It’s autumn once again, and that means gig season. With that comes the inevitable date clashes, and this was my choice on the night in question over seeing Limehouse Lizzy (a long-established tribute to Thin Lizzy, which has been going for about twice as long as the original band did!) in Liverpool. LL tour frequently and I expect to get another chance to see them soon, so I plumped for this melodic rock bill.
I saw FM in the summer as openers to veteran US rockers Heart, and enjoyed their set much more than I expected to. I was never a fan of theirs in the 1980s, they were that bit too ‘nice’ for me back then, with their exquisitely-coiffured mullets, their tailored clothes that didn’t exactly look like they’d come from the local army surplus store, and their glossy sound, with a little too much emphasis on keyboards for me, as an unreconstructed Metalhead. Then again, I kinda liked Heart in those days, but they had Nancy Wilson… 😉
They started to rock out a bit more with second album ‘Tough It Out’ but by then, the grunge revolution was imminent and FM were one of many rock bands swept aside for not fitting in with the trend. They disbanded in the mid-1990s, but a decade later were tempted to play at melodic rock bash Firefest, initially as a one-off. That show went down so well that the band decided to give it another go, with original members (vocalist Steve Overland, drummer Pete Jupp and bassist Merv Goldsworthy) being joined by keyboardist Jem Davis and lead guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick. (Original guitarist Chris Overland – Steve’s brother – parted company with FM in the early 90s and is nowadays a guitar tutor).
Dare have also had a chequered history since their formation in the mid-80s; founded by Darren Wharton of Thin Lizzy fame, he emerged from his keyboards to front this melodic rock act to some success around the end of the 80s. but after their second album ‘Blood From Stone’ (where once again, the band beefed up their sound) they splintered. They’re now best known as the group which gave Brian Cox (now Professor Cox of TV fame) his first gig – he was the band’s original keyboardist and played on that album plus debut ‘Out Of The Silence’. Wharton reconstructed the band in 1998 with a new line-up, releasing several more albums, and in recent years has reunited with original guitarist Vinny Burns.
The Parr Hall saw a very good turnout for this show, I got there just after Stone Broken had finished their opening set (apologies, chaps!) and saw the crew feverishly working to set up for Dare. It must be at least 25 years since I last saw this band, probably more, and given that they’ve made many albums since the first two (the only ones I have) I wasn’t expecting to know much of their set. I got that wrong, as they performed several of their early hits (including ‘Abandon’, ‘Don’t Need A Reason’, and Wharton’s tribute to Phil Lynott, ‘King Of Spades’) as well as some of their more recent, Celtic-influenced numbers. Wharton’s stage persona is very chummy, he seemed to be grinning ear-to ear from first song to last and frequently threw his arm around either guitarist Vinny Burns or bassist Nigel Clutterbuck. His singing voice has held up well, and after an enjoyable set the band were cheered like returning heroes. Sadly I never got the opportunity to remind Darren about the time I saw Dare at this same venue in 1989, and while walking through the town was stopped by a van asking for directions to the hall. Of course it was Dare themselves, presumably he had an easier time finding his way here on this occasion!
FM’s set was a longer version of the one they played in the summer, featuring many of their old favourites from debut album ‘Indiscreet’ (they are celebrating that album’s 30th anniversary in 2016) and follow-up ‘Tough It Out’. Other more recent material was played too, but one thing I noticed watching them today as against when I saw them in the 80s supporting the likes of Gary Moore and Bon Jovi, was that their live sound is definitely harder than it was back then. Their songs are almost all designed to grab you on the first chorus (they have more hooks than in the locker room of the Denver Broncos) but nowadays there’s enough wallop behind them (courtesy of Kirkpatrick and Overland himself adding occasional guitar, plus heavy-hitting drummer Pete Jupp) to satisfy even hard-bitten rockers like me. That’s before I mention what a great singer Overland still is – he is another who has retained his singing voice over the years and is still able to do justice to those favourites. That said, he did warn the audience that he was likely to grimace all the way through ‘Someday (You’ll Come Running)’! That one is a fan favourite that he openly admitted he dreaded singing, presumably as it is so demanding.
They might not have been my cup of tea 30 years ago, but the FM of today are well worth seeing, boasting great songs and a singer who ought to be regarded as one of the finest rock vocalists this country has produced. Only slight quibble was that once again, they didn’t play ‘Crosstown Train’ from 2013’s ‘Rockville’ album but they can’t do everything and I remain hopeful it’ll be played the next time I see them. (There will be a next time, fellas!)