How Cambridge Punks Inspired The White Stripes. Meet The Fire Dept. 

FireDept-Header2014

It’s funny what you unearth sometimes in the most unlikely places. I was checking through the list of artists that have recorded “You Left The Water Running” for this series of articles. In between all the R&B stars from Detroit or the Deep South, you know – the Otis Reddings and Wilson Picketts of this world – sits a punk band called The Fire Dept. who come from Cambridge. That’s Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK, rather than Cambridge, Mississippi.

Not only is it slightly unlikely that there would be a healthy punk scene in the leafy Fens, (akin to finding a healthy chess club on a premiership football team bus I would have thought, but that shows what I know) but it also appears to have been quite an influential one…

Without too much hope or expectation, I played a couple of their songs, and the results were revelatory.

On went “Golden Egg”. The guitar bursting through the speakers like it had been incarcerated for a decade and had just been given its freedom. Superb stuff.

Blimey! I thought, and not just because I generally think with a cockney accent…

This band must like The White Stripes, because they really have that sound nailed on.

Then I looked up the date the song was recorded. Could it really have been recorded anywhere between five and eight years before Jack and Meg decided to pull on the red trousers and save rock n roll?

More research appeared to be necessary.

The songs were recorded by Liam Watson at Toe Rag Studios, which White Stripes fans will know as being the same studio Jack and Meg recorded “Elephant”.

It turns out that The Fire Dept were a serious source of inspiration for The White Stripes.

According to their biography, The Fire Dept consists of Neale Richardson, Neil Palmer and Rob Taylor. They formed in 1983 and released 2 or 3 albums, a few classic singles, and played the UK garage circuit, often supporting long time friend Billy Childish’s band Thee Headcoats. This is the same Billy Childish whose name White wrote in big letters on his arm when playing Top of the Tops. Thee Headcotes had an associated band Thee Headcoatees, featuring Holly Golightly, who sang with The White Stripes on the track “It’s True That We Love One Another”.

The Fire Dept are signed to Damaged Goods record label, the home of ERTAS favourites Cowbell.

Hopefully all of that whets your appetite enough to give a listen to The Fire Dept. I apologise now to the band for banging on about The White Stripes, when I should be talking about The Fire Dept, but hopefully the association will pique your interest, especially if you’re a fan of Jack and Meg.

As to the future plans of The Fire Dept? After a long period of apparent inactivity, the band reformed to record a session with Marc Riley on BBC Radio in February this year. Could this be the start of something new? Apparently not. Damaged Goods Records described the session as a “one-off”….

@DAMAGEDGOODSREC: @EveryRecord The band re-formed for MR session as a one-off. We compiled their complete recordings on this beauty – https://t.co/7otPyxwqBY

…but you can buy the entire recorded works of the band at the Damaged Goods online store…



Categories: Indie

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4 replies

  1. I was under the impression The Fire Dept were from Brighton, not Cambridge.

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  2. Rob Taylor (Drummer) now lives in Newmarket. Up until recently I was in a band with him (Rob on guitar not drums) called Long Bone Trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHMH6K3yvsY

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  3. There was quite a little garage punk scene in Cambridge in the mid 80s, inspired by the Cramps, and the arrival of copies of Nuggets at the local record shop.
    The Fire Dept started off as The Killdares, and other groups were The Herbs, Fuzzniks, Hell Sucks and the Men From Uncle. Most of the groups were variations of similar personnel, and they all played at the Burleigh Arms pub.
    Whistle Test came to Cambridge to film, but somehow ended up filming the students and their electronic music, who were centred around the Alma pub, and missed out on the Burleigh garage rock scene entirely.
    Shortly after that, the Fire dept left for Brighton, and the Cambridge scene faded out.

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