(c’80-87) – Simon Barnett (drums), Karl Allison (vocals), Simon “Herbie” Herbert (bass), Alvin Allison (keyboards), and Marc Harry (guitar/trombone)
This Christian rock band formed in ’80 with the original line-up of the Allisons, Malcolm Dragon (guitar/bass), Jason Griffiths (bass), and Tony Voice (drums), who was shortly replaced by Ian Mayhew, breaking the Salvation Army (SA) brass / marching band mold and receiving some flack for being different. They pulled their name from the SA flag and the organisation’s motto ‘Blood & Fire’ right before taking the stage at The Church of the Good Shepherd Clan, Pyrford for their first gig. The band remained fairly local in the early days playing Woking and Guildford, with the odd trip further afield, with a basic lighting set-up operated by Jan Mayes and a spot directed by Paul Strickland.
Harry guested with Blood & Fire in late September ’82 at Butlins, Bognor Regis. Dragon was still in his KFC work attire, Mayhew a vintage SA band festival tunic and Griffiths in a tux and bow tie. A hospitalization with appendicitis and then a move from Woking to Worthing saw Mayhew drop out and replaced by Barnett, who first picked up the sticks for an October ’82 gig in Colchester, supported by Alvin Allison’s other band National Youth Banned. The gig was recorded for Citadel Sounds and later released on cassette. Around Christmas ’82 the band performed at a HMP Coldingley and Harry become a full time member.
In ’83 they recorded “The Things That People Say” cassette album in June Collins’ front room. By spring ’83 Griffiths had left, after a weekend of gigs in Felixstowe. Dragon moved to the bass, but followed Griffiths in the the summer and replaced by Herbert. It was during this period that Barnett joined for good – But his ‘born again’ credentials didn’t go down well with the SA however, he was not ‘Army’, and this would hit the band later.
On 8 July ’83, Blood & Fire performed to 400+ youth at Christchurch Hall, Guildford, supported by Pulse. This was followed by the start of their 10 day long Summer / Seaside Rock Tour ’83 a few days later taking in Bognor Regis, Poole supported by The Reaction, Launceston, Falmouth, Penzance, back to Poole where Radio Solent recorded “Sceptics” for broadcast and interviewed members of the band; both broadcast on 5 September in a feature on Greenbelt., and finally costa del Woking supported by Mervyn Sprocket and the Crankshaft Assembly. In late October there was a gig at Reading Central and on 5 November Tunbridge Wells hosted the band, Teddington, then Newcastle (a gig which saw the band stopped and nearly arrested as a flying picket on the drive home), Hillingdon, Pontypool and a ‘Christmas Special’ in Grantham.
On 17 February ’84, supported by Salt Solution, Blood & Fire played their last Woking gig. They then hit Maldon and Bexleyheath, where prophecizing, a sermon on Christian’s loving each other, and a ‘children’s story’ resulted in an uncomfortable atmosphere amongst the SA congregation. Rumours reached band member’s relatives that the band had been suspended; caught in a pub with drugs and prostitutes, and had became fanatical ‘extremists’. There was no tour that summer. In August they spent a week recording “The Things That People Say”, their first album and a title that may point to that years rumors.
The band tried to go ‘professional’ as a full time Christian rock band, but Karl Allison went to study theology at Eltham and Herbert training to be a chartered accountant they could not commit fully. Alvin Allison, Barnett and Harry took on the weekdays joined by the others on the weekend. The SA rejected the bands proposal for support. The bands ‘Christmas Special’ saw them hire the Camberwell SA Hall and book two support bands: Worthing based Rendezvous, which including Woking expats Kevin Burton, Jo Boniface and ex-Blood & Fire drummer Mayhew; and the London Community Gospel Choir.
In ’85 the band book more gigs at more churches. They played far and wide in the likes of Hexham, Whitley Bay, Falmouth, Hayle, and memorably Dartmoor Prison. In May they were part of SA’s centenary celebrations in Bournemouth. In July they returned to Grantham supported by Zero Option. That summer they toured the North West and Scotland, titling this peregrination ‘The Black Pudding & Haggis Tour’. BBC local radio interviewed the band just prior to their Barrow-in-Furness gig, not that it inspired a big turnout. The next night they were in an old theatre in Edinburgh, then Perth, followed by Whitley Bay, then Lancaster and finally Preston. In September they recorded their second cassette, titled “Who Is It?”, in Portsmouth’s Citadel Hall. That autumn the SA Pop Festival took over Regent Hall on Oxford Street, London and Blood & Fire got to perform. November saw the band travel to France for the National Youth Congress, stopping in Rouen for a gig and then onto Paris. The band’s pre-‘Christmas Special’ in ’85 was at Regent Hall, London on 30 November.
In early ’86 they undertook a sponsored bed-push from Teddington to Guildford to raise a grand for a new PA. Harry left after a Dorking Halls gig supporting Paul Field in ’86, having started BAF Recording, a mobile recording business. The band’s part time sound man, Andy Piper, stood in as guitarist for a while; and the bands ad in the Army press resulted in Jon Brooks getting the position. The bands ‘Northern Lights Tour ’86’ took in some of the same venues as ‘Black Pudding & Haggis’ and kicked off in Barnet with a gig the following night in Liverpool and then Edinburgh the night after that. Arriving in Dunfermline they discovered the gig had been cancelled with no explanation and headed to Aberdeen Citadel for their next appearance. Phoning ahead the band discovered that Inverness had also cancelled and provided no explanation. An uneventful gig in Livingston preceded the minibuses engine letting go just north of Carlisle. Via train and gear truck the band made it back to Guildford just in time for the tours last date at Crawley College, which was recorded by Harris’ BAF Recording company and later released as “Live All Over the Place”. The band appeared on Stage Two of Greenbelt that year and later returned to Bristol and performances at Stockwood Church and Broadmead Baptist Church. The band then qualified for the final round of International Musicians of the Year ’86, held at the Astoria Thearte, London, although they didn’t win, and rapped up the year with a concert at Bromley College – some of which appears on the “Live All Over the Place” cassette LP.
1987 kicked off with a gig at The Barn, Avery Hill College, Wimborne where Karl Allison, at the time, was studying Theology and then at Wimbledon SA. The bands performance at this last gig caught the eye of Tony Cummings, a Buzz Magazine journalist/editor who organized a recording session at Big Feet Studios, Walsall. The result was 1987’s “Articles of War” (Big Feet A103) cassette, which opened with “Freedom Fighter”.
Which brings us to the bands tour of Northern Ireland which started in Ballymena, the town that banned a performance by the ELO Part II in the early ’90s, saying they would attract “the four Ds of Drink, Drugs, Devil and Debauchery”. On the first night they played Ballymena Town Hall followed the next night by a gig at the town’s YMCA before they hit Belfast, Lisburn, then Newry, where their Town Hall gig was interrupted by the RUC and British Army, who’d received a bomb warning with the appropriate code-word. Then it was back to Lisburn where a member of the tour was hissed and booed for wearing green. After the gig Alvin Allison found himself at their tour van surrounded by military. A tour program on the seat titled ‘Blood and Fire in Northern Ireland’ having triggered a response! Their final tour date, in Dublin, was cancelled for no apparent reason. Back on home turf they continued gigging throughout the south. Then they were invited to appear at the SA’s National Youth Rally at Birmingham’s NEC at which they were cut short after their second of three songs for being too loud, inciting the audience which worried the NEC staff, and that they hadn’t actually been invited to play. The band’s end of year spectacular, and Barnett’s final gig with the band, was back at Regent Hall, London on 28 November ’87.
By the end of ’87 the cracks had began to show, not helped by Barnett’s departure, and a band that was now spread from Sunbury to Grantham and London to Hascombe. 1988 started with SA HQ pulling the rug from under the band. SA venues were reportedly ‘ordered’ to cancel any Blood and Fire bookings and told that the band was barred from any further affiliation with or support from the SA; something the SA’s Chief Secretary denied. Without gigs, at which to sell “Articles of War”, the band tried to place an advert in the SA’s newspaper to help shift a few copies. The cheque was returned with a letter outlining that they’d been instructed not to accept the advert. The band, after over 250 gigs at a lot of Salvation Army Halls, including Woking on 17 February ’84 supported by Salt Solution, and a few festivals and touring the UK and France, decided to call it a day and play their last remaining booking in Grantham in March ’88 as a farewell gig – but, even that was cancelled.
The band did reform for two more shows in autumn ’89 for the Rock and Rejoice concert at Teddington and in spring ’92 to bid farewell to Herbert who was off to Africa to work for Food for the Hungry International.