On this, the new single from Our Man in the Field, also-known-as Alexander Ellis, there is an impressively emotive vocal performance as we are drawn into the intimate story about the closure of London’s oldest fire station in 2014. Ellis explains: “I wrote the song back in 2014 after catching the end of a news report about the closure of Clerkenwell fire station, the
oldest operational fire station in Europe.
At the time I was an out of work actor and song-writing was just a way to be creative without needing anyone’s permission (or money) and to forget about the rut my acting career was in. I had a few part-time jobs in different places, but it wasn’t unusual for me to be at home during the day, which is how I managed to catch the lunchtime news. I wasn’t paying attention to the report until I saw a big bald guy on the screen crying, in front of a fire engine and a whole load of press. Because I’d missed the introduction to the story it took me a little while to gather up the pieces but once I had them it was compelling viewing.
It was common knowledge that the Mayor of London (Boris Johnson) was cutting the fire service back. Everything was being cut back but the fire service seemed more controversial with recent events in mind. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s lasting memories of the 7/7 terrorist attacks and the 2011 riots is of every day people running away from something and firefighters running towards it.
There were 10 fire stations closed in London that day. To cover the story the press had chosen to catch the last shift at Clerkenwell, and the firefighters had planned to march out of the front doors in their uniforms as proud firemen and women for one last time. Instead they’d been told that they were not allowed to wear their uniforms and would have to leave through a side exit in their civilian clothes, as normal people.
It was the sight of these men and women, larger than anyone else on the screen, looking out of place in plain clothes amongst us mortals that left a mark on me. The looks on their faces; some in tears, others looking completely blank in shock or disbelief. It surprised me that there was sadness but no anger.
The song tries to tell their part of the story. There aren’t many true vocations left, certainly few where the deal is that your life is on the line every time you time turn up to work. I can’t imagine what that feels like. Watching those firefighters at Clerkenwell showed the raw and personal cost to them and their identity when the other side of that deal was being broken. How could this be happening when we risk everything for you? How can anyone think after what’s happened that we are now not needed? Do we really have so little of your respect? You don’t work at a fire station; you are a firefighter. I wrote the song from the point of view of one of those firefighters that day when they became another member of the public.
No doubt like the retired doctors who’ve been asked to help the NHS in this time of crisis these people would answer the call without question if ever we needed them again. And no doubt once they are deemed surplus to requirements, they will be cast off again. That’s just the way it is, it was ever so.”
This is a timeless, soulful taste of what’s to come from the forthcoming album from Our Man in the Field. Also, look out for shows with Chuck Prophet early next year. One to watch.