Since reforming a few years ago, Britain’s premier homegrown melodic rockers FM have steered a delicate balance between moving forward and looking backwards. The new line up with Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar has perhaps been the best in their history, while albums like ‘Rockville’ and GRTR!’s album of 2015 ‘Heroes And Villains’ were uniformly solid.
However their 1986 debut album ‘Indiscreet’, possibly the finest attempt by a British band to take on the Americans at their AOR game, is a gift that keeps on giving. Five years ago they celebrated its 25th anniversary by playing it in its entirety at some emotional gigs, and 2016 has seen them go one better, re-recording the album to rectify the original’s tinny production and adding some extra tracks.
In those circumstances it was inevitable they would play the entire album at some shows, this London one also benefiting from a return to a standing venue at Islington Assembly Hall after a series of Shepherds Bush Empire gigs over the past few years.
Regular FM collaborator, Bernie Marsden, opened the night with what was not to be his last appearance. Armed only with his acoustic guitar and a fund of anecdotes told with his usual jovial bonhomie, the former Whitesnake guitarist opened with a couple of lesser known gems from their back catalogue in ‘Till The Day I Die’ and ‘The Time Is Right for Love’.
He mixed blues standard such as ‘Lining Track’ and set closer ‘Key To The Highway’, with old ‘Snake favourites including ‘Trouble’, ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’ with a self-deprecating story about how the band wrote the song without him and ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ with a minor crowd singalong. It was a very agreeable amuse-bouche before the main event.
I wondered how FM were going to approach the ‘album in its entirety’ conundrum, not least as I’d seen Europe take an unusual approach to it the previous week. They opened the set with the usual Heroes and Villains tour opener of ‘Digging Up The Dirt’, then I was somewhat confused by Jem Davis’ keyboard intro to the first of the ‘Indiscreet ‘ classics in ‘I Belong To The Night’.
The mystery was solved when Steve Overland confirmed they would be playing the album but not in one chunk, so they slipped in a new song in ‘Life Is A Highway’, still reminding me of Van Halen’s Panama, before ‘Let Love Be The Leader’ – now on the album as it always should have been, with the first of many twin lead solos between Steve and Jim before the ballad ‘Frozen Heart’ made a surprisingly early appearance.
There was a rare chance to hear the should have been hit ‘Someday You’ll Come Running’ though Steve joked that he hated the song whose high register tested even his superb vocal prowess. It didn’t seem to generate the same reaction as the rest of the set so he may not need to suffer for his art much longer.
We were then into the meat of the Indiscreet section with a series of less played classics in ‘Face To Face’, ‘Love Lies Dying’, ‘Heart Of The Matter’ and ‘Hot Wired’. The hair may be shorter and greyer but the songs sounded timeless with their prominent keyboards, massive, albeit telegraphed, choruses made for radio and the two guitarists pulling the classic pose together as they reeled off melodic twin guitar breaks worthy of Thin Lizzy or Wishbone Ash.
It was no surprise that my partner turned to me at around this point and said ‘you’re in your element aren’t you?’ But for me the crowning glory of the days when they chased the AOR dream was ‘American Girls’, with the crowd taking over and chanting the ‘Destination U-S-A’ line.
A well paced set then galloped towards a conclusion with some tried and trusted FM live favourites in ‘Bad Luck’, ‘Tough It Out’ – hard to believe now that the band so rarely played it in their original incarnation – Indiscreet’s opening cut in ‘That Girl’, and ‘Burning My Heart Down’, with the usual singalong and the band messing about on stage in good-humoured fashion.
There was a special moment in the first encore when Steve, accompanied initially only by Jem’s keyboards, delivered a sparse and haunting emotional vocal to ‘Story Of My Life’, before in contrast the Indiscreet suite was completed by ‘The Other Side Of Midnight’ with Jem coming out front with his keytar to help the band pull their entertainingly choreographed poses.
There was a final bonus though in Bernie Marsden’s reappearance for a brace of Whitesnake songs in ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’, and ‘Here I Go Again’, normally over exposed but this time a bit special being delivered by its co-writer. Steve took the mike for both and it was a time to remember the contemporary review in ‘Indiscreet’ times, when he was described as having the ‘classic British blues-rock voice rather than the high-pitched poncey AOR tool that the Americans favour’.
While none of us may be around for an ‘Indiscreet 50’, this mix of the old and the new was a celebration of FM’s enduring appeal as an accomplished and entertaining live act 30 years on.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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