It says much for the upwards trajectory AOR masters FM find themselves on that the band's two previous visits to Scotland have seen them headline bigger venues than before, with tonight's step up to the, admittedly hardly arena sized, Classic Grand being no different. In truth though, on this second time round for the reformed UK act, the vibe and activity round the band has grown to a level previously only dreamed of, with radio, magazine and fan support far outstripping the "cult" status FM found themselves burdened with on their first tour of duty between 1984 and 1995. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid squeezed himself into the suitably busy Glasgow city centre venue to see if this evergreen act could live up to their new found hype...
First up though was a reformed No Hot Ashes, this Belfast outfit having, I must admit, passed me by completely first time round. Although with fame and fortune also side stepping this lot, maybe that's no surprise. However, mixing songs with a three decade long vintage with some brand spankers, NHA shocked by not only being more sprightly than their low key entrance first suggested, but by actually being pretty bloody good. Singer Eamon Nancarrow may look like a bruiser, but with a mighty attack and shockingly impressive range (oooooh, get those high notes!) he's an ace in Not Hot Ashes already stacked deck. Paul Boyd did a superb job on not only his five string bass but also on backing vocals, while guitarist Dave Irvine did all he could to steal the show. With a keyboard infused, but still hard rocking approach, the likes of "Summer Rain" and "Diane" made quite an impression, while Nancarrow revealed his emotional side on the new songs, singing about the struggles his parents have faced on "Boulders" and his son, "Little Johnny Red Head". The latter may not be the most obvious set closer, but in truth the pacing of the set-list was the only complaint about what was a rather memorable introduction to No Hot Ashes.
Up next was the second in a three part reformation act, Romeo's Daughter following the exact FM path of split in 90s, be cajoled back to life by the much missed Firefest festival and then go on to gain acclaim with a clutch of reformation albums. Although with vocalist Leigh Matty being the wife of FM bassist, the similar career direction may not be such a shock. However like tonight's headliners, RD are revelling in this second bite at the cherry, something proved by an accomplished showing that oozed confidence. On a personal level, I have to admit that Romeo's Daughter have never really done it for me, however with a now nearly full Classic Grand greeting the band like heroes, sometimes you just have to admit when you're rowing against the tide. Matty's voice, especially at its deepest has always been a thing of wonder and the lady of long black locks was on top form tonight, belting out "Bitter Sweet" with a tender authority and "Cry Myself To Sleep" with complete believability. The low rumble of new song "Touch" proved to be a complete revelation, a threat RD have never even really hinted at suddenly there for all to hear, while closer "Wild Child" pulsated in all the right places. Guitarist Craig Joiner is very much an under sung hero of this band, yet when given the chance to shine, as he did on numerous occasions during the set, he proved his worth and then some; darting solos bursting through riffs which always come across with more authority live than they do on record. Romeo's Daughter will never be one of my own personal favourite AOR acts, but tonight they were as good as I've seen them and the band's faithful followers devoured every moment.
From the off however it was clear that neither support act were going to get a chance to topple the evening's headliners, FM immediately "Digging Up The Dirt" from their excellent new album Heroes And Villains, before reaching right back to their 1986 Indiscreet debut to proclaim "I Belong To the Night", which proved to be the first of many raucous sing alongs. Frontman Steve Overland is a consummate showman but it's his voice which marks him out as one of the most underrated singers the UK has produced and whether he's belting out uptempo, good time anthems, mid-paced stompers, or smooth AOR, there are few who can even come close to the controlled power he provides with ease. "Wildside" was up next and it was drummer Pete Jupp's chance to shine, or at least it was meant to be, the fuzzy haired one at the back launching into a tom burst before hurling a drum stick in the air. However with the Classic Grand having an ornate arch above the back of the stage, instead of twirling majestically, the stick audible clattered off the arch and arced to the front of the stage. Laughter ensued on stage and off, before Jupp stood up and shouted that his drums should be moved to the front of the stage! Instead he retrieved his errant stick, manhandled his toms once more and to rapturous applause (and a few giggles) arced his stick meekly a few feet in the air! "Closer To Heaven" saw Steve Overland join Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar, the singer proving an able and underrated (again!) foil for his guitar mate, before the singer announced his amazement at being featured on radio alongside the likes of Ed Sheeran - "at MY time of life!" he declared!
Clearly the whole band were having way too much fun, bassist Merv Goldsworthy grinning from ear to ear, providing superb backing vocals and enticing the crowd to get more and more involved. Although he saved his biggest grin for when Overland got so into a guitar lick that he forgot to dive back to his microphone to belt out a line from "Tough Love"! My own personal favourite from the Aphrodisiac album, "Blood And Gasoline" made a welcome return to the set after a long lay off and was greeted like a long lost friend by the sweaty and impressively loud audience. With keyboard maestro Gem Davis introducing "Life Is A Highway" with a Who like burst of synths, Kirkpatrick barely restrained himself from a Pete Townsend like burst of "windmilling", illustrating the fun the band were having and through stunning renditions of "Crosstown Train", "That Girl" and "Burning My Heart Down" that joy rushed out and into the audience who enthusiastically gave it straight back to the band in the form of cheering, clapping, whooping and screaming. "Bad Luck" closed the main set out, the encore opening with a stunning keyboard and vocal only "Story Of My Life", which put in sharp focus just what a waste it is that Steve Overland isn't a household name. Finally Davis broke out his keytar to bounce about the front of the stage and photo pit as he and his bandmates romped through "The Other Side Of Midnight". It says much for FM - and their fans - that the set for this tour contains around 40% material from the four albums since they reformed and not one single complaint could be heard anywhere. Instead each and every one was greeted like a hero of old, while FM were rightly treated like heroes of the here and now. This band just gets better and better!
Photos - Steven Craven & Steven Reid