Originally released way back in 1991, The Fire Sermon is the sole album by The Violet Hour.
Though they toured extensively in support of Marillion on their “Holiday in Eden” tour, a combination of internal divisions and the band being dropped by EMI saw them split. The album soon went out of print, and had been unavailable for many years. More recently it’s seen a reissue, and is now available once again from their former singer Doris Brendel’s website.
It was a chance conversation at the Cambridge Rock Festival a couple of days after Doris Brendel’s excellent live set when was told the The Violet Hour were a significant early influence of Mostly Autumn. That was more than enough to make the album worth checking out.
It’s an album of two halves. The first side is atmospheric and folk-tinged, with Doris Brendel’s emotive bluesy vocals they come over as a rootsier version of All About Eve. Doris Brendel’s flagolet, a woodwind instrument that sounds a lot like low whistle, is prominent on several songs and gives a strong Celtic flavour. The lengthy opener “Dream of Me” and the dark, brooding “Could Have Been” are particular standouts.
The second side of the original vinyl record shows a completely different side of the band, and sees them rock out. There’s the Supertramp-like “Falling”, the power-ballad “This House” featuring Sam Brown on backing vocals, and the hard rockers “Ill Wind Blowin’” with evocative use of flagelet on the intro, and “Better Be Good”, with blasts of Hammond organ, and Martyn Wilson cutting loose on lead guitar. The 2009 CD reissue includes three bonus tracks, all of which reflect the harder rocking side of the band’s music, with the funk-tinged “Cross That Line” a standout.
It’s an impressive record which leaves you wondering what might have been had they not been chewed up and spat out by the old-school record industry. Their style of celtic-tinged crossover progressive rock was out of time in the early 90s, though you can indeed hear how they influenced Mostly Autumn a few years later. Doris Brendel was and still is a fantastic vocalist for whom comparisons with the likes of Janis Joplin are entirely appropriate, and she’s still recording and touring as a solo artist, playing a similar eclectic mix of styles. Though The Violet Hour proved to be a short-lived band, something of their spirit lives on.