Although it’s no secret that my current musical genre of choice is prog-rock (and that it will take some shifting), my first love, when I started to listening to music properly, back in secondary school, was a the more generic “rock”, mostly of British origin, that was going through a resurgence at the time. I never really got as far as what I deemed to be the heavier side of things, staying away from the likes of AC/DC and Motorhead in favour of what I thought, in hindsight, to be the more melodic Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Deep Purple, among others. The heaviest stuff I bought (or, those days, taped) was probably a bit of Saxon and Dio and the slightly more off-kilter Ozzy Osbourne. In fact, the first gig I ever went to, at the tender age of just fifteen, was an Ozzy gig and, while I was nowhere near a regular a gig-goer then as I am now, I also saw Dio and Whitesnake, the latter in February 1984. Although it was around that time that I decided to plough my own furrow in terms of what music I liked – most of my peers had switched to the likes of Supertramp and I chose not to follow the herd – I must still have been in touch with rock in ‘84, which makes it strange that I don’t remember FM, who were formed later that year and had their first success in 1985.
Having said that, while I never really gave up on the genre, I did eventually lose touch with it, heading off to more mainstream gigs with a different group of friends and colleagues and buying some incredibly embarrassing music along the way. It’s only relatively recently, having been kick-started once again by York’s own Morpheus Rising, and a brief dalliance with AOR magazine, that I started buying rock CDs again. And yet, FM still didn’t register on my radar. Until last year, when promoter Mr H tipped me the wink that he had signed them up for a gig at Fibbers.
But first, the support act, and a link to those past musical loves. Bernie Marsden had left Whitesnake by the time I saw them live, but he had played on at least three albums that I owned on vinyl back in the day. Tonight, announced onto the stage by a roadie, he played a short set of just six songs, all acoustic, with a jovial attitude, peppering his time on stage with quips, jokes and anecdotes and treading new water as a fully solo artist – his usual guitar partner playing with FM tonight. Opening on a twelve-string, and producing a lovely blues sound from it, he gave us Linin’ Track from his 2014 solo album, Shine. The cheers from the crowd seemed to get louder with each fact he used introducing the next track… “It’s a Whitesnake song.” “Its from Ready And Willing.” “It wasn’t written by me…” His reference to “the trousersnake band” drew laughter from the audience before he played Ain’t Gonna Cry No More on a different twelve-string. The good-humoured banter continued to flow – “Have you got over the flood?” he asked, quickly following with, “Oooo, sorry,” when greeted by near-silence, following up with a story about getting a phone call from David Coverdale the previous weekend, putting on a “luvvy” voice to mimic Coverdale getting York and New York mixed up when Marsden told him where he was heading on the road. Another Whitesnake cover, Till The Day I Die, this time on six-string, was followed by a recognition that he had been associated with the blues for a long time and Ramblin’ On My Mind, a Robert Johnson song during which Marsden switched between plectrum and fingers with an almost imperceptible sleight of hand. A rendition of Trouble, from the Whitesnake album of the same name, but also from Shine, brought forth another quip – “Aaah, that’s where it sold… York.” – when a cheer went up at the latter album’s name. Before the final song of the set Marsden, telling us that at his age it was good to be anywhere, gleefully said that tonight was almost like an intimate, private gig, jokingly asking if anybody had any questions. “Can you give me Coverdale’s number,”shouted back one woman. “Was there another Fibbers? Have I been there?” he asked. Somebody in the crowd seemed to think he had. And then it was over, a too-short set of acoustic blues, some familiar tracks in a new guise, others completely new to me, that was brought to a close by, I think, B.B. King’s Key To The Highway.
As Marsden left the stage and headed towards the merchandise table, announcing that he would happily sign any Whitesnake items that audience members had brought along, a huge black sheet was removed from the equipment behind him, revealing amps, a drum kit and a towering stack of keyboards and it didn’t seem long before drummer Pete Jupp and keyboard player Jem Davis appeared on stage, kicking off a recording of sirens that led into a voice-over welcoming the band – “The mighty FM” – onto the stage. Merv Goldsworthy and Jim Kirkpatrick were already playing bass and guitar respectively as they appeared, followed by Steve Overland and the band immediately launched into a nice slice of AOR for which I had no idea of the title and struggled to pick out many lyrics. “Here we go,” I thought, “another gig where, not knowing the band beforehand, I would enjoy the music but have no idea what songs I was listening to.” And I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whether it was tonight’s soundman, the band’s professionalism or, more likely, a combination of the two, the mix after and, indeed, towards the end of this first song was superb, Overland’s vocals more often than not, rising powerfully through the music. Digging Up The Dirt saw Overland grab a second guitar while Kirkpatrick produced a nice bottleneck section and I Belong To The Night followed, with Davis’ keyboards becoming more prominent and with some dextrous guitar work during an instrumental section. Don’t Stop featured a lively four-part vocal chorus, Overland taking the lead in the instrumental section and a lyric of “Loving every minute” which, by now, reflected my mood. Overland told us that this was FM’s first time in York. “What took you so long?” came a voice from the good-sized audience which, it has to be said, was comprised mostly – but by no means exclusively – of men of a certain age.
Closer To Heaven was a keys-drenched ballad and a grinning Overland admitted forgetting the words halfway through. There was no such problem for the audience who, after the keys and atmospheric guitar opening to Let Love Be The Leader, engaged in an impressive sing-along before the track ended with a lovely twin guitar section. The keyboard opening to Life Is A Highway immediately brought to mind The Who’s My Generation (less so on the album version) and, watching Overland, I suddenly had a thought that this was what a rock band led by Jeremy Vine might look like – he was certainly tall enough, having to take care not to bash the over-stage lights when encouraging the audience to clap along to songs. Jupp’s drumming was allowed to come to the fore during the beginning of Frozen Heart, which again featured Overland and Kirkpatrick on twin guitars. Tough Love was followed by the just slightly harder Wildside – the whole set was definitely more AOR than heavy metal – whose instrumental led into a cheeky drum solo ending.
Overland explained that he had kicked, Someday (You’ll Come Running), out of the set back in 1989, vowing never to play it again. However, it was back, for just the fourth time in twenty-odd years. To me, there was nothing wrong with it and yet Overland, presumably relieved at getting through it, ended up on his knees and being passed a towel at its climax. Davis swapped keys for mouth-organ during Burning My Heart Down and then back to keyboard for the lively opening to Tough It Out. The set, full of rock posing, “whoa, whoa”’s, guitarists lining up on stage and audience clap and sing-alongs (and other enjoyable staples that I probably missed…) ended with That Girl and Bad Luck.
Of course there was an encore but this was one of a slightly unexpected nature. Davis was first back on stage, opening up with a piano section before being joined by Overland for the more genteel Story Of My Life. Goldsworthy and Kirkpatrick appeared midway through to provide backing vocals and even the roadie was fooled by the false ending, during which Overland’s vocals were applauded. With the actual end of the track, Jupp returned to the stage, pausing the music to take a photo of the audience (you can see it, but not me, on the band’s Facebook page) before the quintet played Other Side Of Midnight.
But this wasn’t to be a mere two-song encore and Bernie Marsden, this time on electric guitar, joined them on stage for two more songs. It didn’t seem to matter to the audience that these final two weren’t FM songs, but full-blown covers of Whitesnake classics Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues, which received a huge cheers, and, perhaps inevitably, Here I Go Again – introduced by Goldsworthy with, “Here’s another song you know…” – which brought the evening to a brilliant, energetic end as the audience joined Marsden in a rousing mass sing-along.