FIAT LUX celebrate the 35th anniversary of their formation with the release of ‘Secrets 2017’, a new recording of the single which came out in early 1984.
Dedicated to the memory of band member Ian Nelson who sadly passed away in 2006, ‘Secrets 2017’ is the first FIAT LUX release to be officially available to buy on digital platforms.
The new version respectfully recaptures the essence of their sound with its emotive mix of dual vocals, synths and woodwinds. Despite critical acclaim for their 1982 debut single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ and a near miss with their biggest potential hit ‘Blue Emotion’ in Spring 1984, record company politics at Polydor Records sadly dictated that their debut full-length album was never to see the light of day.
Bizarrely, a VHS video and laserdisc release entitled ‘Commercial Breakdown’ comprising of their Mike Mansfield directed Channel 4 showcase did emerge; yet-to-be-released songs on it such as ‘The Moment’ confirmed that FIAT LUX could have crossed over into the same audiences that had embraced BLACK following the success of ‘Wonderful Life’.
Despite there being no FIAT LUX album, a collection entitled ‘Fac Ut Vivas’ comprising of songs from those recorded sessions leaked over the internet. It gave followers of the band access to some previously unheard songs like ‘Breaking The Boundary’ and ‘Embers’.
There was obviously a demand but while other acts that met the same fate as FIAT LUX like THE MOOD have had their recordings released, the FIAT LUX material is still sadly under wraps in the Universal Music Group’s vaults.
The duo of vocalist Steve Wright and instrumentalist David P Crickmore kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about FIAT LUX and what could have been…
What has been the impetus for FIAT LUX to record again?
1/ frustration at many failed attempts by a number of interested specialist labels to get our “lost” 1984 Polydor album licensed from Universal Music who hold the master tapes.
2/ During my work as a record producer on other artiste’s projects, I have increasingly been asked to produce sounds that are evocative of the FIAT LUX era.
I realised that I still had all the equipment and the knowledge of how to use it. This made the recreation of one of our legacy tracks possible, thus bypassing the impasse with Universal Music. We hold our own publishing rights now, so it is only the mechanical copyright for the actual 1980s recordings that Universal retains. Make new recordings and there isn’t an issue.
Steve: The opportunity to get together with David again, and have a bit of fun working in the studio. There were no preconceptions or demands, and that freedom was very attractive.
David: Yes, in the sense that our major label career happened at just the point when the level of spending on recording projects was so high that an unwritten rule had developed at Polydor that if you didn’t get a Top 20 hit single, your album release would be delayed. So far, ours has been delayed by about 32 years!
There were a number of times when we were in the studio, crafting our LP “masterwork” with producer Hugh Jones, when the phone would ring and it would be someone from Polydor saying “you know that hit single we were working on? – well it’s dropped down the charts rather than up as we predicted – can you pack up on the album and write another potential hit instead please?”
This was soul destroying for us, especially as we always had such good radio play support from the likes of BBC Radio 1 and reasonable press backing too. If there was any one factor that killed the band off, this was it!
Steve: Yes. Because the potential was vast. We were inhibited by the commercial attitudes of the time. Given that Polydor spent a small fortune on the recording costs for our LP, it seems odd that they didn’t spend that little bit extra to actually put it out. It’s no coincidence that our long form video that was released in 1985 was called ‘Commercial Breakdown’.
Did you stumble into the synth based direction by accident for FIAT LUX?
David: Sort of, yes. We’d all been captivated by punk, especially as that developed into the New Wave and our own first bands tended to be guitar bass and drum affairs in the spirit of BUZZCOCKS, THE CLASH, THE RUTS and the like.
However I was also a fan of Bowie, Eno, KRAFTWERK and various 1970s synth based outfits and the interesting thing was that, (unlike all the other pop and prog stuff that came immediately before punk), you were not wrong if you still liked that sort of stuff in 1979.
Indeed, I remember that kind of music forming the bedrock for the alternative club scene in Wakefield and Leeds in the very early 80s before there were many new acts providing the soundtrack.
Gradually things like THE NORMAL, BILL NELSON, TUBEWAY ARMY, a revamped JAPAN, ULTRAVOX and early Dindisc released OMD material surfaced and added to the mix of influences and made us realise that the DIY approach facilitated by punk was now open to new possibilities.
Steve: I just sang the stuff, David and Ian played IT.
David: Very. We were poverty stricken ex-students with barely any equipment. We made a demo for Bill on a borrowed reel-to-reel machine using a Casio keyboard and a Electo-Harmonix organ style drum box fashioned into a guitar pedal. We attended the studio sessions on Steve’s motorbike. It was the only form of transport we had between us. Bill was shocked when we turned up with no gear.
Luckily he had turned up with loads of it – including a Minimoog and a TR808 drum machine. The sound of the prototype FIAT LUX was formed as a result of being exposed to this richness of equipment and Bill’s expert production and musical guidance.
By the time we got to the point of doing the recording for Bill, it had already been decided that the result would come out on Bill’s Cocteau Record label, so we had the backing we needed to get noticed and indeed we did with an NME Single of the Week and some early radio play which saw the song rise into the Top 5 of the Indie Chart, which was very influential at the time. It wasn’t long before most major labels were beating a path to our door.
Steve: Bill provided the vehicle for the release of ‘Feels Like Winter Again’, as well as his expert studio craft. He had the vision and faith that we could succeed. He was empathetic to our sound and sympathetically added his own unique marque to the songs. I was in awe of him in the studio, having been a massive fan of him and BE BOP DELUXE.
You met Ian separately and not via Bill? How did he come to join FIAT LUX?
David: When we were making an early start playing local gigs around Yorkshire with only our Casio keyboard and electric guitar and our rather primitive backing tapes, we were keen to encourage extra musicians to come and add weight to the sound.
The Wakefield alternative music scene was a fairly tight knit affair – we all knew each other and went to each other’s gigs and often played at each other’s gigs. Ian was one of a number of people who used to get up jam along with us from time to time. As FIAT LUX became a more definite proposition after we made the disc with Bill, he seemed like the obvious person to invite to join us permanently.
Steve: The first time we met Ian was when he came to an early gig David and I did in a Wakefield pub. He told me that he liked the sound of the music, but thought we were “very brave” to just stand there in front of a reel-to-reel tape recorder with such minimal equipment! He asked if he could work with us at some point. And that was it. And we loved him for it.
David: Very. I think that by the time we got properly going, the novelty of “synthesisers only” was beginning to wear off and we felt we needed a bigger palate to play with if our sound was to develop.
The atmosphere of the time was always to be forging ahead and looking for new sounds, you couldn’t stand still. I’m glad we went this way as, although the very early 80s synth only acts sounded pioneering at the time, in my opinion they haven’t dated as well as those who used a broader brush stroke.
You also can’t underestimate the childhood influence of the 1960s on 80s acts – the post ‘Sgt Pepper’ psychedelic era with all its timbres and the big voice sound of the likes of SCOTT WALKER provided a vital template.
Steve: I don’t think there was much “ethos” going on, it just sounded right. It took the recordings beyond the purely electronical. We never branded ourselves as “synthpop”; it was the media at the time that found it convenient to do that.
FIAT LUX had a distinctive Vox Matrimonium dual vocal style, what influenced that?
David: Again I think the 60s sound of THE WALKER BROTHERS and THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS had a lot to do with it. In the early days I remember we did a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of all that called ‘Hold Me’. We were still doing it on the BLANCMANGE tour I think.
Steve: I think it was a natural desire to make the tracks feel full. And with Hugh Jones mixing and producing, it worked a treat.
David: Simply, Polydor didn’t like it. To be fair to Bill, he followed their brief to “make it like ‘Feels Like Winter Again’” and we even used the same local Leeds studio, which probably wasn’t “state of the art” in Polydor terms.
The next thing we knew, they were saying “Here’s your new producer – Hugh Jones”.
Lucky for us, as things progressed, Hugh turned out to be our George Martin and on the rare occasions we attempted any future recording without him, the magic was missing. The hours and hours of detailed crafting he put into our album is one of the reasons I regret it is not out there in the public domain.
Steve: What David said. I have to say though; I was upset for us and Bill, who after all had put SO much effort in at the very beginning.
So out of all your songs, why record ‘Secrets 2017’? How did you approach it 35 years on?
David: We chose ‘Secrets’ because it seems to be the one that has captivated people the most in the intervening years. Annie Nightingale consistently named it as one of her favourite songs, even long after most of her tastes had changed to favour dance music. BBC 6 Music tend to favour the track on the occasions that they break out one of our oldies. Also it was an easier one to recreate without Ian, as there is no major saxophone break in it. We thought it was the best calling card to say “hello, we’re back”.
Steve: Honestly, we approached it pretty much as we did in 1983. For my own part, I guess I was pretty nervous. I didn’t want to be found out as a fraud!!! But the voice still works it seems, and with coaching from David and time, we ended up happy!
‘Blue Emotion’ is still a poignant song, especially in the current political climate. What inspired the song originally?
Steve: It was all inspired by the Falklands invasion. Basically people I knew, who I thought were fairly level headed, were expressing the view that they would “Deffo go and fight” if they had to. There was this potential queue for the blue Tory emotion of the time. Let me just say, that I have nothing but respect for the armed forces and those that serve, they are brilliant men and women. It wasn’t particularly a pacifist song, I was just amazed at the seeming blood lust amongst acquaintances.
David: Musically I think I had a sort of Motown–like figure going on with the bass line and on top of this, Ian put his lovely Holst inspired Moog line which really compliments the lyric and its melody and helps makes it distinctive.
‘Hired History’ is the document that represents FIAT LUX’s major label output, but how close did you get to actually releasing a full-length album?
David: We got very close every time one of our singles looked like it was going to get on Top Of The Pops. When it didn’t, we went back to being very far away again.
Steve: Well put David!
‘The Moment’ which appeared on the belated video and laserdisc collection ‘Commercial Breakdown’ is a lost jewel. It seems unbelievable with songs like that and ‘Breaking The Boundary’ that Polydor shelved the album?
David: It was a symptom of the times. If we’d been a band recording in the 1970s, we’d probably have put a number of albums out without need of a big hit.
Steve: ‘The Moment’ is indeed a lost jewel, as is ‘Hold Me While You Can’. Such a shame they never really got onto the airwaves.
When BLACK achieved mainstream success, did you ever think “that could have been us?”
David: No, other people tended to say it to me – I didn’t really cross my mind at the time. It’s easier to look back now with some perspective and catch nuances of our sound or our look in some of the mid-80s acts that followed us and wonder if it was a coincidence or not. More often, I reflect on what would have happened if we had chosen to take up with a different label other than Polydor. The very imprints that had the successes with the later names we are thinking about, were among those chasing us in 1982.
Steve: BLACK never appeared on my radar. I appreciate it NOW but back then, I hardly noticed it.
So how did an unreleased album called ‘Fac Ut Vivas’ end up on the internet?
David: What puzzles me more than the idea that some tapes were leaked is how this collection (which loosely resembles the “lost” Polydor album in a fairly lo-fi form) got its name. It is certainly not a title that was ever considered by us. In fact I don’t think we ever got to the point where a title for the proposed album was ever discussed. We certainly wouldn’t have gone for more Latin – “FIAT LUX” is quite enough of that!
Steve: I have no idea… really! Nothing to do with Universal that’s for sure.
The FIAT LUX back catalogue has not been reissued despite your efforts and interest from fans. Why do you think Universal have been so difficult? They won’t put it out, yet won’t let you, the band, do something with it…
David: I don’t know. The label I am involved with, Splid Records which is putting out the newly recorded ‘Secrets 2017’ has certainly tried, as have others. In the past, I began to believe that the master tapes must have been lost, but recently I have come by an inventory that shows that Universal have all our stuff properly catalogued and stored safely and securely, so that’s not it.
I am beginning to put it down to one person in their licensing office who never sits at his desk and doesn’t return any voicemail calls or emails!
Steve: Maybe it’s just down to one guy who hasn’t got the time to deal with minnows like us when they’re dealing with the likes of U2’s global licensing issues.
Looking back, which FIAT LUX songs were your favourites?
David: Because they are less in the public domain, I favour some of the lost album tracks – ‘The Moment’, ‘Hold Me While You Can’ and ‘Embers’ which Hugh Jones reckoned was the slowest song he’d ever recorded, are the ones I wish more people could experience. I’m very proud of the songs in general and, of the ones that are known, ‘Secrets’ and ‘Blue Emotion’ I think stand the test of time.
Steve: ‘The Moment’, no doubt. So proud of it. Fabulous arrangement.
David: The singing isn’t bad on that one either Steve!
Steve: Also ‘Embers’ for the atmosphere and memories.
If ‘Secrets 2017’ achieves its aims, what do you hope to do next as FIAT LUX?
David: Well we’re not exactly poised with a new album waiting in the wings just yet, but Steve and I have enjoyed recording together again and I hope we will continue to do so now we know it can still work. I imagine some more recording sessions with some new ideas could emerge in due course. It’s a matter of finding the time amongst our other ongoing commitments – musical and otherwise.
Steve: Continue the fun… and the sound. Always remembering Ian’s contribution, being mindful of what he might have done. That’s important!
So is there the possibility of live gigs in the future?
Steve: The suggestion kind of scares me. It’s been a LONG time. I don’t want to let David down, I don’t want to let myself down, but most of all I wouldn’t want to let an audience down. That old chestnut!
David: It’s not out of the question but what you have to remember is that, while I have been playing live music at a professional level consistently in the intervening years, Steve has not, so it’s a big ask for him to come back onto that platform after so long away. At least after the new ‘Secrets’ recording, we now know he’s still got THAT voice.
The other thing of course is that we’d need someone to fill Ian Nelson’s shoes in the live role – not an easy thing to contemplate.
It’s only after sifting through the old material that it has properly dawned on me how good his playing was. I have to admit I kind of took it for granted in my twenties. As Neil Ferguson, who mastered the new single said to me “You’d be hard pressed to find another Ian – there aren’t many sax and wind players that are not jazzers – and Ian never played in a jazz style”. I have also come to appreciate that his lovely clarinet tone was not run of the mill either!
FIAT LUX have recently created a Facebook page with information, photos and video clips old and new – please visit and like the page: www.facebook.com/Fiatluxofficial – also we acknowledge the work done to keep the band’s name alive by such as The Electricity Club and Hired History website.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to FIAT LUX
Special thanks also to Dave Sewell at Hired History
‘Secrets 2017’ is released as a download single by Splid Records through Proper Music Distribution on 24th February 2017, available from iTunes, Amazon and other digital retailers
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
2nd February 2017