Tag: Black

FIAT LUX Live at St Clements C of E Church

Between 1982-1985, FIAT LUX released six singles which showcased their electronically assisted melancholic pop sound with a distinct dual vocal harmony and a rooted emotional centre.

The trio of Steve Wright, David P Crickmore and Ian Nelson were critically acclaimed with BBC Radio1 airplay and a notable appearance on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ as part of a synthesizer special alongside KRAFTWERK and Jean-Michel Jarre.

Meanwhile, FIAT LUX also opened on tours for BLANCMANGE and Howard Jones. They even had a Channel 4 TV special which later became the ‘Commercial Breakdown’ video release in 1985 but by then, the trio had disbanded under the spectre of disillusionment following the shelving of their already complete debut album by Polydor Records.

Ian Nelson sadly passed away in 2006 but interest in FIAT LUX continued through the internet with the leaking of that debut album under the title of ‘Fac Ut Vivas’. Fast forward to 2019 and it’s rather a nice time to be a FIAT LUX fan.

Not only have Steve Wright and David P Crickmore reunited as FIAT LUX, but there has finally been a debut album of all-new material ‘Saved Symmetry’. Meanwhile, that unreleased debut album has been issued by Cherry Red Records using the title ‘Ark Of Embers’ as a bonus disc with a definitive singles compilation ‘Hired History Plus’.

Churches formed part of the backdrop in ‘Commercial Breakdown’, so St Clements C of E Church in Bradford was the ideal serene setting for the first FIAT LUX concert in 35 years. Opening with the desolate filmic drama of ‘Tuesday’, multi-instrumentalist Crickmore took to the stage first on acoustic guitar.

With the song’s understated vocals holding off until nearly three minutes in to create mood and tension, Wright joined his bandmate before deputising for the late Ian Nelson, Will Howard arrived on clarinet to counterpoint the pre-programmed washes of Morricone-styled synthetic strings.

Before there was time for a breather, the incessant drum machine of ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ echoed around the church. The very first FIAT LUX single (produced by Bill Nelson, brother of Ian), its ambiguous despair and forlorn chill reflecting the trauma of young manhood was perfect for a cold rainy night in the North of England’.

From the oldest FIAT LUX single to the most recent, ‘Everyday In Heaven’ declared that getting older was actually a positive with up-for-life lyrics about embracing second chances. Following on, the gorgeously evocative ‘Photography’ looked back with photos of the original projected as a backdrop with Howard doing a superb job of emulating his talented predecessor.

The progressive ‘Hold Me While You Can’ showed how FIAT LUX are still not afraid to merge contrasting musical templates with a steady build from piano and woodwinds suddenly turning into TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘We Have A Technical’.

‘The Moment’ from ‘Ark Of Embers’ mellowed proceedings with the solemn air of Scott Walker before ‘We Can Change The World’ made a call to action in a lively uptempo manner like BLACK meeting CHINA CRISIS. At this point after an understandably nervous start, Wright began to loosen up with some dancing and flashes of those animated arm movements that characterised his appearance on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ all those many years ago.

Meanwhile, moving between acoustic and electric guitar, bass and Roland Jupiter 50, Crickmore performed like he had never been away from FIAT LUX, his facial expressions unable to hide his bouncing delight at being able to perform these wonderful songs to an appreciative audience.

Described by their producer Hugh Jones as the slowest song he had ever recorded, ‘Embers’ recalled PINK FLOYD’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ to gently subside the mood, but well-positioned to provide another rhythmic lift was ‘It’s You’; the first new FIAT LUX song for 33 years at the time of its release in 2018, it lyric about finding love again in midlife was a sentiment that many present could totally relate to.

The elegiac cinematics of ‘Calling On Angels’ allowed for another moment of musical contemplation with more superb sax playing from Will Howard, until it was time for the brilliant widescreen synthpop of ‘Solitary Lovers’, a tune that was effectively the last FIAT LUX song until 2018.

On the home straight, ‘Splurge’ offered some enjoyably screechy gothic disco with Crickmore playing the guitar hero, until the main set closed with the magnificent ‘Blue Emotion’, a song that really should have been a huge hit in 1984.

Reflecting the gung-ho zeitgeist of the times, its stark observations were now more than relevant in today’s unpleasant political climate. Returning for a well-deserved encore, it had to be the haunting ‘Secrets’.

A 1983 single which highlighted the deeper introspection that set FIAT LUX apart from many of their contemporaries, it has over the years become their signature song, as signified by the 2017 re-recording that heralded a tentative return.

However, it took a few false starts but once Wright got through the first verse, there was an almighty cheer from the audience and smiles from the band, probably through a sense of relief that this first FIAT LUX show for three and a half decades was finally now done and dusted. A fabulous evening exuding charm and warmth, Wright was in fine voice and ably supported by Crickmore, while Will Howard played the perfect tribute to Ian Nelson.

It was a largely flawless display of old and new angst and affection that proved how FIAT LUX were criminally overlooked back in the day. But now is the perfect time for them to get some well-deserved recognition. With a vinyl LP release of ‘Ark Of Embers’ on the way, FIAT LUX are indeed back-back-BACK!

Yes, it was well worth the 35 year wait!

‘Saved Symmetry’ is released by Splid Records through Proper Music Distribution, available in CD and digital formats from https://www.propermusic.com/splidcd21-saved-symmetry.html

‘Hired History Plus’ is released by Cherry Red Records in double CD and digital formats featuring ‘Ark Of Embers’, available from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/fiat-lux-hired-history-plus-2cd-expanded-edition/

‘Ark Of Embers’ gets a standalone vinyl LP release on 15th November 2019 via Splid Records





Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
26th October 2019

Lost Albums: FIAT LUX Hired History + Ark Of Embers

FIAT LUX only officially released thirteen songs in their original recorded career and none were ever released in CD format, save two of their early tracks for the 1989 ‘Cocteau Signature Tunes’ compilation issued in North America.

But after many years, that has now been put to rights with the Cherry Red collection ‘Hired History Plus’ which brings together the criminally underrated trio’s entire recorded output for Polydor Records and their unreleased debut album ‘Ark Of Embers’ which had been slated for public consumption in 1985.

FIAT LUX were one of the most promising of the new synthesizer based acts that emerged following the success of DEPECHE MODE and SOFT CELL. Hailing from Wakefield, founder members Steve Wright and David Crickmore were later joined by Ian Nelson, brother of Bill who had independently produced FIAT LUX’s early works for his Cocteau Records.

Signing to Polydor Records, in 1984 the label issued a six track EP ‘Hired History’ containing their three singles to date plus their corresponding B-sides. Produced by Hugh Jones, who had worked with SIMPLE MINDS, THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, ’Hired History’ was intended as a stop-gap before FIAT LUX’s debut album was completed, but it turned out to be the only thing close to a long form release by the band until 2019. But thirty five years after the event, the tracks which comprised ‘Hired History’ still stand up.

Beginning with the singles, ‘Secrets’ was a beautifully haunting ballad was bolstered by what appeared to be a violin solo but was actually a Yamaha CS80 played by Mike Timoney. Initially released earlier, ‘Photography’ was less immediate, but the vocal interplay between Wright’s croon and Crickmore’s repeat staccato harmony was a dreamboat delight while the climax was aided by a bursting lift from Nelson’s sax.

The magnificent ‘Blue Emotion’ was an observation on the disturbing militarism that had risen in the wake of the Falklands war and the embracement of Thatcherism. Shaped by fabulous sweeping ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ derived MemoryMoog theme from Ian Nelson along with a wonderful Vox Matrimonium by Wright and Crickmore, the political sentiment however limited radio play and the song failed to be a Top40 hit.

The B-sides reflected FIAT LUX’s more theatrical side; ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ in particular sounded like Bertolt Brecht gone electro. Meanwhile the funky ‘Aqua Vitae’ sounded like something from GARY NUMAN’s ‘Warriors’ album.

Of course, ‘Hired History’ only had six tracks so its release has been bolstered by a selection of bonus tracks, most notably ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ and ‘This Illness’ which were produced by Bill Nelson.

‘Feels Like Winter Again’ was and still is a musical triumph, driven by a resonant drum machine, with a chilling mix of synth and treated guitar over an electronic pulse, Wright’s sombre and ambiguous tale of broken love affairs made a resigned emotive statement. ‘This Illness’ was more moody and featured Bill Nelson’s distinctive E-bowed infinite guitar alongside some sparkling synth work.

Also included on ‘Hired History Plus’ is the disappointing ‘House Of Thorns’ originally released in 1984 which saw FIAT LUX losing momentum. But with still no hit singles, the debut album that was being worked on was shelved by Polydor. Disillusioned, Crickmore departed FIAT LUX before Wright and Nelson quietly disbanded altogether.

Ian Nelson sadly passed away in 2006 but a few years later with the accessibility of the internet, a number of music bloggers were offering a FIAT LUX compilation entitled ‘Fact Ut Vivas’ for free download… this turned out to largely be what had been intended to be the trio’s debut album for Polydor.

Now titled ‘Ark Of Embers’ thanks to the remaining duo of Wright and Crickmore uncovering paperwork confirming this had been the long player’s intended title, the fully restored and properly mastered collection is impressive, even without including the three Polydor singles ‘Photography’, ‘Secrets’ and ‘Blue Emotion’.

Quite what Polydor was thinking in not even taking a chance with the release of a FIAT LUX album when Colin Verncombe’s BLACK were making waves with the original independently released version of ‘Wonderful Life’ is something of a mystery.

Interestingly, the opening song on ‘Ark Of Embers’, ‘The Moment’ possesses the atmospheric air of BLACK. It is then followed by the brooding uptempo North European melancholy of ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a song easily as good as BLACK’s ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’. Always keen to combine electronics with real instruments such as sax, marimbas, drums, bass and guitars, ‘Embers’ is something of a distant cousin of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Wish You Were Here’.

But ‘Ark Of Embers’ isn’t just about moods, as the groovy Roxy flavoured artrock of ‘No More Proud’ showed, while ‘Splurge’ offered a bizarre textural mix of chattering tablas over screeching guitar and a gothic disco backbone. Led by dreamy sax, ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ is a marvellous slice of emotive pop reminiscent of CHINA CRISIS, with additional clarinet providing atmospheric resonance to the sonic balance.

Closing with the brilliantly filmic synthpop of ‘Solitary Lovers’, ‘Ark Of Embers’ would have been an impressive debut long player demonstrating FIAT LUX’s instrumental versatility and diversity. Although also reprising the imperial Polydor singles trilogy in its tracklist, this is a new album to most, and damn fine it is too.

Among the other extras on the ‘Hired History Plus’ package are various 12 inch extended mixes, the original Bill Nelson version of ‘Photography’ which had been rejected by Polydor and a cover of the traditional South West English folk standard ‘Sally Free & Easy’ written by Cyril Tawney.

Arranged with a cacophony of voice samples like Philip Glass, it was a track which had only previously been available in Germany that Wright usually sang in the studio for Jones to set up levels and EQ.

‘Hired History Plus’ with its accompanying bonus of ‘Ark Of Embers’ is a belated but very welcome vindication of the talents of Steve Wright, David P Crickmore and Ian Nelson. A definitive collection with expansive booklet notes featuring commentary by Wright and Crickmore, the package represents exactly what was and is still brilliant about FIAT LUX.

Dedicated to the memory of Ian Nelson 1956-2006

‘Hired History Plus’ is released by Cherry Red Records on 19th April 2019 as a double CD featuring ‘Ark Of Embers’, available from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/fiat-lux-hired-history-plus-2cd-expanded-edition/





Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th April 2019

FIAT LUX Saved Symmetry

37 years is a long time to wait for a debut album, but with Wakefield’s FIAT LUX, it has been worth it.

Singer Steve Wright and multi-instrumentalist David P Crickmore released their magnificent first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ in 1982. Produced by Bill Nelson and released on his Cocteau Records, his brother Ian joined FIAT LUX and the trio became one of the most promising of the post-Synth Britannia wave of electronic pop acts.

Despite brilliant singles like ‘Photography’, ‘Secrets’ and ‘Blue Emotion’ with their distinctive vocal counterpoints and melancholic melodies, FIAT LUX were unable to secure a significant UK chart hit and despite having recorded a full-length album, Polydor Records dropped FIAT LUX and the debut long player shelved.

Ian Nelson sadly passed away in 2006, but with acts such as OMD, BLANCMANGE and ULTRAVOX returning and recording new material, there was renewed interest some of the lesser known acts of the same era like CHINA CRISIS, B-MOVIE and FIAT LUX.

In total control of their destiny, Wright and Crickmore relaunched FIAT LUX in 2017 with a re-recording of ‘Secrets’, before setting about producing an album of all-new material, now unveiled with the wonderfully alliterate title of ‘Saved Symmetry’.

Recorded at Crickmore’s Splid Studios and produced by the multi-instrumentalist with vintage synths like a Minimoog and Roland Jupiter 8, along with modern hardware like a Novation MiniNova and Roland Jupiter 50 to hand, the pair have been joined by Will Howard on sax and clarinet plus live drummer Andy Peacock.

For ‘Saved Symmetry’, Crickmore even tracked down a relative of an old accomplice to help make the overall FIAT LUX sound as authentic as possible in the 21st Century; “The bass guitar is the same model Yamaha BB1000S that I used on the Polydor sessions” he said, “but I had to track another early 80s edition down as my original bass went astray in the mid-80s.”

Beginning perhaps unexpectedly with acoustic guitar and some scratchy background interference, the desolate filmic drama of ‘Tuesday’ sees Wright’s vocal holding off until two and a half minutes in. Countered by a haunting synth lead, the combination provides tension and anticipation of what is ahead.

The steadfast ‘Hold Me While You Can’ builds from piano and woodwinds before taking an enjoyably odd turn when a Numan-esque synth riff that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘We Have A Technical’ kicks in alongside a burst of sax.

Then with hints of the song side of ‘Low’ era Bowie, ‘Everyday In Heaven’ offers a fine avant pop tune with rousing up-for-life lyrics about embracing second chances and encouragement to “go where your garden grows”. Utilising offbeats and marimbas, ‘Grey Unpainted Rooms’ takes things in amore solemn direction… well, real life isn’t always cheery is it?

Expanding the mood, ‘We Can Change The World’ provides a call to action in these turbulent times. With a great bit of sax and an uptempo setting dressed with bubbling synths and rousing vocals, it recalls ‘Everything Is Coming Up Roses’ by BLACK, the vehicle of the late Colin Verncombe who ultimately proved that despite the short-sightedness of Polydor Records back in the day, the FIAT LUX template was indeed a viable commodity.

The semi-acoustic ballad ‘Wasted (On Baby Tears)’ acts as a pleasant musical interlude before another burst of sax and marimba for ‘Long Lost Love’, a lively slice of classic orchestrated pop with a great chorus and a dash of CHINA CRISIS.

‘It’s You’, the magnificent single which relaunched FIAT LUX as a modern creative force in 2018 continues to delight by its very existence, the classic emotive mix of dual vocals, synths and sax brimming with positivity and in the reflective couplet “I’m living in a room at a stranger’s house, I never thought I’d be here again”, touchingly conveying the joys of finding love again in midlife.

Heading towards the home straight, the elegiac ‘Calling On Angels’ is based around piano and a striking synthetic orchestra arrangement with some more superb sax work. The ‘Saved Symmetry’ title track with its drum machine pulse and stark backing is reminiscent of THE BLUE NILE, an instrumental with gentle ivories and bass to allow the album’s organic flow to proceed to its conclusion.

2019 is turning out to be a great year for FIAT LUX fans as not only do they finally have an album, but those lovely people at Cherry Red Records will be issuing ‘Hired History Plus’, an expanded CD of their 1984 six song compilation EP as well.

Very much a grower with a mix of emotions in many colours, ‘Saved Symmetry’ is a worthy belated long playing debut with depth and musicality. FIAT LUX have always deserved recognition and now might well be their time in the sun… so let there be light.

‘Saved Symmetry’ is released by Splid Records through Proper Music Distribution on 8th March 2019 in CD and digital formats, pre-order from https://www.propermusic.com/splidcd21-saved-symmetry.html





Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th February 2019


colin-vearncombe-black-earlyColin Vearncombe, better known as BLACK, has passed away following a car accident where he sustained serious head injuries near his home of Cork in Ireland.

With a voice equal to a modern day Scott Walker and possessing a witty bittersweet lyricism that could only have come via his birthplace of Liverpool, Vearncombe scored his first major hit with ‘Sweetest Smile’ in 1987. Up until then, success for Vearncombe was very so near yet so far for a number of years. BLACK was initially a band fronted by Vearncombe that emerged from the vibrant Merseyside music scene that produced acts like OMD, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, THE TEARDROP EXPOLODES, CHINA CRISIS, THE ICICLE WORKS and WAH!

A brilliant single ‘More Than The Sun’ released by local indie label The Wonderful World Of… in 1982 gained evening airplay on Radio 1; it characterised the brooding European sound, laced with deep melancholy that BLACK were to become known for. It was during the recording of this track that Vearncombe met future musical partner Dave Dickie. A high profile support slot followed with THOMPSON TWINS on their ‘Quick Step and Side Kick’ tour.

As a result, BLACK signed to WEA but despite the excellent single ‘Hey Presto’ in 1984 and a re-recording of ‘More Than The Sun’, Vearncombe and Dickie were dropped. 1985 was a gloomy period in Vearncombe’s life and led him to write the ironically titled ‘Wonderful Life’.

Initially released independently by Ugly Man Records, the single only reached No72, but led to Vearncombe being picked up by A&M Records who relaunched his career. Although the first single released in the campaign ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ failed to chart, both ‘Sweetest Smile’ and a revamped ‘Wonderful Life’ single reached No8 in the UK singles chart. Meanwhile the ‘Wonderful Life’ album produced by Dave Dix hit the Top3.

This success allowed A&M to accord a bigger budget for the follow-up ‘Comedy’ released in 1988. Written largely while he was undergoing a divorce, Vearncombe pursued a more organic direction with half of the long player produced by Robin Millar, best known for his work with EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL, SADE and BIG COUNTRY.

While the album was did not hit the chart highs of its predecessor, ‘Comedy’ contained a number of Vearncombe’s best songs, in particular the emotive tearjerker ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ and the sadly poignant ‘Now You’re Gone’.

With 1991’s self-titled ‘Black’ album, Vearncombe began to tire of major label politics and founded Nero Schwarz to release ‘Are We Having Fun Yet?’ in 1993. After a hiatus of several years, Vearncombe returned in 1999 to release music under his own name, but went back to the BLACK moniker in 2005 for the album ‘Between Two Churches’. Touring regularly in more recent times, 2015 saw Vearncombe issue the appropriately titled crowdfunded long player ‘Blind Faith’.

Vearncombe had planned further live dates for Spring 2016 and recorded a cover of CHRIS ISAAK’s ‘Wicked Game’ for the recently released ‘80s Re:Covered’ album which also featured CHINA CRISIS, ABC and HEAVEN 17.

While Vearncombe was perhaps not as lauded as some of his Merseyside contemporaries, songs such as ‘Sweetest Smile’, ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ and of course ‘Wonderful Life’ easily marked him out as an equal.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th January 2016