Fire Engines, Hungry Beat

Ian Gittins

By Ian Gittins

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The Fire Engines managed a mere three singles and one mini-album before dissolving in late 1981, yet they remain a hugely seminal band. As austere as any post-punk combo, this Edinburgh four-piece specialised in surreally frenetic live gigs that rarely stretched beyond 15 minutes and were an acknowledged major influence on the Jesus & Mary Chain.

Legendary Scottish art-punks remembered.

Although they took their name from a 13th Floor Elevators song the Fire Engines were never about psychedelia. This spirited grab-bag of a better-late-than-never greatest hits set confirms them as musical contemporaries and soulmates of fellow Scots Orange Juice and Josef K; an amateurish and engaging mix of propulsive punk, spindly funk and gentle adolescent poetry.

Their sole album, 1981's Lubricate Your Living Room (Background Music For Action People!) was so defiantly anti-commercial that it arrived wrapped in a plastic carrier bag, and at times the Fire Engines seemed to be nothing but rough edges. Nearly thirty years on, scratchy, itchy song-bursts like "Candyskin" and "Meat Whiplash" still sound like first-take demos: the “production,” if the term even applies, is so rudimentary that it scarcely exists.

Hungry Beat

Fire Engines

This was part of the appeal, of course. Despite their terminal non-musical cack-handedness, there was a sweet alchemy to even the Fire Engines'rawest machinations. The attitudinal white-boy funk of "Big Gold Dream" remains a visceral rush despite the limitations of nasal singer Davie Henderson, and it makes total sense that the abrasive, Fall-like "Get Up and Use Me" is regularly covered by current Fire Engines devotees Franz Ferdinand.

Talking Heads'first ever CBGB's soundcheck must have sounded something like this. Hungry Beat is a period piece, sure, but it's a fascinating and a rewarding one.