Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
An enduring and much-loved outfit FM are having a busy old 2022. January seen the release of their thirteenth studio album – aptly entitled ‘Thirteen’ (via Frontiers Music Srl) in March they’re now following up a European tour with pitstops across the UK.
This weekend these highly polished performers are joined by the hard-gigging Sons Of Liberty for three southern dates including this evening’s hometown gig for the Sons aboard the Thekla in the heart of Bristol’s maritime quarter. The previous two nights in Southampton and Plymouth, respectively, ensure that both bands are ‘match-fit’ to deliver two memorable sets.
From the hinterland holler to the harbourside the Liberty Wagon hasn’t had far to roll this evening even with the inconvenience of the temporary closure of the Redcliffe swing bridge just up the wharf from the venue.
This is firmly their back yard and it’s, quite incredibly, just one day short of a year that the Sons headlined this venue for the release of their sophomore long-player ‘Aces & Eights.’ A year on from its release and there’s no loss of sparkle for sure. This particular vintage of southern moonshine is going down in the annals as a mighty damn fine brew.
That being said it’s back to the debut album, ‘Animism’ for the first three tracks of a quick-fire 40-minute set. It’s a trademark triple salvo with the three numbers forming the opening hat-trick of ‘Animism.’ The running order of albums isn’t a loss lament in these quarters for certain.
The stage lights flash and silhouette baseball-capped singer Rob Walker as he raises his right hand in the time-honoured horns and with a roar the Sons are right into top gear. The twin Gibson Les Pauls of six-string brothers Fred Hale and Andy ‘Moose’ Muse might not be able to prowl far on the cramped stage, afront FM’s gear, but they don’t lack any of their usual power as ‘It’s My Bad’ rollicks along at a frantic pace.
Drummer Steve Byrne, tucked over stage right, forms a formidable rhythm section with bandanna sporting bassist Mark Thomas. All very much shipshape and Bristol fashion.
Byrne, an old school drummer whose style I very much love, ushers in ‘Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ with a staccato military beat as the Sons warm up the sizeable early-doors Thekla crowd. Judging by the loud response to Walker’s enquiring as to whether the gathering is ready for a bit of a sing-along there’s a healthy percentage of SOL fans in.
No paddles are required for the chirpy ‘Up Shit Creek;’ the Thekla would require a considerable number in Roman galleon style to ensure motion. No matter as the boat is most certainly rocking as Walker powers “There’s a hole in my boat and I’m going down fast!” Nowadays, no-one need wonder what AC/DC would sound like melded together with Lynyrd Skynyrd as the answer has been eloquently provided herein.
The remaining five tracks of a set full of hearty endeavour and a swaggering ballsy delivery are lifted from last year’s ‘Aces & Eights.’ There’s so much to like from the rumbustious ‘Fire & Gasoline’ and the southern respect of ‘Ruby Starr – both deservedly Planet Rock playlisted – to the stampeding bison ‘Damaged Reputation.’ All aired here in the onetime cargo hold this evening as the Sons attempt to squeeze as much as they humanly can into their allotted time.
There is time for Brummie frontman Walker, in his first gig in his recently adopted hometown, to take in some playful banter with the crowd. Looking at Sons uber-fan Perry, Walker laughs “He’s trying to turn me Westcountry!” before attempting a worthy “Alright me babbers!” much to the merriment of all on board. The Cream-infused ‘Beef Jerk Boogie’ extols the virtues of meat products but is firmly tongue inserted in cheek in typical Sons’ humour. If you’re gonna have fun then, in my book, it’s best to be serious about it! The Sons Of Liberty have added their very own chapter in this book and tonight have laid their powerful cards on the table to pronounced effect.
It’s been a few years since we last crossed paths with FM in the live arena and following a sumptuous 90 minutes of highly polished AOR I, once again, feel more than a touch guilty for remarking to the far more significant two thirds “I’d forgotten who truly magnificent this band are.
Formed, in London, back in 1984 FM formed one part of a mid to late 80s triumvirate, of personal favourite British bands, along with Thunder and Little Angels. Oft overshadowed by the accomplishments of the other two FM still held a place in my teenage heart. Anthems such as ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Other Side Of Midnight’ strike a resonant chord to this day.
Sadly, the components of FM went their separate ways in 1995 but were tempted back for a headline slot at Nottingham’s sold-out Firefest in October 2007. Mercifully, this temporary reunion was made permanent with mercurial guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick joining the ranks.
Consistency is a keyword around these parts with frontman Steve Overland and partners in rhythm Merv Goldsworthy (bass) and Pete Jupp (drums) all being founder members whilst keyboardist Jem Davis joining in 1993.
Aside from a greying of hair the advancing years have not taken a toll upon the output. Overland’s vocals are sublime to the point of divinity and all about him his musical cohorts weave a mellifluous fabric that delights. It’s a well-balanced set with just over half the tracks being lifted from the post-reunion era whilst a steady hand is applied to the tiller to chart the waters of the major label chapters.
Seemingly a smidgeon of Cornish ‘Drekly time’ has leaked across the border following last night’s show in Plymouth as FM take to the darkened Thekla stage a few minutes late. No-one is grumbling though as the title track from 2020s ‘Synchronised’ gets the faithful gathering onside from the onset. This one track, alone, epitomises all that FM are about.
Overland’s voice is a multi-faceted gemstone of the highest order and Kirkpatrick’s solos place him amongst the six-string greats in my humblest of opinions. Goldsworthy and Jupp lay down a solid bedrock whilst Davis’ sparkling keys enwrap themselves about in a magical manner.
The AOR anthem that is ‘Bad Luck’ switches the spotlight onto the 80s with FM heading into the sunset in their convertible Mustang. The piquant, precision freeway harmonies of ‘Life Is A Highway’ sees Overland chuckling as he shares his mic with Goldsworthy. The chemistry is strong within.
There are touches of Marillion, Journey, Toto and so forth throughout but it’s all on FM’s terms with a clear sense of identity forged. Overland invites Davis from the shadows of stage left as he introduces the emotional ballad ‘Long Road Home’ to the Thekla crowd. Lifted from their latest album ‘Thirteen’ Overland takes time to credit the keyboardist’s song-writing talents as he observes “This is a ballad about what we’re all about.” Its gentle, affectional strains lead along into the captivating ‘Crack Alley.’
Police sirens wail as the crowd savour this alloy of latter Whitesnake and Don Henley; a clear favourite of the fanbase. The flip-flopping between the two chapters of FM is brought to a surprise end as the quintet slip in a cheeky ‘Every Time I Think Of You which was written for FM for The tough it out Album.’ A veritable feast of pinpoint vocal harmonies it’s despatched with the trademark FM polish to do it full justice.
The heavy freight of ‘Crosstown Train’ howls its blues core as the track lives up to its title. Overland and Goldsworthy crowd Davis as they give the stage to Kirkpatrick for a stunning solo. The former smiles broadly as he brings in ‘That Girl’ a track that, to this very day, manifests a clear pride.
“We wrote this one back in 1952” quips the frontman “It’s a song that got things going for us on the radio.” We all remember the words as if it’s still 1986; truly memorable. In a strange quirk Iron Maiden recorded this track as a B-side to their ’86 single ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’; funny ol’ game this rock n’ roll. Goldsworthy clearly thinks so as he tiptoes to reach Kirkpatrick’s mic during ‘Over You.’
‘Tough It Out’ wouldn’t be out of place on the early primetime Bon Jovi releases whilst ‘Turn This Car Around’ is destined to become a live favourite based on the reception this track from the latest studio offering receives as FM wrap up the main body of their set.
Overland, accompanied faithfully by Davis, take the spotlight for ‘Story Of My Life’ with subliminal tranquillity before the band return alongside for the Journey-esque harmonies of the latter part of the delivery.
The set is brought to a befitting finale with the crescendo of ‘Other Side Of Midnight.’ Davis shoulders an Eddie Van Halen patterned keytar as we take off into the 80s once more. Nothing cheesy like padded shoulders or corny mullets here; just staggeringly good pure AOR of the highest order. The Thekla ensemble willingly raise their hands, unified one last time before we disembark into the warm night air.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM