‘After The Fire’, aka ATF or 80-F, were THE megastars of the 70s/80s British Christian music scene. Though I’m not sure they liked the idea of being called that – though not afraid of their Christian influence, they wanted to be known as musicians, not just Christian musicians.

ATF - credit Richard Dickens
ATF - credit Richard Dickens

I took a couple of photos at the Burgess Hill gig – but they weren’t nearly as good as Richard Dickens‘ ones.

I did bootleg a couple of tracks, which aren’t of any quality to threaten ATF sales, but might give a wee flavour of the live sound. You can get proper quality ATF music either from their store (and it’s almost Christmas…) or off the iTunes store.

After the Fire: Lazer Love – live at Burgess Hill

Lazer Love - ATF live at Burgess Hill
Lazer Love - ATF live at Burgess Hill

Some of the songs have a surprising poignancy and pertinence – It’s High Fashion, for example, still seems incredibly relevant:

It’s High Fashion

It’s high fashion, first they sell you a lie
And let you think if you try perhaps they’ll let you find it
It’s high fashion, like tomorrow I say
Forever one day away, you’ll always be behind it

They show us pictures in a glamour book
And say that next year this is how we will look
I think it’s time we got ourselves of their hook

It’s high fashion, I’m the face of the week
Someone to smile but not speak, this is a silent feature
It’s high fashion, who’s that face of the year
No-one who comes from round here, they build a special creature

Then everyone must try and look like their fake
With help from buying all the products they make
That way they get the biggest slice of the cake

Just at the point when all your money is spent
On trying to keep up with the latest of trends
They o and change ’round all the fashions again

It’s high fashion, but it’s all back to front
They’ve got us just where they want, that’s why we pay their prices
It’s high fashion – they know if it was gone
We would all suffer from an identity crisis

And when I told them that I thought it a shame
To have to pay so much for looking the same
They laughed and said it’s really only a game – Ho Ho Ho!

If they think that they can sell it – they will

Lyrics for most ATF songs are available here.

There have been a few reviews of the gigs in their recent tour already, and I wouldn’t presume to be any great music critic. That won’t prevent me adding a few observations… Rob Halligan has joined the line-up in recent years, initially adding a folky ‘unplugged’ feel to the music. Interesting. But not exactly the rocky electro-pop with John Russell‘s edgy lyrical lead guitar and Pete ‘Memory’ Bank‘s sparkling synthesiser runs that ATF are so famed for. This tour – and sound – was very much edgier. Whether deliberately or not, the band have managed to create a very authentic 80-F sound and feel.

Rob, Pete, & John at the ATF Burgess Hill gig
Rob Halligan, Pete Banks, & John Russell at the ATF Burgess Hill gig

Well almost.

I understand why PB has been using the Tyros for convenience whilst touring more recently, but I’m afraid it really doesn’t come close to the fat richness of his old Multi-Moog (a brilliant early touch sensitive synth, one of which I have cherished for years too) or Mini-Moog, for those soaring lead synth lines that are Pete’s trademark and gift. I understand he has something in the pipeline to fill that gap in future – I look forward to hearing how that works out!

And also ‘well almost’, as at one point Rob Halligan took to the tin-can guitar – see more on the Play It For Pakare site. Then again, that was fitting as it was a FairTrade, Stop the Traffik gig with a really very good support slot from Julie Hall. She deserves more than this passing mention. Kudos. And the tin-can guitar sounded great too!

Just a mention about the vocal sound. Andy Piercy was so the ‘voice of ATF’ for years. After he moved on from ATF, first nothing happened for a loooooong time. (There is a band history in the side bar on the Wiki page, or as a pdf here from Mike Farrer’s site.) Then a couple of times Pete and John had a heroic go at trying to do the lead vocals as well as play, and still get in the backing vocals. I think they tried that back at Greenbelt a few years ago – heroic, however, much as I love them, it really did not quite hit the mark. Keith Smith also joined the for a time, and whilst being a very competent singer, didn’t look or sound at ease in the role of lead singer.

I had heard Rob Halligan stand in for a couple of numbers at a largely accoustic set at Greenbelt a while back, and I wasn’t sure that it quite worked. So the sound and set-up for the 2009 autumn tour was a very pleasant surprise. Rob had got many of Andy Piercy’s vocal inflections off very well. Not at all bad – for someone who had never known of After The Fire originally. Listening, with familiar tune after tune from ATF’s large repertoire – and it is big repertoire – I was struck by a couple of things. Authentic copies – and anything new??

The renditions of many of the songs were really very accurate. But was this a sort of high-class karaoke with a live band, or a sort of hybrid between a reformation and a tribute band? Can there be a genuine ATF without Andy Piercy – where even if he is 25 years absent in person, he is still present in the sound he created still being in essence ATF?

Well, Andy was not ALL the sound of ATF. And of course as the Rock Family trees show, it is Pete who is the consistent thread of gold through the generations of ATF: his personality, drive, writing, playing, singing, sound – along with John’s distinctive chunky, ripping, lyrical, fluid guitar – are truly ATF too. Not just ATF then – but ATF now. Rob Haligan is also more than just a Piercy mimic, adding in some of his own material to the sets, and just a little of his own inflections. And if he didn’t come close to the original sound; then it wouldn’t actually work for those who like me who have most of the original albums.

And new material? Or new audiences? Long-term fans – of many famous acts – actually have a tendency only to want the familiar old hits played in exactly the same way. Not much space for innovation of progress there. ATF have re-worked an oldie (One Rule for you – Trade Justice), and have started to embark on some new material too. And I love the way at recent gigs there have been new young fans evident amongst those of grey-ing hair and no hair.

Who’s going to love you when you’re old and fat and ugly…?!” I think you are safe for a wee while yet ATF!

Here’s a live version of Starflight, from the Burgess Hill gig again.

Starflight - live at Burgess Hill
Starflight - live at Burgess Hill

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As an aside –
– in chatting with Pete Banks, I added yet another to my list of ‘people you may be surprised to learn are or have been a Church Warden‘. Others who could be included on this list, and at the same time at the same church, were journalist and now priest Martin Rowe and broadcaster Simon Mayo. This duo also published a book – on Snogging. There is probably a list some where of ‘People you hadn’t expected to be a church warden, but are/were’…

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Finally; note to self:
Learn to write shorter, concise, less rambling posts. This one took over three weeks of collating & tweaking – not exactly ‘news’ anymore…