Interview by Mark Lacey / Photos Adrian Hextall (MindHex Media)
When FM reformed in 2007 after an 11-year hiatus, it re-invigorated the band, and brought vitality and fun back to a genre that had largely been neglected by the press and radio, and was for a short time starting to question itself and its validity. Last year’s ‘Thirteen’ marked a new pinnacle in the band’s recording career, and their upcoming triple header tour with Tyketto, and DARE is certain to be a melodic rock feast for the fans.
MGM: 2022 looks to have been a busy year for FM. Bouncing from the enforced slowdown of the pandemic, you guys did a mammoth amount of shows in support of your latest album. Live music is definitely back.
Steve: We counted up that with Europe and all the other stuff, we did about 64 shows last year. So, a good year. A big year. After COVID we all needed it, didn’t we? We didn’t shy away from wondering whether people will come out, or whether they were going to buy tickets. We just said, look, if we don’t go out there and get on with this, it’s never going to get back to normal. We’ve just got to dip a toe in the water. It was like we’d been shut up. We wanted to get back out there and play. And it went great. We haven’t done anything since the Dead Daisies tour in December because of other commitments, but it’s now time to get back out there and just get it all going for the next album.
MGM: That touring success has been off the back of the great album you put our last year; ‘Thirteen’. During your tour with the Dead Daisies, you only got to do about half a dozen songs including the classics, but was pleasing to see ‘Turn this car around’ included in the set.
Steve: You’re only given the slot you’re given. We had Graham Bonnet on with us as well, so between us, we had to work out who was going to go on first on any given night. And if you’re given 30 minutes and you’ve made as many at 13 records, it’s pretty tough to pick a set, because obviously everybody has their favourites. We just did what we could. And it’s really tough when you’re a band that’s been along as long as we have to pick a short set.
MGM: What was it like going around the country sharing the line-up with two such iconic vocalists as Graham Bonnet and Glenn Hughes?
Steve: They’re great people. I’ve known Glenn for a lot of years. Glenn actually sang with FM in Paris many years ago. I think we did ‘Coast to Coast’ by Trapeze and we did ‘Superstition’; a rock version of that. I’ve hadn’t seen Glenn for a long time and so it was nice to see him again. He’s still singing great. And it was a pleasure to do the tour. They were great to us and we really enjoyed it. And Graham’s great, isn’t he? Just keeps going. It was just a good bill and everybody seemed to really enjoy it. So that’s why you do it, isn’t it?
MGM: It’s exciting to see that you’re going to part of another great triple header tour in May with Tyketto and DARE. How did that come about?
Steve: Well, we did one with Dan Reed and GUN a while back, and it works great because you’re at this time in your career now where there’s none of this egotistical nonsense, and no-one’s trying to outdo each other. I’d known those boys for years, we all follow each other around, we do the same gigs, we meet at festivals in Europe. Me, Dan and the GUN boys just had a chat about who was going to go on first at whichever place, and we decided who was the biggest in each territory and going on first or last makes no difference. You still have to go on and make your mark. Everybody does an hour. We’ve done the same on this because I know Danny, and I know Darren really well because we’ve toured together in the past. So, it’s easy … like one big family. We all help each other; we use bits of each other’s crew; we’ll use bits of each other’s backline and there’s no one upmanship. It’s just a great night for all the fans, a great night of melodic rock and all the bands get the same amount of time. I think we headlined the most on the Dan Reed and GUN tour. The last time we went out, DARE were the opening act, but now Darren will get Manchester because he loves headlining Manchester. We don’t mind, really. These gigs are full of everybody’s fans and the fans generally tend to cross over with these bands because they are the same style of music. It’s just a good night of melodic rock. That’s what it needs to be. It should be good fun, and a great night.
Our review of that tour is at the bottom of the article:
MGM: Apart from the fans, and your combined love of the melodic rock genre, another thing all three bands have in common is that you all had a temporary pause in the mid 90s. FM parted company after the ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ album for eleven years. DARE had a similar pause for a few years, and Tyketto stopped in 1997 and didn’t come back until about 2005. AOR and melodic rock seems to have made a bit of a comeback, hasn’t it? Why do you think?
Steve: I would say so. FM are basically a song band, and I think real great songs stand the test of time. You’ve only got to look at bands like Journey and ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. Songs like that come back into the frame in modern day and they become massive hits again. We’re picking up so many young fans now. It’s a weird one because when we stopped, I thought we should stop because we weren’t relevant anymore. We could have carried on through that period and just played the same size gigs because we had a great following but I just didn’t see where we were going to go. At that point melodic rock and AOR really had no place; you couldn’t get it on the radio, so it was a good time to stop. This is not an easy genre of music to play. You’ve got to be able to play well, the songs are very melodic, they’re catchy and I just think it crosses over. So many of our fans have brought their kids over the years. They’ve now got their own kids, and they’re massive fans and they’re young people and I’m seeing quite a lot of that now. If we go and play in Spain and Greece, because they still have rock clubs out there, we’re getting like 25-year-old kids as the gigs, but good music is good music. So many of the better melodic rock / AOR bands wrote great songs back in the day and are still writing really great songs.
When we got back together after eleven years to do the Firefest thing; it was meant to be a one-off show, we weren’t getting back together. My main concern was, will the music still be relevant? And the gig sold out, and people came from all over the world, so it is, isn’t it? It’s a full gig of massive fans.
MGM: Whilst there are similarities in DARE, Tyketto and FM’s journey, one big difference is that the core line-up of FM has remained consistent for the last 30 years. The thing that really strikes many fans in those audiences is that the band all look like they’re having a real laugh with each other on stage. You all seem to really like each other.
Steve: It’s important because when you get to our age; ten blokes all in a bus touring around! You’ve got to get on. It’s about fun, isn’t it? If you don’t have fun doing it, there’s no point in doing it. I always loved the crack on stage and since we got back together, we’ve had the same line up and we wouldn’t change it. It would stop if anything needed to change, unless, obviously it was out of our control. But everybody loves to be on the road and still loves doing this as a band and that’s also why the song writing process is so easy, because it’s a very positive vibe from everybody that works with us. We’ve been doing it a long time and we still love doing it just as much. And the fact that comes across, it’s very genuine. We just have a good time being on stage. It’s a fun band, and we try and involve everybody in the show.
MGM: That ethos and camaraderie is very similar to the guys in Thunder. You have long history with those guys too, especially Chris Childs and Harry James.
Steve: Yeah, I’ve just done another album with them. Not with me on it, but I got them to play bass and drums on an album that I was producing. They’re great. I’ve known Luke and Danny since we came through CBS records together. Terraplane was signed to the same label, so we’ve known each other since we were kids, really.
MGM: You recently posted on the FM’s website that Jem has been going through cancer treatment. That will be news to some fans. How is he? And will he be OK for the tour?
Steve: Well, we’re hoping he will be. He’s gone through his treatment now, so I’m hoping that he’s now on the back end of that. When you’ve had chemo, it doesn’t just leave your body, it takes a while to get over it. But, he’s on the mend and he is determined that he’s going to be doing the tour, so we’re hoping he’ll be fit and well enough to do it. We will sort something out. We’ve got plans. If he wants to just do a few shows or whatever, we’ll work around that, because what we don’t want to do is put pressure on him to do it, which is something we would never do. It’s his choice. We’re ready to go. We’re in contact every day and he’s obviously weak at the moment, but he’ll be fine, I’m sure.
MGM: You’ve managed to retain the strength of your voice, despite being in the industry over 40 years. With so many older rock bands now resorting to backing tracks, and synching because they can no longer hold the notes, your voice is as strong as ever. What’s your secret?
Steve: A lot of people are not as lucky as me. It’s a muscle, and if you damage it, it’s sometimes irreparable. You can’t get it back. For a lot of people, it’s down to luck. I haven’t abused myself over the years, like so many people have. I like drinking. I mean, the only thing I have for my voice is gin and red wine. That seems to work for me. I do an awful lot of running and training because if you’re touring and you’re going to do this, and you’re my age, you’ve got to keep yourself in shape because you’re susceptible to becoming ill. I guess that’s the only thing I do. I don’t have a potion, I don’t have any ritual, I don’t chant. I just do a tiny little warm up and that’s it. I just think it’s luck.
MGM: Your voice is one of the most distinctive in melodic rock, but you have recorded some quite varied work of late. The Kings of Mercia project that you did with Jim Matheos from Fates Warning was quite dark, and a lot heavier by comparison.
Steve: Jim approached me. He was looking to do a more blues-based rock album. And he had a short list of singers and he got in touch with me. When I first got contact from Jim, I thought will this work? I just said to him, “I’m not sure about this, so just send me a track; something in the direction you want this album to be in”. He sent me a backing track through, and I wrote the song ‘Humankind’. We sent that back to America and he just came back and said, “this is phenomenal. I’ve played it to the record company; they want to do the album”. I thought he just wanted me to sing one track as a guest. And he just said, “They want it to be a band. They want it to be you and me. They want us to write the songs together”. And that’s what we did. We wrote the Kings of Mercia album. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was making. I kept writing the songs, sending them back, and Jim kept coming back with more and more of these backing tracks in the same vein. All of them sounded fantastic. All of the playing was great because he’s a genius guy. He’s very clever. And all of them sounded like finished masters and they were just his demos. Before I knew it, I’d written the whole record and the record company gave us a three-album deal. And I’m now in the studio doing the first three tracks for the second Kings of Mercia album.
Steve: It’s tough because Jim’s in the States on the east coast. Simon Phillips is in Florida. Joey’s in LA. And I’m in Cheshire. So, it’s a tough one to get together. But we’ve talked about it because what we’d love to do is to drop it onto some festivals just to get the awareness there. It’s an amazing band when you think of the players that are in it. To get Simon Phillips as a member of the band is quite a bucket list thing for me. He’s one of the greatest drummers of all time. I loved the record and I loved making it. For the next album we’re talking about getting a much better promotional package together and doing a lot more with it. And it is a different approach for me. The singing had to be a slightly harder edge. The subject matter had to be a slightly harder edge. So, it’s another challenge. It’s just been great fun to do, because Jim’s a great guy to work with.
MGM: Writing songs by swapping files over the internet seems to be the new normal. Do bands still write together in the same room anymore?
Steve: Even with FM, we send stuff through to each other. The old way bands used to make albums, all the band getting in a room, playing the songs and recording it, is the best way to make an album. Absolutely 100%. Because you bounce off of each other at the time you’re actually coming up with the parts and FM do a large amount of that but there’s still a lot of swapping files and keyboards being sent through and then dropping it into the project. There’s still a lot of that going on. It’s like everything else; like booking a holiday. You just hit buttons and don’t have to go into your travel agent anymore. I think it’s just basically the same deal. I think it’s definitely made that process of putting a record together easier. When I did the Lonerider record with Simon Kirke and Chris Childs, and we’re doing another one, we went into a residential studio just like we used to and recorded everything live because I wanted it to be like a 70s album. I didn’t want loads of overdubs; I just wanted an album where everybody played. We came together and there is no doubt that is the best way of doing it. But 90% of the records I make are done the other way. That’s just the way it’s done. All those great studios don’t exist anymore because of what’s happened in the world.
MGM: With more albums to come from Lonerider, and Kings of Mercia, and your producing … you’re a busy man. You’ve also done sessions with Gabrielle De Val, and White Spirit this year too. You’re certainly in demand!
Steve: It’s called being around since the beginning of time. When someone wants a certain style of singing, they come to me and ask if I’ll do it. I’ve just done probably one of the best records I’ve ever made in my life, which is a soul funk record. I’ve just had the stuff through from the mastering and it’s like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the key of life’ record, done with Jason Rebello from Sting’s Band, Tony Remy who played with the Crusaders / Annie Lennox. It’s all top session guys, and lots of real brass. The Simply Red brass section are on it. It’s an amazing record. I have a lot of things all going on at once because it keeps it interesting. I don’t know how I finish them, but I do. And now with FM revving up to go back out, I’ve got to get a lot of things done before May, but doing all this different stuff is what keeps it fresh and keeps it exciting.
MGM: Your bandmates in FM are also doing some interesting things. Jim’s playing a solo tour at the moment, and he’s also just put out a great album with a band called ‘The Flood’ featuring Billy Sheehan and Nigel Glockler. This will take you all up to the FM tour in May, but you’ve got a break in your schedule after those shows until the follow up dates in Spain in October.
Steve: We’ve got a few other little bits and bobs to announce soon. We have a little break after the British tour, and then it revs up again a couple of months later. The Spain dates have now got a load of other European dates around them. So, it’s a proper European tour now, not just Spain.
Steve: We’ve been to the US a lot, we’ve done videos out there, and we go there and do a bit of radio occasionally. We’ve been managed by some of the biggest managers in the US and we’ve never actually done a tour there, which tells you that something’s wrong, doesn’t it? I think politics may have played a part in a lot of it, but we are planning something in that area next year. Some stuff has been offered to us. It’s the 40th anniversary next year, so we want to do a lot next year. There’ll be a new record, which we’re working on now, and we’re hoping to cover up new territories even still that we haven’t done before.
FM will be touring the UK throughout May alongside Tyketto, and DARE
May 11th: Garage, Glasgow
May 12th: Riverside, Newcastle
May 13th: Rock City, Nottingham
May 14th: Birdwell Venue, Barnsley
May 16th: Welly, Hull
May 18th: Tivoli, Buckley
May19th: KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton
May 20th: Neon, Newport
May 21st: Academy 2, Manchester
May 23rd: 1865, Southampton
May 24th: Epic Studios, Norwich
May 25th: O2 Academy Islington, London
For more information and tickets: