Review by Woody, photos by Lisa Billingham
Tonight’s support, Hand of Dimes, are fronted by popular Brit Rock alumni Nev McDonald of Skin. It’s a stripped down acoustic affair for them but a full band nonetheless, which I hadn’t been expecting as when it was announced as an acoustic set I did think it would just be Nev and an acoustic guitar, like many of these acoustic shows are. So its a nice bonus as, of course, a full band gives a fuller performance and sound. While I’m a fully paid up member of the Skin fan club, I’m new to what Nev is doing with Hand Of Dimes so this is my first taste of what they do.
It has a strong blues flavour, it would be interesting to know if that strong tone is still noticeable in a full electric show or whether the acoustic sound accentuated the blues tinge in their music. They are a very different beast to Skin’s rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll; these songs have a far more mature lilt to them and a far deeper presence to them. I have to admit this wasn’t what I was expecting but I enjoyed it nonetheless, most of this boils down to the strength and power to McDonald’s immense vocals and delivery and I’m keen to see how this band develops. McDonald is totally at ease on stage and speaks to the crowd often and candidly about his career and the meaning behind some of the songs, like, for example ‘Stranger In My Hometown’ which is based around his return home following the original split of Skin and regretting his ego on his rise to fame, and how those same people reacted to him on his return.
I was quite surprised we didn’t hear a single Skin song. Yes, most of those songs maybe wouldn’t have suited an acoustic performance, but I’m sure ‘Tower of Strength’ would have slipped in easily. This isn’t a complaint, just a genuine shock as most musicians will throw in previous bands’ material when starting out with a new band as many fans will have turned out because of their past and when Nev introduced himself and his previous work, the mention of Skin created a roaring response from the packed audience! They have some cool tunes in their repertoire and I appreciated the fun and feel good nature of ‘Watch You Dance’.
In recent years FM have been very kind to the West Midlands and have played here frequently, so I have been able to see them quite a few times and they are a band I loathe to miss as I always enjoy their performances and with a back catalogue full of some of my favourite AOR tunes it makes missing hearing these songs live unthinkable. They have also played most those shows in the Black Country, which, in my opinion, is of course the most awesome part of the Midlands for them to play. They did one time get off at the wrong junction and accidentally play Birmingham – the one time I’m not spinning my ‘Diversion to awesomeness – its Junction 10 ya want!’ sign at Spaghetti junction and the world goes to shit! They have already announced their UK tour for next year in support of their upcoming album Heroes & Villains which will include a show at my favourite local venue, The Robin.
Tonight’s show was a sell out and the gathered crowd created a real cool atmosphere, allowing FM to remind us why they are the kings of UK AOR and why we love all those songs whether old or new. This was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever seen them. Everything that could go right went right and I’ve never seen them come across live as well as they did tonight. The sound mix was bang on the money so keyboardist Jem Davis’s work came across loud and clear as he unleashed all those memorable and lush keyboard riffs and soundscapes. It was great to see Jem work his magic behind his tower of keyboards (one is never enough!) in the light, as some venues like to tuck keyboardists in darkened corners! He of course struts out later in the encore with his Keytar as we have become accustomed to and this gives the crowd a chance to give the man much deserved adulation!
The entire band put on fantastic fun performances and they all seemed to be having a whale of a time bathing in the loud and adoring voices singing their songs back to them. Pete Jupp entertains from behind his kit spinning his sticks and exuding energy and excitement, singing along and smiling at everyone as he pumps the rhythms out. New boy guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick proves with total ease why he has become a popular and welcomed member of the FM team. He delivers licks from all eras of the band’s history with respect creating with faithful renditions without the need to stamp his own mark on the classics and he gets to let rip as himself on the newer FM material. Much like Jupp, fellow rhythm sectioner Merv Goldsworthy performs and reacts like he’s enjoying every moment and moves round the stage taking it all in like the band had returned to their heyday – well this was their 30th anniversary celebration tour maybe they did turn back the clocks!
The mere mention of the name Overland in AOR anorak circles is met with such reverence his vocal god like reputation will have grown men weeping on their knees. Steve O is a legend, and for good reason; his blues tinged emotive vocals lead songs that have had massive impacts in one way or another in our lives over the years. So on a night like this when Steve is bang on form and delivering all these songs with energy, depth and raw emotion he justifies his reputation. I’ve already stated about the band as a whole, but with special mention of Overland’s performance in particular; this was the best live performance I’ve ever seen from the man.
They balanced the set well with oldies and some newer tracks so we got to taste the entire history of the band. Tough Love’ was a great way to kick-start the show as it has a great energy and a chorus that proves FM can still write a killer tune. I tend to favour the classics and the keyboard heavy numbers from their past which had even more impact with Jem’s keyboards been so loud. It was delightful and extremely enjoyable to get to rock along to ‘I Belong To The Night’, ‘Let Love Be The Leader’, ‘That Girl’ and ‘Other Side Of Midnight’. My personal highlights were probably the awesome ‘Does It Feel Like Love’, ‘Tough It Out’ and a firm favourite of mine ‘Bad Luck’, all of which are delivered brilliantly and had the crowd singing loud and clear! I’m sure ballads ‘Closer To Heaven’, ‘Frozen Heart’ and a stripped down and very emotional stirring version of new song ‘Story Of My Life’ had many biting their lips and fighting back the tears – c’mon I know it’s the Black Country, but surely it wasn’t just me!
FM did a four song encore, well when you get a noisy full house crowd like this what else can a band do – shhhh I know they did it at every gig just let me bathe in the illusion! They closed it with two covers; Whitesnake classic ‘Here We Go Again’ complete with guest appearance from Bernie Marsden who sings duet with Steve O and goes toe to toe with Kirkpatrick on Guitar. They close out a rather amazing night with a cover of Rod Stewart’s ‘Hot Legs’ – a song I’m not familiar with, might be an age thing, but the crowd loved it and sang it all back to them!
FM were simply bang on form and it was an awesome and enjoyable evening of classic AOR goodness. I so can’t wait for their show at The Robin, if this show was this good imagine how good it’s going to be at a sold out crowd at the Robin – I’m getting all tingly just thinking about it, oh and if they play ‘All or Nothing’ well I just dread to think how those unfortunate enough to be around me that night are going to feel – it’s going to get messy!
See more of Lisa’s photos here