In the late 80s, FM were seen by some as the great British AOR hope. But stylists aren’t the only reason it didn’t happen.
In September 1986, London-based quintet FM released their debut album, Indiscreet. It offered a firm nod to bands such as Survivor, Styx, Foreigner, Boston and Journey. The titles on Indiscreet say it all: American Girls, That Girl,
Love Lies Dying and, best of all, the über-ballad Frozen Heart.
“Back then, those bands still represented mainstream music,” vocalist Steve Overland recalls. “Bon Jovi, Europe and Bryan Adams were having hit records. It was the best of times.”
“We also drew from the likes of Steely Dan, the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers and, even further back, Free and Bad Company,” adds bassist Merv Goldsworthy. “But being English we never had that American sense of cool. The swagger was missing.”
For five provincially born guys, writing about America was an aspirational thing.
“As a song title, King’s Lynn Girls just doesn’t have the same effect,” Goldsworthy says with a laugh. None of the band had even visited the States, and although they briefly considering relocating there, just like most of their UK AOR counterparts FM’s record company, Epic/CBS, never sent them there to play.
“Our stylists took us to LA and bought me a sleeveless denim jacket and a pair of Levi’s available in any high street,” Overland marvels.
Current keyboard player Jem Davis has a similarly ridiculous tale from his days with the band Tobruk. “EMI paid a stylist to come in and rip a pair of jeans,” he says, laughing. “We could have done it ourselves with a Stanley knife.”
Enhanced or otherwise, FM readily admit to being “naff” during the 1980s. That description comes from Goldsworthy, whose flamboyant, grapefruit-pink suit of the era has become a garment of legend. To the relief of all concerned, it now resides in a Hard Rock Café somewhere in Japan.
One thing that CBS did do for FM’s second album, 1989’s Tough It Out, was team the band with leading songwriter of the day Desmond Child, for what became lead-off single Bad Luck. Its trademark chugging riff sounded like every Bon Jovi song that Child had written. “That was the whole point,” Overland says. “It’s what the record company wanted.”
Despite FM selling out Hammersmith Odeon, Tough It Out didn’t provide the breakthrough craved by the band and their label, and a changed line-up signed to indie label Music For Nations for the bluesier Takin’ It To The Streets. Two albums later, the band simply ran out of steam with 1995’s aptly titled Dead Man’s Shoes. None of FM remember the point at which they realised they were not destined to be megastars.
“That thought never occurred to us – and it’s probably part of why it never happened,” Overland admits. “Of course, the money would have been nice, but what we really enjoyed was being in a band together. That’s the truth.
“By Dead Man’s Shoes we could’ve continued but there was no reason to,” he adds. “We weren’t getting on the radio and, post-grunge, the magazines no longer covered us. We’d become irrelevant.”
When FM were invited to reunite for the now sadly defunct indoor melodic event the Firefest in 2007, Overland harboured a single worry: “Would the songs sound dated ten years later?” he frowns. “But in rehearsal we realised that they were still really, really good. AOR at its best is all about timeless, well-constructed tunes. A Journey, Toto or Foreigner song could be performed by a boy band. FM have a few of those too. Good country music is the same – it’s all about the song.”
This belief fuels the unlikely current second spell that has seen FM surpass their achievements of first time around. They are now played on Radio 2 and have appeared at the Download festival. Doors previously locked to them are opening. Besides the consistency and variety of their songwriting, from Metropolis in 2010 onwards FM have employed a secret weapon:
Jeff Knowler, the mixing engineer who has added a layer of contemporary-sounding fairy dust to their most recent records. “Shhhh, or everyone will want to use him,” Goldsworthy warns playfully. “Print his name wrong please.”
With musicians of almost pensionable age still playing hits that are now decades old, the long-term future of melodic rock could be seen as doubtful. There’s hardly a queue of youngsters lining up to succeed them, after all. But FM take issue with such talk.
“AOR will never die,” Goldsworthy insists. “Bands like Vega, Eclipse and H.e.a.t exist – the question is whether they’re tough enough to survive and thrive.”