LONDON CALL­ING

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.

Classic Rock - - Aor - Words: Dave Ling

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.”

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