Friday, 6 November 2015

Quasar - Fire in the Sky (1982)

Quasar – Fire in the Sky (1982) CD Front Cover

In the same way as a small detail on a Van Dyke painting is almost a separate story with its own characters, events and symbolism, so an individual track on an LP can reveal a tale distinct from the parent album. Idly trawling the internet for an album to capture my imagination, I came across one called Fire in the Sky (1982) by a progressive band from the UK called Quasar, with appealing artwork in the style of The Moody Blues. To find out what Quasar sounded like, as quickly and simply as possible, I typed the name of the group, record and YouTube into Google, and at the top of the list came a clip of the title track directly from the album(1). Thankfully, it was not a later live rendition.

On first listen, the intro of rising synthesizer and piercing guitar notes seemed unremarkable, before leading into a passage which brought to mind Annie Halslam-era Renaissance, with its folky female voice, the symphonic keyboards and varied guitar parts. I was tempted to press ‘stop’ at the bottom of the window, but something, however, compelled me to keep listening. Possibly, it was the Rickenbacker bass to the fore, the standout phrasing in lead singer Sue Robinson‘s voice and the changes in time signatures, but more likely it was the fascinating photos of the group placed in the video by its uploader. Usually, such images consist of a few copies of the album cover, if you are lucky, but these were far more revealing: grainy colour and black & white pictures of the band on stage in the eighties, the Quasar lettering, front & back album cover art, a musician strumming his guitar at home, spontaneous views of rehearsals, gig posters, and someone in front of the tour bus on a grass verge.

Listening now, not everything about the track is perfect. When an appealing timbre and time signature appears, it is replaced by a less interesting example which endures for longer; the drumming is too simplistic and jarring so that it becomes irritating; and the mastering sounds as if it was taken from vinyl. On the positive side is the exploration of interesting ideas developed over a lengthy track, the folk-rock/symphonic influences from Genesis, Yes and Renaissance and Sue Robinson’s gentle version of Grace Slick-style delivery (if it is possible).

Further investigation revealed that Quasar made only two albums in the eighties, the aforementioned Fire in the Sky and Loreli in 1989, which were eight years apart, before an even later comeback live effort in 2012. When commentators describe the group as being plagued by line-up changes, they are not exaggerating; founding member Keith Kenwright is the only constant musician, with repeated rotations in personnel for each album and numerous tours. Twenty plus musicians is a lot for a five-piece ensemble that recorded only two albums of new material, albeit spread over thirty years or more.

Who was lead singer Susan, or Sue, Robinson? After leaving Solstice in the early eighties, she joined as lead singer, surprisingly, sometime AFTER Fire in the Sky and was not present for Loreli. Vocalist on Fire in the Sky was Paul Vigrass, clearly not a female singer at all. It appears Robinson was lead singer for a string of live dates throughout the early eighties, but recorded little or nothing for Quasar. So, how did she come to be singing on an album track from Fire in the Sky? The title track, it transpires, was rerecorded in the mid-eighties for an ‘elusive’ progressive rock compilation on EMI/Elusive, titled Fire in Harmony (1985)(2), including contributions from neo-bands Pendragon, Solstice, Citizen Cain, Trilogy and others. Robinson sings on this version. Later, the song was added as a bonus to a reissued version of the Fire in the Sky album on CD.

It occurred to me to appeal for information on Sue Robinson in a thread on the progressive rock forums, but then I decided against. Fire in the Sky with female vocals is an isolated little gem and it is enough.

(1) goodenuff4jazz
(2) On Fire in Harmony (EMI 1985), Quasar play Fire in the Sky, with a lineup of Keith Turner – Bass, 12 string guitar, Taurus Bass pedals, Sue Robinson – Vocals, Dillon Tonkin – Keyboards, Kevin Fitzgerald – Guitar, Dave Wagstaffe – Drums.


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