In the summer of 1984, over a few drinks in a London pub, FM was formed. Comprising the ex-Samson pair of bassist Merv Goldsworthy and drummer Pete Jupp, the formidable Overland brothers – vocalist/guitarist Steve and lead guitarist Chris; both formerly of Wildlife – plus the keyboard talents of Philip Manchester, better known as sci-fi nutcase Didge Digital, the band wrote six songs. In December of that same year they secured a recording contract with the CBS/Portrait label.
The first public appearance of FM (not to be confused with the Canadian band of the same name) was on Valentine’s Day of 1985, attracting rave reviews. The debut album, ‘ Indiscreet ’, wasn’t far behind. A fully-fledged masterpiece, every single track hit the spot, and the mega-ballad ‘Frozen Heart’ caused lips to quiver and tear ducts to moisten whenever it was played.
‘Frozen Heart’ was heard in many venues during 1986 and FM hit the road in Europe supporting Tina Turner, Meat Loaf, Foreigner, Gary Moore, Status Quo and Magnum, also opening for REO Speedwagon at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. At the year’s end they were delighted to accept a spot with the white-hot Bon Jovi on the ‘Slippery When Wet’ tour.
It seemed that the roadwork was paying off handsomely. CBS folded the Portrait label and FM switched to Epic. The Overland brothers were flown to America to write with hitmaker Desmond Child, returning with a few great stories and the awesome hard rock anthem ‘Bad Luck’. Completing the jigsaw, Queensrÿche/Dokken producer Neil Kernon was engaged to oversee 1989’s ‘ Tough It Out ’, a harder-edged second album that saw FM at last realising the sound they’d envisaged all along.
To promote ‘ Tough It Out ’ the band set out on a gruelling 42-date UK tour that would see them returning to Hammersmith Odeon, this time as headliners (Romeo’s Daughter were the trek’s special guests). Soon afterwards, however, Chris Overland decided to leave FM, his final performance taking place at the sold-out Town & Country Club.
In his place, FM recruited Andy Barnett, a guitarist who’d already been in a prototype line-up of the group (indeed, if you look closely, Barnett scored a co-writing credit for the ‘ Indiscreet ’ song ‘That Girl’). The impish Londoner brought with him a harder guitar sound and his influence upon FM’s musical direction soon became evident. Initially, some were appalled as Andy went into widdle overdrive, but his debut with the group, 1991’s ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’ album, was a more than creditable achievement.
FM had moved on. There was a new record label – the well-regarded independent Music For Nations. The loud suits, flowing cloaks and bouffant hairstyles of the past were all conspicuous by their absence, likewise the fluffy keyboards (Didge Digital would parp his last with the band in late 1991). The quality of the songs more than compensated, and their reworking of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ deserved to have been a hit single.
But ‘TITTS’ didn’t prepare anyone for the following year’s ‘ Aphrodisiac ’, an intoxicating and astounding collection of heart-wrenching ballads (‘ Closer To Heaven ’) and balls-out rockers (‘Breathe Fire’, ‘Blood And Gasoline’). Foreigner and Journey were now comparisons you were unlikely to spot in an FM review. The transition was complete, though the songs still remained recognisable for their melodic vitality and Overland’s cool, classy, confident vocals.
Thankfully, everyone emerged unscathed from a tour bus accident that took place in Belgium, the incident having little long-lasting effect upon FM’s inherent hunger to play anywhere and everywhere.
In undertaking a gigantic string of acoustic dates in the winter of 1992, FM would prove their rock ‘n’ roll credentials beyond all reasonable doubt. Combining an organic musical sound and the band’s unstoppable party attitude, the 40-odd dates they played covered Europe and onto Malta, sweeping aside any preconceptions that might still have remained. Indeed, it was commonplace for FM to convert disinterested bystanders into whooping, hollering idiots. The experience is still available if you pick up a copy of ‘ No Electricity Required ’ (also available on long-form video as ‘Live Acoustical Intercourse’).
With Europe and the Far East finally opening up at last, a full-time keyboard appointment was made. The affable Jem Davis had played with Tobruk, Midnight Blue and – God help him! – UFO. Sadly, the arrangement was to prove short-lived. In the post-grunge fallout, bands like FM had become distinctly unfashionable. Under normal circumstances, the quintet wouldn’t have given a damn about such a predicament. However, they had begun to feel as though they were painting themselves into a corner with aptly titled ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ album. Shortly after it’s release, in 1995, the band quietly slipped away to pursue a variety of other opportunities.
Some of these projects solidified into albums, and some did not. Included in the former category are So!, Shadowman and The Ladder – all worth checking out if you happened to miss them. However, the individual members soon discovered it was impossible to get through an interview without being quizzed about the possibility of an FM reunion. The re-issuing and re-packaging of most of their albums on CD simply served to turn up the heat.
And so it came to pass. At Nottingham Rock City on 27th October 2007, after considering (and declining) multiple previous approaches from the organisers of a melodic hard rock all-dayer called the Firefest, Merv, Steve, Pete, Andy and Jem finally played together again in public for the first time in 12 years. If, like myself, you were in the sold-out crowd on that fateful night, you will know what a deeply emotional experience it turned out to be. Make no mistake – the band felt it as well.
With stage two of the group’s career about to begin, they were disappointed to accept the resignation of Andy Barnett. However, with an exciting new guitarist on board these plans are now firmly back on target. Brought into the band at Steve Overland’s suggestion, Jim Kirkpatrick was already a huge fan of FM so it was an honour to accept the chance of joining a group whose records he loved. Kirkpatrick was blooded at a low-key gig at Wigan’s Winstanley College in March 2009, followed in more public fashion by a headline spot at the Firefest VI six months later, as well as playing on the ‘Wildside’ EP.
All too aware of the way others have fallen at the same hurdle, FM have taken their time in completing a comeback disc, ‘ Metropolis ’, which drops in February 2010. There are a lot of hopes riding on the band’s sixth full-length studio outing. On the evidence of what they’ve delivered since the reunion, I doubt they’ll disappoint us.