Can it really be 30 years since the Overland brothers from Wildlife and former members of Samson and Diamond Head formed a new band, inspired by the then fashionable radio-friendly AOR sounds of the likes of Journey, Foreigner and Survivor, even calling themselves FM to make their intentions clear?
OK, so there have been line up changes and 11 years of inactivity before reforming for Firefest in 2007, but this gig demonstrated how little they have changed at heart since the early days.
There was a respectable, indeed almost full crowd at the Brook, swelled in part by London-based fans like me starved of a capital gig. It was also an excellent value for money bill with two well chosen support bands. I felt sorry for Summers, who as a local band and peddling the raw but enthusiastic melodic rock of the sort that could have been supporting FM at the Marquee in 1985, should have been perfect openers.
There was nothing wrong with their playing; indeed every time I see them their promise is being fulfilled as they become more polished. However they came on stage pretty much the moment the doors opened to a sparse audience, and people were walking in during their set. Nevertheless, with a sound that mixed early Def Leppard and Firehouse, songs like ‘Superhero’ and ‘Your Love’ were very enjoyable.
‘Lets Go Round’ showed off Crash Summers’ talents as a frontman, even if it was too Lep-esque for comfort, while’ I Can Feel the Rock’ may have been a tad clichéd, but the guitars of Jason Sepala and Joedy Rose thrillingly intertwined.
This was my first chance to see Hand of Dimes since Neville MacDonald threw in his lot with them following his departure from Skin. It was great to again see his big smile and trademark throaty roar which will always be the focus of any band he is in.
Less obviously commercial than Skin, I found the first couple of blues rock numbers a tad plodding but things really took off with ‘Angels And Demons’, as he switched to acoustic guitar and combined in stirring fashion with the keyboards of the Tolkeinesque figure of Neil Garland, and the bluesy ‘Jacobs Ladder’.
‘Pinstriped Arrogance’ mined the same anti-capitalist seam as Skin’s ‘Money’, and ‘Sail On’ ended a promising set again in stirring fashion. My only regret was that there was no time for any material form Nev and Neil’s old band Kooga, another of FM’s contemporaries from the days I frequented the old Marquee, convinced world domination awaited these bands with the right radio airplay.
There were no gimmicks, guest appearances or even much in the way of chat from Steve Overland to mark FM’s 30th anniversary show, simply a fast paced and well chosen set list. The most impressive aspect was the way material from the very old and post-reformation periods merged seamlessly, epitomised by the openers of ‘Tough Love’ from most recent album Rockville and the AOR-tastic ‘I Belong To The Night’, with some very 80’s keyboards.
The early nineties period with Andy Barnett in the band were relatively ignored, represented only by the bluesy ballad ‘Closer To Heaven’, which as well as being a vehicle for his soulful voice, saw Steve playing lead guitar.
Established favourites like ‘Don’t Stop’ and first single ‘That Girl’ showed off the FM trademarks, Steve’s wonderful voice, highly hummable hooks and the band visibly enjoying the camaraderie of live performance.
However, having seen the band countless times for the last 29 of the 30 years, it was a particular delight to hear some rarely played gems such ‘Does It Feel Like Love’ and ‘Tough It Out’, even though Steve missing his vocal cue on the latter proved he is human and justified his prophecy that it was a risk to play a song they had hardly ever done live. Meantime ‘Let Love Be The Leader’, despite never being on an album, now seems to be received as well as any of the oldies.
Usually an encore, the ballad that should have been a hit, ‘Frozen Heart’ was moved mid-set and when followed by an irresistible ‘Bad Luck’, I was concerned for the pacing of the set that they were playing their aces too soon.
However it is a tribute to the strength of their newer material that ‘Over You’, with its shuffling twin lead groove, and ‘Crosstown Train’, some superb guitar solos from Jim Kirkpatrick giving it an aggressive feel by FM’s standards, easily segued into another old favourite in ‘Burning My Heart Down’ without any loss of momentum.
I was curious what had been saved for the encores, the first of which was a real treat. Steve sang the excellent ballad from Rockville, ‘Story Of My Life’ and the emotion of his unaccompanied voice was starkly beautiful in a way which I could only compare to Heart’s Ann Wilson’s live treatment of ‘Alone’.
If that was the class, then the fun side of FM was provided by first album favourite ‘Other Side Of Midnight’ with Jem Davis, who plays quite a low key role in a band once derided for being parp-heavy, coming out front with his keytar, and a further encore of ‘Hot Legs’, which they used to cover at the outset of their career and got large parts of a Friday night crowd dancing.
FM may never have achieved the success many tipped at the outset but are very much still enjoying the moment. In a set devoid of padding yet clocking in at over an hour and a half, they showed they can lay a claim to being the UK’s finest ever purveyors of melodic rock, and are playing as well at any time in the past 30 years .
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
Gig review (Cardiff, 22 November 2014)
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