Gig review: FM – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 23 March 2013

FM, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 23 March 2013

2013 sees FM’s stock as high as it has been for some time. Hot on the heels of not one but two new albums, they filled the first three levels of Shepherds Bush Empire. While last year’s gigs celebrating the 25th anniversary of their ‘Indiscreet’ debut were an unashamed nostalgia fest, the fact they can draw such a crowd for a ‘regular’ show    is testament to the renewed interest in them.

In fact, it was a great evening all round with an excellent trio of bands, rising stars Vega hit the stage at 7:30 with a swagger and stage craft that suggested that, provided they make the most of their major label record deal, they would be instantly comfortable headlining venues like this.

Few bands can kick off with as irresistible an opener as ‘Kiss of Life’ which had a few people punching the air, and anyone new to Vega would have been impressed by the way they marry big hooks and Bon Jovi style ‘who-oah’ chants with a more contemporary rock sound and image.

With the exception of ‘Into the Wild’, the bulk of their short set was from the new ‘What the Hell’ album, and the title track and the insanely catchy ‘White Knuckle Ride’ instantly buried their way into people’s consciousness.

During ‘Hands in the Air’, another song made for audience participation, super confident frontman Nick Workman even ran energetically up and down the aisles as a short set demonstrated Vega have what it takes to make a huge impact.

A rather more seasoned band in It Bites were arguably a touch out of place on the bill, veering towards a more progressive sound,  but singer and guitarist John Mitchell, in his natty jacket, showed a self deprecation that helped make the music much more accessible than I feared it might be.

Indeed, both ‘Ghosts’ and new song ‘The Big Machine’ followed in the same commercial mould as opener ‘Kiss Like Judas’, and even on the lengthy prog epic ‘The Wind that Shakes The Barley’ there was much to admire in John Beck’s  inventive keyboard work and the way all four of them combined virtuoso musicianship with a tight, controlled feel reminding me of Asia at their best.

A short 45 minute set ended with ‘Calling All The Heroes’, the band’s big hit which they seem to view cynically as a double edged sword, though this version, with drummer Bob Dalton helping out on the singing,  seemed to have more instrumental flourishes. Never having considered myself a big fan they were the night’s pleasant surprise.

FM, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 23 March 2013

Coming on stage to the old ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ ‘Meet the Gang’ tune, the warmth between FM and their devoted fans is palpable, and they repay it with a visible enjoyment of being on stage.

They opened with the lead off cut from ‘Rockville’, ‘Tough Love’ with a very Def Leppard-like guitar sound, but it was soon back to the oldies: ‘I Belong to the Night’, with its sparkling keyboards and radio-friendly chorus, ‘Don’t Stop’ getting the crowd moving and further debut classics in ‘That Girl’ and ‘Hot Wired’ further reminders that, before broadening their musical palette, FM had the best crack yet at taking on the Americans at their own AOR game.

Indeed, with ‘Love Lies Dying’ getting a rare airing, its more sedate pace enlivened by a fluid Neal Schon-esque solo from the excellent Jim Kirkpatrick, and stand alone single ‘Let Love Be The Leader’, complete with a great bit of twin lead guitaring, I felt I had stumbled into a reprise of last year’s Indiscreet shows whereas I had been expecting a generous helping of new material.

FM, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 23 March 2013

‘Closer To Heaven’ showed off the incredible soulful vocal prowess of affable frontman Steve Overland, who also obliged with the guitar solo, while I was delighted that 2010’s comeback album ‘Metropolis’ was still in the set courtesy of the instrumental  title track and the double guitar shuffle of ‘Over You’.

From then on we were firmly in crowd pleasing territory with ‘Bad Luck’ – which it is still hard to believe failed to crack the Top 40 – and ‘Burning My Heart Down’, and a surprise in the blissfully melodic vocals of ‘Does It Feel Like Love’, before their souped up cover of ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ – never my favourite but its looser grooves got a good vibe going and gave Jim a chance to stretch out in bluesier style.

The puzzling lack of new songs was partially rectified by the first encore, ‘Crosstown Train’ – apparently getting radio airplay -  which was instantly catchy yet with a more prominent guitar sound than usual, before the ballad ‘Frozen Heart’, whose lyrical messages passionately delivered by Steve still epitomise people’s view of FM.

FM, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 23 March 2013

As a final treat, original keyboard player Didge Digital came on stage for ‘The Other Side of Midnight’, and the sight of both him and Jem Davis playing their keytars was a surreal if enjoyable sight, and to add to the sense of nostalgia, Steve even delivered the vocal solo at the end that used to be his hallmark but is now rarely tried.

28 years on from when I first saw them supporting REO Speedwagon,  FM may never have reached the heights many of us predicted, but they have never sounded better, and they certainly seem to have a real unforced joy in performing live which transmits itself to the fans and back again. On the basis of this heartwarming evening, the timeless charms of Britain’s best ever melodic rock band are here to stay.

Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Noel Buckley

A cracking three band bill and good to see a healthy sized crowd, and bless it was all seated so us old rockers could sit down if it all got a bit too much for us…

First up Vega who have been gaining rave reviews for their two albums to date, the latest ‘What The Hell’ being released a couple of weeks ago.

From the off they had the ladies of a certain age at the front of the stalls in seventh heaven and with their brand of highly catchy melodic hard rock, even the most stubborn foot was tapping by the end of their set.

In vocalist Nick Workman they have an established frontman who is a ball of energy on the stage, along with the two guitarists who may well throw every cliché shape in the guitarist’s handbook but they can play and entertain which is the main thing. Opener ‘Kiss Of Life’ and their latest single ‘White Knuckle Ride’ were the stand outs for me and with little in between song banter the band took maximum use of their allotted thirty minutes to fit in as much music as possible.

It Bites looked slightly out of place after the exuberant Vega set and their prog leanings on the wonderful ‘Big Machine’ and ‘Wind That Shakes The Barley’ may have left a few FM fans behind.

Whatever you thought though you can’t fault their musicianship and they tailored their set to a more ‘hits’ one with ‘Kiss Like Judas’ kicking off proceedings and ‘the hit’ as John Mitchell called it, ‘Calling All The Heroes’ ended an enjoyable set. Last year’s single ‘Cartoon Graveyard’ was another highlight, although they played the full-on prog version and not the edited single.

They did come across as slightly subdued as opposed to when I have seen them headline or play a festival, however this may be more to the audience many of whom I’d guess are not big lovers of prog. Still even if they rekindled or gained the interest of a few fans tonight in their music then job done and along with the headliners and a few other bands, they have that rare talent of never disappointing when seeing them live.

FM hit the ground running with a rocking start of ‘Tough Love’, ‘I Belong To The Night’, ‘Don’t Stop; and the AOR-tastic ‘That Girl’.

After a start like that you know it’s going to be a good night. Steve Overland was as ever in fine vocal form and special mention to Jim Kirkpatrick who seems to have helped rejuvenate the band, along with keyboards player Jem Davis.

The band’s new songs off the recently released ‘Rockville’ album, namely the opener ‘Tough Love’ and ‘Crosstown Train’, slipped into the set with ease.

Nice to hear ‘Closer To Heaven’ being added to the set, although sadly no ‘American Girls’ although I guess it may be one of those songs that is very much of its time. Their cover of ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ rounded of the main set and that was even bearable as I am not a fan of this in their set normally.

FM, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 23 March 2013

Three encores tonight kicking off with their single ‘Crosstown Train’ which has been picking up airplay on Planet Rock and BBC Radio 2. Next up one of my favourite FM tunes, ‘Frozen Heart’. It was blissful listening to the band’s spot on harmonies on this one.

For the final encore of ‘Other Side Of Midnight’ original keyboards player Didge Digital was welcomed to the stage to rapturous applause and what a fitting end to one of the best FM gigs I have seen (and by my reckoning this was the seventh time I have seen them since 1985!).

With a bit of luck they will be back later in the year and perhaps by then they can slip in a few more numbers of the ‘Rockville’, although the band’s problem will always be no matter what they play there will always be some classic songs missing.

FM are back and unlike some bands when they return, FM still have a decent following and they are making great music. Long may that continue!

Review by Jason Ritchie

Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
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In this show, first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 2 February 2020, David Randall plays a selection of tracks from some of the artists who impressed at this year’s Giants Of Rock event in Minehead (24-27 January).

Featured Albums w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 NEWMAN Ignition (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 BLACK SWAN Shake The World (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CORMAC O CAOIMH Swim Crawl Walk Run (indie)

Power Plays w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)

SHAKRA Turn The Light On (AFM Records)
THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA Transmissions (Nuclear Blast)
RYDERS CREED Lost Soul (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
FRAMING HANLEY Puzzle Pieces (Thermal Entertainment LLC)
ROBERT HART Mysterious (Escape Music)

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