Greg Sammons reports on one of the most creatively inventive bands on Britain's hard rock scene, those progressive genre defiers FIRE FLY.
From their formation in 1998 Midlands-based Fire Fly have built up a reputation among Christian hard music devotees as being the UK scene's premier pioneers of impossible-to-pigeon-hole hard rock music. While many bands have chased their creative tails churing out increasingly tired nu metal and hardcore sounds, Fire Fly - Simon Bibby (vocals, guitar), Mark Broomhead (bass), Scott James (keyboards) and Ben Griffiths (drums) - have developed a sound which is genuinely original. Other bands may have, like Fire Fly, integrated keys alongside ferocious hard rock guitars but few have done so to such multi-layered effect. Other bands may have explored the dynamic potential of soft-loud-soft-loud music passages but few have developed the art as comprehensively as Fire Fly. And no hard music band has a lead singer able to invoke such an aura of poignancy as Fire Fly's lead singer Si Bibby.
Now the band stand at the tantalising edges of the rock music Big Time. Their dazzling new album 'Breathe', released on Embryo Industries, the label started by the band's Mark Broomhead and his wife Sarah, is to receive distribution into mainstream record shops by Plastic Head. Mark Broomhead explains the origins of the new record company/music publisher: "With Fire Fly it seemed that we were too heavy for the Christian labels and too Christian for the heavy labels. Also it seemed that Christian labels on the whole were only distributed through Christian retail - which is all very well for worship, but our drive was beyond just entertaining Christians. So there were no UK rock labels that were run under a Christian ethos so rather than sitting around waiting for somebody else to do something I got on with it."
Having recorded 'Breathe' in their own studios near Chesterfield Mark began playing to some movers-and-shakers in the mainstream hard rock scene. Remembers Mark, "When I was having talks with distributors one offered to place Fire Fly on one of their labels. But I always wanted this to go beyond Fire Fly and saw little point in opening doors only to slam them behind me. So I set up the label. We also now have an active publishing company and worldwide mainstream distribution. I hope to have more bands on the label soon and we will see where it goes."
The genesis of Fire Fly goes back as far as the late 1980s when two thrash metal outfits were first making noises and names for themselves. Those two bands, Detritus (which had Mark on bass and vocals) and Seventh Angel (with Simon on bass), later went on to share many a stage and ultimately the same label. In 1992 both bands spilt up. Out of the ashes of Seventh Angel Simon soon embarked on a new project involving his sister Sarah. Not long after, Mark ended up marrying Sarah and joining the band (no big surprise as Mark had temporarily joined Simon in Seventh Angel shortly before their split). From 1992 until 1999 this ensemble had enlisted a friend of a friend, Scott, on keyboards and went through a whole host of drummers and name-changes, until settling on the name Fire Fly - plucked randomly from a dictionary. Also sometime during this period Sarah ceased to be a playing member of the band but still maintained an active role behind the scenes. In 1999, Fire Fly's first EP, 'Swings And Roundabouts', had come out. Two years later they released their first album 'Beauty For Ashes' and finally found their permanent drummer, Ben.
Despite the fact that they've played in a variety of European countries as well as at the biggest Christian hard music event in the world, Cornerstone USA, they're not a band chasing mainstream success or international major label stardom. Fire Fly have found that they are needed much closer to home. Says Mark, "We feel that it's an important thing to do things in our community. We see first hand the needs of our community, the lack of facilities and events for people in their teens and 20s. We've seen people on the fringes who can get disillusioned on the way. We want to do something that embraces these people as well as the people who are actively involved in the church, to give them an alternative."
And this is where their event, Embryo, comes into play. They have now been leading the worship at a monthly event in their hometown of Holm Wood, near Chesterfield, for over a year, using the experience they've achieved from leading worship at festivals such as Living Water, Greenbelt and Meltdown. Says Si Bibby, "We're passionate about what we do, that is the most important thing for us. If the Lord doesn't turn up, it's a waste of time us turning up." But be warned, they do confess that the worship they lead is a little rockier and louder than your average event. Continues Si, "The key ingredient is raw passion. It's pretty gritty. It's not slick, it's not fine tuned. But it's honest and it's passionate."
You can't say that it's a bolt out of the blue that Fire Fly have taken this direction. Not only has it been well known that Fire Fly have lead worship at Living Water but also that they've produced a live worship CD. One of the most well known tracks from the album 'Beauty From The Ashes' is the beautifully beefed up "Seek Ye First", the ancient chorus penned by Karen Lafferty which goes back to the earliest days of Jesus Music. Fire Fly's passionate version is a prime example of how to re-invent a song for today's audience. You can sense the same amount of passion that must have been felt when the song was sung all those years ago as Firefly throw all their guts and talent into the song. Says Si, "This is a song that people sing without really thinking how powerful the words are. We tried to pick up on the power of the words and to try to make it less cheesy than it's perceived to be."
This is part of Fire Fly's role, to inspire and encourage us all to keep going, to find encouragement and to seek God's help and guidance. As Mark puts it, "Your life is littered by the people we've hurt and stupid things we've done. We're not perfect by any means at all but there is hope, there is Jesus who died to take them on."
The band believe in honesty and being vulnerable. Admits Si, "I don't like pretence, I don't like falseness. For me the times where God has impacted my life the most have been the times when I've been most broken and honest before Him. There's too much pretending that goes on, maybe in Christian circles as well as the rest of the world."
So long live Fire Fly? "As long as God is showing up with everything we do [we should keep on going] . As long as the opportunities keep coming and the Holy Spirit is involved, it's all good."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.