Ten of the Best: Fiat Lux

❉ Steve and David of Fiat Lux chat with Ange Chan about their songs, new & old.

“In a time of throwaway pop, Fiat Lux truly are something to hold on to….” – Ange Chan, We Are Cult.

Anyone who knows me well, will know that in the mid 1980s I had a big fascination with the little-known band called Fiat Lux.  Their name was a direct Latin translation of “let there be light” and they were often described at the time as being “criminally under-rated”.  I felt like I’d discovered my own secret band, exclusively making music for a select few of which I was one of their number.  They brought out six singles and a VHS compilation video “Commercial Breakdown” which I played and watched TO DEATH!

I loved everything about them, aside from the excellent music which just resonated, they were easy on the eye too and I remember having a bit of a thing for the lead singer, Steve Wright, with his chiselled, cheeky good looks.  I never got to see the band play live the first time around, despite the fact that they toured the UK and Europe reasonably extensively.  I was always filled with angst and regret of this fact, but it taught me a valuable lesson; if you really want to see a gig, then do anything within your means to get there.  In my thirty-five years of ensuing gig attendance, I have made sure that I never made the same mistake again!

Then, around late 1985, keyboard player David Crickmore, decided to leave the band and soon after Steve and Ian Nelson also eventually disbanded.  My favourite band at the time was no more and my 16-year old self was distraught.  I heard no more of the band over the ensuing years, they seemed to have been inextricably wiped off the face of the planet.  I continued to play their records until CDs became fashionable in the 90s, I married, life moved on and somehow Fiat Lux faded into my backstory.  In 2006 Ian Nelson sadly passed away and by this time much life had passed me by.  My first marriage had slid down the tubes, I was single at 30 and lived the single girl life until I met my second husband and moved from my beloved North to just outside London.  Fiat Lux always remained silently ever-present in my backstory; my beloved records and VHS survived by divorce and several house moves and have always thankfully stayed with me.

Then, in 2016 there were rumours of the band getting back together.  The rumours were confirmed with the release of their most prolific single, a re-recording of Secrets 2017.  Within a nanosecond, a brand new single entitled It’s You was released.  Fiat Lux were officially back!

Hot on the heels of new material, there was news of the original Ark of Embers ‘lost album’ being released plus possibly a new album of new material.  This was too much!  I was ecstatic though a little nervous… would I like the new material after all this time?  Would it stir up the same emotion in me as it did 35 years ago?  Surely that wasn’t possible?!  I was now a grown woman and not an emotionally-fuelled teenage girl.

However, on hearing the new album Saved Symmetry those same feelings re-emerged and my passion for the band were well and truly re-ignited.  The next news that came along was that the band were doing three live shows, their first live shows since 1984 when I was unable to see them.  I made arrangements and booked tickets to Bradford and Birmingham as soon as I was able to (involving cancelling my attendance at a prior engagement and turning down an invite to a friend’s birthday party, complicated logistics, and kind friends offering solutions).  As an adult my Fiat Lux itch has been more than scratched and I personally can’t wait to see them play live.

In celebration of this fact I have compiled a top ten countdown for your delectation, dear reader. I hope this inspires you to check out this criminally under-rated band.  In a time of throwaway pop, Fiat Lux truly are something to hold on to….

10: ‘Feels Like Winter Again’

Feels Like Winter Again was their first single with ‘This Illness’ as the B-side, and both tracks were written by lead singer Steve Wright and produced by Bill Nelson, Ian’s brother.  The single was re-pressed in 1985 by Cocteau Records.

Written in 1982 it still feels very modern and fresh after all these years.  It’s a particularly special song to the band because it was their first time in the studio with Bill Nelson.  It was also the first song to be who picked up by someone who cared.

What’s your favourite season, and why?

SW: Autumn is my favourite season, and is the same as my daughter.  It’s my favourite because you can get summer-like sunny days, all the colours in the landscape, and fruits on the trees.  The evenings are drawing in for cosy evenings, and the weather is cooler and more temperate.

DC: My favourite is Spring because it’s full of optimism, but it sometimes still Feels Like Winter Again.

9: ‘Secrets’

Secrets was the third single, recorded at Amazon studios in Liverpool and was first released in January 1984.  It reached number 65 in the charts and was re-released as their comeback single as Secrets 2017 recorded at Splid Studios on Splid Records, as an in back into the realm of pop music.  Peter Powell and Annie Nightingale were big champions of the band and this song in particular. Fiat Lux have always been very grateful for their support.

So… Tell me a secret!

SW: Polydor used to send out promotional items to accompany Fiat Lux singles.  Some of the more outlandish suggestions were bottles of blue beer to promote Blue Emotion and bars of soap fashioned into the shape of a car; Fiat Lux – think about it…

One of the promo items that did actually get given away with one of the singles were promotional disposal torches emblazoned with ‘Fiat Lux’ in various colours.  The problem with this item was that after a while, the battery ran out, without the ability to replace the it…. A somewhat sad metaphor for the transiency of pop!

DC: An open secret this one, but the violin on the original version of Secrets was played by session man Mike Timoney NOT on a violin but on a CS80 Synthesiser. We’d asked around at the studio to see who knew a good violinist and China Crisis suggested Mike. He was an expert at producing orchestral instrument sounds and he’s on their albums doing it too. It’s the only occasion when someone outside the band’s circle played a keyboard on one of our records. Perhaps a darker secret is that Mike also played on the novelty hit single Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs by Brian & Michael – something I only found out recently. On Secrets 2017 we finally got a real violin on the track, played by Ric Sanders (Soft Machine/Fairport Convention) and with it our credibility restored!?

8: ‘The Moment’

The Moment is an early song which appears on the Arc of Embers album and on the VHS compilation Commercial Breakdown. Originally entitled Moments, it was recorded during a session at Amazon Studios, Liverpool during September 1983.

What’s been the best FL moment, and the funniest?

SW: The funniest was when we were supporting Blancmange 1983(?) at Barrowlands in Glasgow.  After our performance we were stood at the side of the stage to watch the headline act, Blancmange, who we greatly admire.  Two girls came up to us and started talking, saying how good our performance was, and then asked, “but why did you not play Living on the Ceiling?”!!

DC: The best moment for me was seeing the Ark Of Embers album finally released into the public domain (by Cherry Red on CD and Universal Music digitally).  It was a great joy to make it in the 1980s and we’ve wanted it to be heard ever since.

There were plenty of Spinal Tap style funny moments in our Polydor days and I’m afraid we also used to wind up our A&R man Billy quite a bit. The most elaborate was when he asked us to recommend any bands he could sign and we concocted a fictitious act called The Cosmetics (from Wales!) who were managed by a John West and Sara Dean who were experts in the Dover Soul scene. As the subterfuge developed, we even went to the trouble of making a fake demo of the act for him to listen to. We used a harmoniser effect unit to disguise Steve’s vocals, making him sound a little like Robert Plant and presented a track called “Swimming Against The Tide”. If only we had that kind of time on our hands to waste these days!

7: ‘No More Proud’

No More Proud is written by Steve and is the B side of Solitary Lovers which was released in 1985.  The song was recorded at Amazon Studios in Liverpool in September 1983, a couple of years prior to its release.

What your proudest moment?

SW: Without a doubt, it’s the birth of my children.

DC: Keeping it within music, I’d say managing to forge a continuous career in the business from first signing with Polydor in 1982 up until now. It’s been varied and interesting – being in various bands, producing lots of great artists in the studio and having the chance to champion acts in my roles at the BBC.  Now it’s come full circle with Fiat Lux in the frame again!

6: ‘Every Day in Heaven’

Fiat Lux’s most recent single, the video was filmed at Coldstones Cut in North Yorkshire.

What’s your idea of heaven?

SW: My idea of heaven is a bottle of good wine, music, and the promise of “nothing much to do tomorrow”.  I also think heaven is a helicopter ride, above the North Yorkshire moors; the landscape is both breath-taking and ever-changing and there’s always something new to see.  Heaven would also be winning the lottery but I guess I’d have a buy a ticket first!!DC: To immerse myself in a world full of great music of many styles with no distractions and plenty of time to really listen to it.

5: ‘Solitary Lovers’

Solitary Lovers written by David Crickmore and re-engineered by Huh Jones so that it had more of a Fiat Lux sound.  Steve thinks it’s a bit of a departure for the band, contextually, considering it to be more detached and post-apocalyptic than the subject matter of their other songs. “We are the only people, who are the only two” conjures up a dystopian image of “what if”?

What Fiat Lux song do you love the most?

SW: It’s a tie between It’s You and Embers.

DC: I’m proud of everything we’ve done really (see number 7) and that, even in the major label years, we largely managed to avoid fluff and filler in our catalogue and (probably to our commercial peril) ignored record company pressure to “dumb down” for the sake of a hit.  Embers is a benchmark track for me. I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it and yet it sounds quintessentially “us”.

4: ‘Calling on Angels’

Calling on Angels is written by Steve and it’s a deeply personal reflection on when someone who’s close to you (not Bart) disappears off the scene and remains that way.

Who’s the kindest person you know?

SW: My friend of 45 years Bart Cossee; he has always been there to help out immensely.

DC: My wife – she accommodates my second passion – the music, even though she often misses out on my attention to my first as a result.

3: ‘Photography’

This song is one of the original demos sent to Bill Nelson who rated the song.  Unfortunately, Polydor were not of the same opinion.  However, Hugh Jones came along, took the format, and made it more commercially viable.  Rick Martin of Budgie plays the drums on the track and it’s not a drum machine as you might imagine.  Co-incidentally, he also drums on the 12” version of Aqua Vitae.  The song also features a marimba played by Ian Nelson.

Who took the best photograph of you?

SW: The insert on FIAT1, the black and white photo right at the bottom is my favourite photo of myself.  I think it was taken by an Irish photographer called Richard Vaughn.

DPC: When money was no object we enjoyed the lenses of many of the great and good pointing at us. Sheila Rock’s session that graces the cover of Solitary Lovers and reappears on the recent Hired History Plus sleeve was a good ‘un. 

2. ‘It’s You’

It’s You was written by Steve and it’s one of his favourite self-penned songs.  It was released as a single in 2018.

Tell me something unique about you!

SW: being called Steve Wright often promotes the question “in the afternoon?” to which I reply “what do you mean?” (being ironic).

I’m also the only pop singer that’s also directed the TV show “Countdown” with the charismatic and much-missed Richard Whiteley (co-incidentally he and SW share a birthday).

DC: I’m from the planet Splid.

1.‘ Blue Emotion’

Blue Emotion was written by Steve, with the backdrop of Thatcher’s decision to proceed with the Falklands War, and with the ensuing miner’s strike, this song was a catalyst for whipping up widespread hysteria and the means by which you could escape it by going to a club etc where hostile (blue) emotions can evaporate.

Ange: It’s my number one song partly because I loved the blue vinyl that the single was released on, and also for the song itself.  It captured the mood of an era and I love singing along to it, even after all these ensuing years.  Catchy without being annoying, melodic without being dull, and with meaningful lyrics that make you dig a little deeper into their meaning.  The perfect pop song!

What makes you feel sad?

SW: social inequality generated by this government and the stripping away of services and facilities leaving young people without opportunity is heart-wrenchingly sad, resulting in the complete lack of opportunity for young people; also the concept of ‘internships’ whittling away opportunity for young people.  It’s just plain old wrong and incredibly sad.

DC: The brisk passing of time.

To catch Fiat Lux live in 2019*

19 October at St Clements Arts and Crafts church, Bradford
9 November at The Blue Orange Theatre, in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham for a live performance plus Q&A session as part of The Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music (Number 8)
29 Nov-1 Dec Electric Dreams Weekender, Butlins, Bognor Regis

To buy or stream their albums: Hired History Plus via Amazon | Saved Symmetry via Amazon

❉ Ange Chan is a poet, novelist and writes regularly for We Are Cult.  Her current novel, her third, Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots is currently an on-going work in progress.  Ange would like to thank the fan website Hired History for some of the background information about the above songs.

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