November 11th 1986. It was one of the very few times in my young life that I'd got tickets for the very front at the Birmingham Odeon. Bon Jovi were on their 'Slippery When Wet' tour and were just breaking big in the UK thanks to their Desmond Child co-writes becoming Top 10 hits. But for us lot from 'rockers/hippy corner' at Solihull 6th Form College, the support band were just as much of a draw.
To explain - there were, to my memory, only 3 cassettes that remained on 'heavy rotation' on the ghetto blaster we'd somehow commandeered for our denim-clad area of the common room. And it was an eclectic mix to say the least. AC/DC's 'If You Want Blood' live album was a general crowd pleaser; The Macc Lads 'stunning' debut 'Beer & Sex & Chips & Gravy' got a regular look in when a bit of latent sexism was called for...and then there was 'Indsicreet', the first album from British AOR band FM.
It was slick, polished and radio friendly to be sure, and much like the AC/DC & Macc Lads tapes, it steadfastly refused to be chewed up by the inner workings of our boom box...a fate that befell many an album brought in in an attempt to widen the playlist. And the cassette god inside that machine was no respecter of quality at times - I remember Sheep's copy of Magnum's 'Vigilante' going to the great tape deck in the sky, much to his dismay.
But 'Indiscreet' survived and flourished in our collective minds - so much so that when it was announced that FM were playing support to Jon and his cheekbones at the Odeon, there was a mass scramble for tickets from the B91 postcode.
That night at the Odeon sticks in my mind for several reasons. Firstly, a chintzy black bandana that was casually draped around the shoulders of Jon Bon Jovi himself fell onto the stage during 'Get Ready' and I beat several young ladies around me at the front to bag said bandana and stuff it in my pocket for my own collection. I would try and make out at this point that said ladies offered much in the way of sexual favours my way in order to make a trade off...but a) I'm a terrible liar, and b) What self-respecting 80's rock chick would want to make out with the bastard son of Glen Madeiros and Doogie Howser MD, even for an item of clothing lightly laced with Bon Jovi's aromatic mid-gig musk?
Above and beyond Jon's wardrobe malfunction though, one thing I do vividly remember is how well FM played and were received by the sell out crowd. Support acts I'd seen up to this point at the Odeon had garnered little response from punters. Waysted supporting Dio were remarkable only in that Pete Way stayed standing throughout; Queensryche (supporting Dio a year later) were, frankly, boring - save for the chain link cymbal stands Scott Rockenfield had which I thought at least looked cool...and Roxx, who were Quiet Riot's special guests on the Metal Health tour are still the worst support act I have ever seen with anyone ever ever ever. And I saw The Verve Pipe, folks.
But FM were welcomed like conquering heroes that November evening. You had Steve Overland singing with impeccable soul and range, his brother Chris playing a great foil to his sibling on lead guitar. There was Merv Goldsworthy on bass in his pink Miami Vice suit, drummer Pete Jupp looking unfeasibly like Paul Stanley behind his kit and the mysterious Gary Numan-esque Didge Digital parping away on keyboards and slicked back barnet.
FM deserved to be headliners in their own right - the chance to be heard by the sort of wider audience that so readily took Bon Jovi to their hearts as 1986 became 1987. A succession of albums packed with great songwriting followed (including co-writes with the aforementioned Desmond Child!!) over the next few years under the FM banner, with Messrs Jupp, Goldsworthy & Steve Overland remaining constant figures - but it always seemed that the breakthrough hit they deserved eluded them somehow.
It's as though quality AOR wasn't meant to stem from these shores and be recognised as such - as though our American cousins Journey, REO Speedwagon et al held the monopoly on million-selling songs with catchy melodies, soaring vocals and production values with a heavy sheen of class and clarity. Despite this apparent indifference from those sadly not in the know, FM soldiered on until they disbanded in the 90's - only to thankfully reform in the 00's!
2013's release 'Rockville' finally saw their persistence and high standards rewarded when the mighty behemoth of BBC Radio 2 playlisted songs from the album; songs of such quality that it disproves the notion bands always operate in diminishing returns when it comes to recording and then stacking new material up against old standards.
That became even more apparent as FM went out on tour in support of Rockville, first with Thin Lizzy, then as headliners and, earlier this year, a highly prestigious and deserved slot on the Foreigner/Europe UK tour. Not only did early songs like I Belong To The Night stand up to the scrutiny that comes with material written in the 80's, but also the newbie Crosstown Train was a real crowd-pleaser and formed the centrepiece of the updated set list that I saw for myself for the first time at Nottingham Rock City back as Lizzy's special guests in December 2012
The point of all this rambling on about FM is that I've been fortunate enough to get to know Pete and Merv from the band over the last couple of years as they're huge fans of TalkSPORT and so there's a mutual interest in one another's working lives. Since the Rock City show, I've seen them headline 2 sold out shows in Stourbridge and play a sterling support slot to Foreigner & Europe in Bristol. Steve Overland has lost not one iota of his vocal range or soulful control and there's a deep-seated joy in evidence watching FM show off what is an exemplary body of work. Guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick & keys man Jem Davis are crucial to that feel good factor with the energy and talent they've brought to the band, and it's great to hear that there's a new album set for release in 2015.
We desperately need more bands like FM in this country. And by that I don't just mean more AOR artists. I mean bands that still work hard on building an audience of new listeners whilst still engaging with their existing fanbase and making music that doesn't merely conform to today's angsty parameters of taste. Speaking as a bloke who's made and released an album of my own material, I know intrinsically how important it is to write from your own perspective and play to your strengths - nothing sounds worse than an artist desperately trying to be something they're not (Kiss' "Carnival Of Souls" anyone?).
FM unquestionably know their strengths and write with those in mind. The fact that I love their stuff is almost irrelevant - THEY love their stuff and that, ultimately, is what makes any band tick.
Good luck to 'em in 2015 - and beyond.