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A little *too* after the fire?
on 2 December 2002
This is one of those albums you start to seek out in your mid-forties when a chance internet sighting brings memories of youth flooding back. ATF (or After the Fire, as I shall ever remember them) kicked off around 1974. That was the year of their first appearance at the Greenbelt Festival. The second one, I believe, was marked by a famous event involving some unexpected pyrotechnics. The band appeared on the open stage, announced their presence... and as the first chord crashed out the firework light show was meant to blaze the sky. Except that the wind was a little too strong and some of the rockets proceeded to whoosh into a hastily constructed (and even more hastily abandoned) stage dressing room.
All of which brings me to this compilation from the '80s. It certainly has its moments, and in theory many of the 'best bits' are here. But those early flashes of inspiration are rarely to be seen, and one or two of the tracks misfire, frankly. 'Joy' and 'One Rule For You' are classics of intelligent synth-pop. But it would be fascinating to hear something from the first album, 'Sign of Change' (Rapid Records, March 1978, released on cassette a couple of years later) where the influences were more progressive and those classic Hammond C3 and minimoog sounds had rather real space to do their stuff.
Caught between different musical sensibilities, shifting winds of fashion, and an uncertainty as to how far they were there for the music and how much as a cipher for The Message, ATF (as they re-named themselves in an increasingly desperate attempt to seem hip) fell apart at the seams. Which is a pity, because there was real potential there. I last saw them in London's Wardour Street in '79, just as they were negotiating the transition from Flash and ELP-influenced early years to the stripped-down dance ballads for which they became better known. They still have a web presence... believe it or not. They even did a reunion gig in '99, apparently. How wonderful it would be if 'Signs of Change' could make a long overdue re-appearance on CD. It would be interesting to discover whether the substance would live up to the memory. Meanwhile we have this CD to enliven the hope and give us a taste of what was (and a faint glimmer of what might have been).