Since its inception in 1996, the Nantwich Jazz & Blues festival sees the Cheshire town flooded with all styles of music across the Easter weekend in its pubs and venues. Earlier in the weekend the Civic Hall had played host to King King, Big Country and Tony Christie. The Sunday night promised to be a little more special with two bands who have relatively local connections.
While this week has seen fans pack out arenas around the country to Ghost, one of the original protagonists of macabre theatrical rock, Demon, have made the short journey from the next county, and it’s apparent from the T-shirts that their presence is a big draw. The intro tape of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue creates drama to announce the bands arrival which gives way to Dave Cotterill introducing the bone crunching riff of ‘Sign Of The Madman’, which flows effortlessly into ‘Wonderland’ and Dave Hill sounds exceptional and is clearly relishing the opportunity to be back on stage.
Next up is the title track from The Plague; and album that seems to have only become more relevant as the years roll forward, and certainly so over what we’ve seen over the last couple of years, and the lyrics to the following ‘Nowhere To Run’ couldn’t be a more pertinent reference to the current situation in Ukraine.
The much loved fan favourite of ‘Life On The Wire’ follows and sounds magnificent. The song has everything from tasteful guitar intro and a soundscape embellished with Karl Waye’s keyboards and backing vocals from both guitarists and long serving drummer Neil Ogden. It’s an epic of gargantuan proportions and leaves me baffled why Demon aren’t getting booked onto the UK rock festivals. The only way to follow that is with another stone cold classic; ‘Don’t Break The Circle’; a NWOBHM jewel which sees some exquisite guitar work from Paul Hume.
The band end on ‘Night Of The Demon’ which sees Dave Hill appear wearing the infamous golden demon mask which he removes and encourages fans to wear it while Paul Hume & Dave Cotterill trade licks and play harmonies and it lends an intimacy to their set. With that it’s all over. Ultimately too short, but a great set from a timelessly great band.
FM were originally scheduled for the 2020 Jazz & Blues Festival, and while it’s been a long wait, in that time we have seen two full album releases from the band; Synchronized gave us something worth listening to as lockdown gripped the nation and, hot off the press, Thirteen. It’s the title track from the first of these albums that opens their set, and while the fans are already clearly familiar with it, it’s the swift follow on of ‘Bad Luck’ that really gets everyone going. Both Jim and Steve now live nearby so tonight is as much a hometown show as any.
‘Waiting On Love’ is the first new song and for anyone who’d not yet got around to listening to new album it’s affirmation that there has been no let up in quality control; tasteful solos and harmony vocals aplenty it’s a song that wouldn’t be out of place on any of their albums.
At the time of its release in 2013, ‘Crosstown Train’ was rightly rewarded with plenty of airplay on Planet Rock. Tonight it sounds as good as ever, yet for the first time I’m hearing the similarities to the riff in Thin Lizzy’s ‘Hey You’, which can’t be bad, and sees plenty of opportunity for Jim Kirkpatrick to play some scorching lead lines throughout.
‘Long Road Home’, another new one, is more of a ballad and slows things down a little before a rare trip back to Taking It To The Streets with a splendid ‘Crack Alley’. ‘Frozen Heart’ is a real trip down memory lane and while the hair may be a little greyer it’s the only thing giving their age away. Close your eyes and you’re back in the late 80s. Steve Overland is one of only a handful of singers who is still blessed with a set of pipes that sound as good today as they ever did.
Merv Goldsworthy’s bass comes to the forefront for ‘Dangerous’ and it has real insistent rhythm you can feel through the floor of the Civic Hall. I’m guessing that most of those here were first introduced to the band with the first two albums, and I’m no exception, so the back to back of ‘That Girl’ and ‘Tough It Out’ are a personal highlight and sound equally magnificent. ‘Turn This Car Around’ is the final new song of the night and makes a worthy closer for the mains set; faster and rockier than the other new ones it packs a real punch and you get the feeling it will be staying in the set for quite a while to come.
An encore of ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘The Other Side Of Midnight’ and FM have done what they have always done; put on a faultless performance of the best British AOR you’re unlikely to see bettered anywhere.
Life Is a Highway
Waiting on Love
Long Road Home
Killed by Love
Tough It Out
I Belong to the Night
Turn This Car Around
Other Side of Midnight