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Beltane Fire - Different Breed: It's prog, Jim, but not as we know it

Cover art for Beltane Fire - Different Breed

The 1980s were a strange time for music. What were then hailed astonishing technological advancements are now deemed hi-fi crimes, the loadsamoney attitude that came with the generation glossing over almost any good music (how were the likes of Japan and Talk Talk deemed pure pop pap, for example?), and how do you explain Russ Abbot getting in the UK Top 10?

That said, the decade also saw a massive rejuvination of heavy metal, and also gave us the prog revival from which Marillion began their enduring career. It also gave us Beltane Fire, a garrulous quartet graced with a major label deal with CBS (now Columbia) and who supported Marillion on their January 1986 tour in support of Misplaced Childhood.

Now if this already sounds like the stuff of dreams compared with what we know of the music industry these days, then Beltane Fire’s history is even more eyebrow-raising. A mere five years before the band’s roister-doistering debut (and indeed, only full-length release) Beltane Fire were better known as be-quiffed rockabilly quartet The Blue Cats, an outfit more at home chicken-dancing with the psychobillies at Hammersmith’s Klub Foot. Yet within three years of existence, the band had ditched the quiffs and upright bass for something darker, heavier and evocative of merry old England.

Different Breed was the subject of quite a bidding war between UK labels, seeking to cash in on the public’s fondness for heavier guitar-related material. The likes of Captain Blood, The Poacher and Night Fishing all thunder away, imbued with an Adventure Book For Boys gaucheness, heartfelt and earnest and with a chest-beating bravura. As typified by the album cover, Excalibur, King Arthur’s Cave and Uther embroil Arthurian legend, adding to the band’s proggy aura (not to mention leather jerkins and mullets)which goes some way to explaining both that Marillion support slot and the fact the band’s notoriously picky audience gave Beltane Fire such a good reception.

Alas, Different Breed was to be the only offering from the band, who by 1989 were based in America as a trio by the name of Flame Of The West, having seen It Bites usurp their place as both a genuine hit band, but equally one whose own musical pretensions had found favour with a chin-strokingly fervent audience.

Like many bands of the era, Beltane Fire tried to cross the divide between the metal fraternity and pop, a bridge littered with too many good bands treated with suspicion by rockers and too loud for the kids. Equally, their genre-hopping might have raised suspicious eyebrows as well. However Different Breed (recently reissued by Lemon) shows a heart beating in the right place and to quite the tune too.

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Jerry Ewing
Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock, as well as sleevenotes for many major record labels. He lives in North London and happily indulges a passion for AC/DC, Chelsea Football Club and Sydney Roosters.