Three of the common sights of the 21st century concert scene are bands playing a classic album in its entirety; package tours bringing together acts with a complementary fanbase; and bands that we thought would never get back together again reforming and playing better than ever.
When all three of those are present in one tour, such a prospect is unmissable. In this case there was a theme, as FM, Gun and Dan Reed Network joined forces for a unique tour entitled the Big Three O tour, doing exactly what it said on the tin as each played their 1989 album in full.
Let’s briefly step back in time to precisely 30 years ago. The wider world saw the Hillsborough tragedy, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the world of rock, the glamorous American giants ruled the scene with Bon Jovi headlining the Milton Keynes Bowl, Skid Row rising from nowhere and Aerosmith’s ‘Pump’ topping most of the end of year lists – though the presence alongside it of Faith No More’s ‘The Real Thing’ was a hint the scene was on the cusp of big change.
I was 22, in my first permanent job and using every spare penny to travel into London to catch bands at places like the Marquee and the Astoria, that I had read about as every Wednesday lunchtime was spent in WH Smith in Bracknell browsing Kerrang!, Metal Hammer and Sounds.
All three of these bands were certainly on my radar: I was a confirmed FM fan and after a worryingly long absence they were relaunching their career with ‘Tough It Out’ and, helped by top producer Neil Kernon and outside songwriting assistance from the likes of Desmond Child, surely world domination beckoned once they cracked the UK Top 40?
In contrast Gun went in straight at the top with ‘Better Days’ and though image-wise they were not a typical rock band, hardly a week went by without me hearing another great track from ‘Taking On The World’ on Fluff Freeman’s radio show on a Saturday night.
As a multi-racial mash up of rock, funk and other styles, I only really appreciated Dan Reed Network years later, but there was certainly a big buzz around them ,what with the legendary Nile Rodgers producing second album ‘Slam’ and two days into the new year I saw them support Bon Jovi at Wembley.
The party didn’t last– that hit single eluded FM and though both Gun and DRN supported the Stones in 1990 and the former had a number of hit singles, they were all history by the second half of the nineties.
However there is a happy ending as all three are now reformed, playing superbly live and by all accounts more contented than ever. There also appeared to be great camaraderie between the three, epitomised by the fact that the order of the three identically long sets varied show to show and was only decided at soundcheck.
Moving into the present day, to coin a phrase, it was ‘and now from Norwich, the gig of the week’. I did wonder whether, with singer Steve Overland’s Norfolk origins, FM would close this show, but it was their turn to open and it was something of a short straw as they hit the stage at the early time of 6:25pm with many fans still funnelling in.
Alone of the three acts, they played ‘Tough It Out’ in strict order. For the more casual fan one of the drawbacks of this format is that the best known songs come earlier in the set while it is still warming up – in this case the anthemic title track, ‘Don’t Stop’ with its twin guitars making a welcome return to the live set and the big Child-enhanced hooks of should-have-been-hit ‘Bad Luck’.
Interestingly many of the songs from the album were never played live at the time, but have been added to the set by fan demand in more recent years, Steve saying as much when introducing ‘Someday (You’ll Come Running) ’ whose soaring chorus stretched those golden tonsils to the limit, with ‘The Dream That Died’ another example.
In contrast ‘Everytime I Think Of You’, played for the first time since those days and featuring a neat twin guitar solo at the end, was another hit single that should have been. ‘Burning My Heart Down’ is a long time live favourite and saw Jem Davis joining the fray up front with his keytar, though interestingly the band seemed a little less relaxed on stage than usual, perhaps having to concentrate harder on less familiar material.
Talking of which the latter part of the set was an FM anorak’s delight with lesser heralded tracks – the groove on ’Obsession’ suggested they were perhaps going for a Robert Palmer vibe at the time, while the near ballad ‘Can You Hear Me Calling’ had a memorable intro as keyboards gave way to a twin guitar break. ‘Does It Feel Like Love’ got the crowd clapping along and Steve performed one of his trademark vocal solo slots, and it was good to hear the rare ‘Feels So Good’ even if it was one of the weaker tracks on the album.
There was time to squeeze in two non album tracks which in a neat piece of symmetry happened to be their first single in ‘That Girl’ (with an exemplary solo from Jim Kirkpatrick who was a mere stripling in those days) and their most recent in ‘Killed By Love’, with its catchy ‘who-oah-oah’s and a reminder the band still churn out quality product even if they didn’t quite make the big time back in 89.
After a brief changeover Gun hit the stage with the crowd a bit thicker, and certainly livelier as they punched out the stirring chorus to opener ‘Better Days’. However the Scots departed far more than the other bands from a strict running order, probably a good move as for my money ‘Taking On The World’ opened with six great actual or potential singles, but tailed off badly later.
After ‘The Feeling Within’, two of those songs were moved forward in ‘Something To Believe In’ and ‘Can’t Get Any Lower’ and were a reminder that originally Gun straddled the worlds of hard rock and the then popular Scottish bands like Deacon Blue, Texas and Del Amitri. There was even a touch of the Mission’s Wayne Hussey in the deep sonorous voice of Dante Gizzi, who since those days has ably stepped up from the bass to replace Mark Rankine, and here was effectively but unobtrusively supported on the high notes by bassist Andy Carr.
The set was back on course with a huge cheer as Giuliano Gizzi bashed out the opening chords to ‘Taking On The World’, still a brilliant fans anthem and with a lyrical message of overcoming vulnerability that that is now commonplace but was a braver move in 1989.
It was followed by ‘I Will Be Waiting’, though for much of the set I was becoming increasingly irritated with a mix where the drums seemed to be drowning out the two guitars.
The decision to vary the order resulted in a perfectly judged set as a superb atmosphere built during the catchy choruses of ‘Money (Everybody Loves Her)’ and ‘Inside Out’ in particular.
Indeed it was now almost a conventional Gun gig as they departed from the album for ‘Steal Your Fire’, showing the rockier direction they subsequently took, and interestingly the only time in the set blonde guitarist Tommy Gentry – who takes a fair share of the solos at current Gun shows – stepped forward to do so, before the traditional closer in the U2-like riffing and building climax of ‘Shame On You’.
There was a shame in another sense, that the constraints of an early curfew short-changed Gun as they cut three songs from the set played elsewhere on tour, which included one of the album tracks ‘Girls In Love’, so completists would have been disappointed. Nevertheless it was an excellent, fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable set.
Dan Reed Network had the advantage of headlining with the crowd now suitably oiled, and a narrow win in the authenticity stakes with four out of five band members veterans of 1989 compared to FM’s three and Gun’s two. In the sole change to ‘Slam’s running order, ‘All My Lovin’ was delivered acapella by Dan before the band burst into the up tempo grooves of ‘Make it Easy’.
‘Slam’ saw DRN broaden their canvass from their promising debut album, and the title track certainly had a lot of influences going on including a brief rap from Dan, but it was followed by two of the Network’s poppiest and most loved songs to this day in ‘Tiger In A Dress’ and ‘Rainbow Child’, Dan holding out the mike as we roared the line ‘she don’t talk much- she don’t have to’.
‘Doin’ The Love Thing’ gave them an opportunity for some looser, funkier jamming but not in a way that was overdone, while ‘Stronger Than Steel’ was quite beautiful notably with a solo full of taste and feeling by Brion James.
Indeed he was the guitarist of the night, not least as he impressed in a completely different style – funky, almost fusion – as the band jammed again during ‘Come Together’. But when it segued into a sparky ‘Under My Skin’ there were big grins both on and off stage as they got into that hypnotic groove that make them such a special live proposition.
There were more gems in very different style, with Dan strapping on an acoustic for ‘Lover’, and ‘I’m Lonely Please Stay’ a real grower that got progressively heavier as drummer Dan Pred intensified the beat, culminating in another danceable classic in ‘Come Back Baby’, Dan dangling his microphone cord around his neck as he allowed Brion to sing a few lines.
It seemed the set had come to an end in no time and – accompanied by more jamming and larking about on stage, including Dan striking some powerchords as he sang a snatch of ‘Living After Midnight’ – the only other shame was that ‘Seven Sisters Road’ for me was the weakest of the album tracks.
This trip back into the land of 30 years ago brought back so many memories: FM brought the polish; Gun the songs; and DRN the musical groove. As a regular attender of gigs by all three, it was great to witness a unique and different set, and it is something I’d like to see from other bands.
We shouldn’t forget though that this is not just a nostalgia trip – second time round, all three bands are playing better than ever.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Darren Griffiths
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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