Fire – Father’s Name Is Dad
Released 20 August 2021
Subtitled The Complete Fire this new boxset contains singles, demos, the album The Magic Shoemaker and a live performance of the LP from 2007. The trio were helmed by Dave Lambert, who later would go on to join The Strawbs…Ian Canty examines the embers…
Dave Lambert is probably better known these days for his lengthy and ongoing tenure with The Strawbs. But his entry into the music scene was as a leader of Hounslow mid-60s combo Friday’s Chyld. He sang and played guitar for the band and was joined by Dick Duffall on bass and drummer Bob Voice. After making a mark as a live act in the Hounslow area, they were sent to R.G. Jones’ studio in Morden by their first manager Ray Hammond, who had discovered them in his role as a reporter for the local paper. They recorded two sessions at Jones’ set up, which yielded the four Friday’s Chyld tracks that are included on the first disc of this new set.
Soon after Friday’s Chyld replaced Hammond with the pair of John Turner and Derek Savage, who advised a name change to Fire. The move to this new management team paid off almost straight away when they netted an audition with the Decca label. The group passed by dint of their strongest efforts so far Father’s Name Is Dad and Treacle Toffee World. These two songs were to be readied for release and saw the light of day (briefly) in March 1968. Turner and Savage also got Fire a publishing deal with Apple, part of The Beatles’ empire.
It didn’t take long for problems with Apple to ensue. Paul McCartney, presumably not busy enough despite being a member of the biggest pop act in the world, was also micro-managing Apple Publishing from afar it seems. He requested that the single be recalled one week after its release and insisted that Fire re-record it, somehow coming to the conclusion that it was not punchy enough. The band trooped back to the studio to liven up the guitar and vocal and finally Father’s Name Is Dad/Treacle Toffee World was re-released in September, roughly six months or so after it would have stood a real chance of gaining interest. Not surprisingly the disc sank without a trace, with Decca and Apple rapidly beginning to lose interest in Fire soon afterwards.
Things took a fishy turn when Mike Berry, who was the Fire management team’s Apple publishing contact, pitched a plan some time after Father’s Name Is Dad stiffed. In time-honoured music business huckster fashion he reasoned that as one of Fire’s own songs had failed on their debut single, why didn’t they try one of his songs on the follow up? The naff Round The Gum Tree was recorded with Dave Lambert begrudgingly providing the vocal, but the band refused to play on it. Gum Tree was released and pilloried in the music press and to no-one’s shock, it flopped. Being associated with this awful single no doubt severely damaged Fire’s reputation. For many bands, it would have been the final straw.
But Fire were made of tenacious stuff. They refused to fall by the wayside after enduring the misfortunes heaped on them and instead they left Decca, Apple and their managers (who had the nerve to sing the vocals on Gum Tree’s flipside Toothy Ruthie) behind to hook up again with Ray Hammond. Hammond had formed Hooray Productions with Ray Hendriksen and Fire soon signed up with them. Moving on from their more poppy offerings, the band got down to work hard on a song cycle idea of Lambert’s called The Magic Shoemaker. The two Rays were to produce, but the lack of a more knowledgeable hand on the tiller was noticeable. Even so, Fire managed to realise Lambert’s vision well on the resulting LP, with assistance from guitarist Paul Brett and Dave’s soon to be mucker in The Strawbs Dave Cousins.
Unfortunately on release in the late summer of 1970 The Magic Shoemaker got lost in the shuffle. Lambert formed an amended Fire as Voice and Dufall opted to joined Paul Brett in his band Sage. The all-new Fire had Dave joined by a rhythm section of Dennis Taylor and Pete Sully, with Graham Keedy on piano. They went back to record a two song session at R.G. Jones where it all started, but soon split for good. Dave Lambert joined The Strawbs as Fire were no more.
In unlikely but heart-warming circumstances, the original three members of Fire and Ray Hammond regrouped in 2007 for two live dates to perform The Magic Shoemaker as a whole. This is what is presented as the final disc on this new compilation. An onstage appearance at a Strawbs’ anniversary show followed in 2009, but this was to be the last Fire show to date.
The first disc of Father’s Name Is Dad is titled Underground & Overheard (wombling free…) and brings together the single tracks and demos by the band. Practically the whole gamut of music from late 1960s rock and pop is run here, from the cool art pop of the single, to wailing hard rock and the previously mentioned ill-judged bubblegum. The single take Father’s Name Is Dad oozes real class and the remixed version is, I have to admit, even slightly better. Flipside Treacle Toffee World is the perfect psych Who-like nugget and Spare A Copper drifts along coolly. The knotty Will I Find Love? is an unusual, soul-influenced number. As is the nicely tense It’s Just Love, which Voice seems to virtually sit out, as only bass and guitar seem to accompany the vocal here. This song was later recorded by Lambert with The Strawbs in the 1970s.
I’ve Still Got Time is a decent driving psychedelic rock number and I thought I Know You Inside Out recalled the sound of Roger Chapman’s Family a little, particularly the vocal. The at times explosive Alice Wonderland appears very much cut from the same cloth, a multi-part piece which blasts forth before dropping down with menacing chants and then rallying to an exciting climax. The four Friday’s Chyld tracks follow find the band exploring beat pop modes in a sometimes naïve manner, like on It’s Not Easy Falling Out Of Love. The jangle and high vocal of I Didn’t Know You is probably my pick of the four.
Though having a rough sound quality, the version of Moby Grape’s Can’t Be So Bad has such feel-good impetus I couldn’t help but enjoy it and Green Legged Aunt Sally is another one where the vocal resembles Roger Chapman at times. That isn’t a bad thing though and the r&b basis of the rhythm struts forward nimbly, while the guitar pyrotechnics really cook. The Mike Berry bubblegum cash-in Round The Gum Tree is terrible though, whoever thought of putting in the Pinky And Perky voices should hang their heads in shame, as it might have just worked without them. Toothy Ruthie with the management team of Savage and Turner isn’t as bad, but they were putting themselves above the band and a parting of the ways was inevitable. These are the two weakest tracks of the entire set. This disc finishes with that mighty second take of Father’s Name Is Dad and on the whole presents the listener with an interesting and often stimulating variety.
On disc two we get the original version of The Magic Shoemaker from 1970. The record is of its time, but pleasingly so. It begins by setting up the situation on Children Of Imagination with sound effects and “Are you ready for the story”? addressed to an audience of kids. This story time device works well in order to link the songs together. The audio impact here is at times quite thin and the sound occasionally goes in and out. A stronger production job could have helped the material flourish more, but having said that it doesn’t really get in the way of enjoyment.
As alluded to in the sleeve note there is some quite punky vigour employed at times on The Magic Shoemaker, something which may have helped the LP’s durability. Tell You A Story includes some stinging guitar and drum thunder and Flies Like A Bird speeds along with a real garage feel. A light psych wonder Magic Shoes follows and I liked Reason For Everything very much too, which shapes up as a real showstopper after a bit of the story cuts in jarringly. The live demos of these two that are extras on this disc are even better.
I Can See The Sky is quite brilliant and power-packed and Shoemaker’s dreamy sad lope uses a piano melody effectively to add genuine gravitas. After the brief country blues of Happy Man Am I The Magic Shoemaker ends with a gentle reprise of Children Of Imagination. Given the 50 plus years since the LP’s release and its sonic shortcomings, this record unfolds brightly and on the whole still offers a very satisfying listening experience.
Apart from the album demos we get three additional tracks, expansive blues rocker Mama When Will I Understand and the pair of tunes that were recorded by the final Fire line up at R.G. Jones’ studio. Live To Live is in the same freewheeling r&b vein as Mama and the driving Back There Again shows enough to suggest Fire Mark II may have fared okay in the progressive early 1970s.
As stated above, the final section of this boxset is thrown over to the 2007 reunion show of The Magic Shoemaker. It takes the original record’s running order as a framework, but deviates from the theme by including Treacle Toffee World between Reason For Everything and Only A Dream and having It Wouldn’t Have Happened In My Day and War popping up betwixt Flies Like A Bird and I Can See The Sky. Fire then play Father’s Name Is Dad, which no doubt pleased the assembled crowd. It’s Just Love comes next, before Shoemaker and Happy Man Am I. Mama When Will I Understand features at the end as this disc’s sole bonus.
Having got that out of the way, the show begins with the orchestral touches of Overture (To A Shoemaker) and Ray Hammond assumes the role of the narrator. Lambert is in great voice and instrumentally Fire still sound the business, the surfeit of energy displayed belying their years. A power-packed Tell You A Story is an early sign of their retention of their abilities and they manage to correct the production lapses of the original LP by sounding mighty. Great versions of Magic Shoes, a none-more freakbeat go at Treacle Toffee World and a soaring Only A Dream instantly made me wish I had been at the gig, which must be the aim of any live recording.
Flies Like A Bird sparks off with riff-laden goodness and This Would Never Happen In My Day is a showcase for Lambert’s voice and guitar. It is followed by the near punk rock detonation of War. I Can See The Sky continues the run of spot-on performances and following it with rollicking Father’s Name Was Dad couldn’t really fail. The finale of a perfectly judged It’s Just Love, the melancholic then dramatic piano lilt of Shoemaker and a hoe-down friendly Happy Man Am I provide a rousing conclusion. A ghostly, sad encore of Mama When Will I Understand, with a completely different emphasis to the original on disc two, closes the boxset.
This all makes for what sounds like a gripping live show – before I had heard it I thought this might be a bit of a makeweight in this set, something that one would seldom go back to. But the talent, power and commitment to the task that Fire show here totally won me over.
It is a shame that Fire encountered record company and publishing problems at the start of their career, when they had definite potential to become something thrillingly out of the ordinary. They showed a real tenacity of spirit to shrug off the kind of difficulties that would have done for many a band. As a reward for persistence and their belief in what they were doing, they made The Magic Shoemaker, an album of lasting value. To come back after such a break in time in 2007 and be able to zero in on exactly the same sound and spirit as they do on disc three of this set, is something special.
Father’s Name Is Dad the boxset comes with a compelling band history in the accompanying booklet that has a large amount of information supplied by driving force Dave Lambert. The vast majority of music included has stood the test of time rather well and this set does an admirable job of showing the true value of Fire, a band who deserved success back in the 1960s, but were sadly stymied by the music business itself.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here