fire their unique sound.
Highlight of the disc is probably the 10 minute plus (mini-psychedelic symphony) Alison Wonderland, which runs the gamut from rock to psyche and beyond and features some fantastic power trio interplay between the three of them, if anything counts as a great ‘lost’ psych track, this is it!
Finally, Apple publishing’s Mike Berry ‘suggested’ they record his track Round the Gum Tree, which the band hated so much only Lambert actually appears on it (singing only) with a B-side written by their then managers Toothy Ruthie, that doesn’t feature any of the band – unsurprisingly Decca released it, and it promptly undid all the hard work the band had done making their reputation, performing live with acts of the calibre of Status Quo and The Spencer Davies Group.
Hating the direction, the management, Decca, and Apple publishing was trying to steer the band in, they promptly left them and signed to Hooray Productions, who got them a deal with PYE.
This first disc then showcases the embryonic sound that Fire was trying to develop, and the strong singles they’d recorded that had been dismissed by Decca and it shows Lambert was turning into a fine songwriter and Fire a mighty band.
The second Disc, The Magic Shoemaker, released in 1970 contains the complete album, plus associated demo recordings (and two demos from the short lived second incarnation of Fire)
The resulting album, with songs linked by narration from Lambert, see’s the band taking control of their musical destiny and with new managers Ray Hammond and Ray Hendrickson producing, with Lambert writing, playing guitar, singing, playing keys and percussion he invited Paul Brett to contribute additional guitar, whilst David Cousins from the Strawbs makes a guest appearance here playing banjo on Happy Man I Am.
Described by Lambert as a fairy tale rather than a concept album, The Magic Shoemaker was the only album released during Fires lifetime and using the linked narration see’s Lambert and Fire tell an ambitious fairy story about a shoemaker called Mike.
As he describes in the booklet the theme was something that he could fit the songs round, and as a whole the album flows really well, and shows the band is a great light, with some undisputed classics on here from the rocking Tell You a Story, Only a Dream, Shoemaker and the aforementioned Happy Man Am I.
Unfortunately as acknowledged in the press, and the booklet, the production let the album down, and with PYE refusing to release any singles, this mighty album disappeared into cult status, and Dave tried to form a new line up of Fire, the two demo tracks included here, alongside the Magic Shoemaker demo’s, are still quality Lambert tracks, but as his heart wasn’t in it, he went down a different musical path that led to the door of the Strawbs and success in both the singles and album charts.
Widely regarded as a classic album by those who heard it, The Magic Shoemaker had gained cult status until it finally came out fully remastered in 2004 it finally got the recognition it deserved.
Finally disc three ends the story, with the reformation of Fire and former manager Ray Hammond, who reunited on 30th November and 1st December 2007 nr Guildford in Surrey, produced by Lambert and Strawbs bassist Chas Cronk, this was originally released on CD in 2008, and pulls the story together with the addition of Treacle Toffee World, Fathers Name is Dad and it’s just Love into the Shoemaker narrative you get the definitive live Fire performance, which, judging by the audience reaction is anything to go by, went down a storm.
Despite the fact the band hadn’t played together for so many years, when the set opens with the new piece Overture (To a Shoemaker) before they launch into Children of Imagination, it’s clear Fire are, well, on Fire, and as anyone whose followed the Strawbs for the last 20 years knows Lambert’s vocals have just got better with age, whilst his guitar playing is as strong as it ever has been.
The rest of fire, both Voice and Duffall threw themselves into it and they sound as tight as they were when Shoemaker was originally released, and it really sounds like both band and audience are having a great time, and this shows.
This reunion concert rounds the Fire story off nicely, from being an act who nearly made it with a cult album that disappeared, they performed their masterpiece in triumph to an appreciative audience, giving them the recognition and acclaim they rightly deserved.
This is a great way to round off this excellent box set which brings far more to the Fire story than listening to the Magic Shoemaker does, as it completes the missing chapters and is a great collection that would fit on anyone’s shelves.