In this post, I’ll take you behind the scenes and in front of the stage with UK rockers, FM: sound check; the crew; the show; the interview; takedown; memories; farewell
FM On Tour:
Behind the Scenes and In Front of The Stage, Nuneaton, 22 March 2013
It’s no secret that I love rock, and that I have a ‘thing’ for rock musicians. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I had the most amazing time at the most recent FM rock gig I attended. I had booked tickets for myself and OH months ago, and, on the spur of the moment, added the VIP package into the mix for both of us as well. So I happily took possession of my VIP pass….
Today, I’m a VIP!
…and used the first available opportunity to get photos taken with all of the band. This is a fairly big deal to me, actually, because these are the first ‘Nicky with FM’ photos I have ever had in all the time I have known and loved this band. Don’t ask me why… it just seemed uncool (and impractical), as a teenager, to take a camera to gigs, so I never did.
20 years…and here’s my first ever ‘FM and Me’ gallery! From top left to right: Pete Jupp (drums); Jim Kirkpatrick (guitars); Jem Davis (keyboards); Steve Overland (The Voice); Merv Goldsworthy (bass).
Apparently, this gig was the smallest on the entire tour, or so I’m told. Nonetheless, it was an absolute blast, as I knew it would be. Grab a cuppa (or something stronger, if it’s late enough in the day) and let me entertain you by proxy.
The first perk of being a VIP was that we were allowed to attend the sound check, which meant that the ‘gig’ really started for me at 4 p.m. It was lovely to walk in and get a little wave from Pete and a smile from Steve as I lined up for my first “hey, look, I really was here” photo.
I am so here!
Listening to, and watching, the sound check, was a revelation. I had heard parts of a sound check before (both from inside and outside various venues, LOL), but I had never had the privilege of taking in the whole thing. The band went through instrument by instrument, starting with big, heavy bangs on the drums, working their way through guitars and bass, adding in the keyboard and finally focusing on the vocals, lead vocals first, then backing vocals too. The ubiquitous ‘one-two-one-two-two’ was heard over and over again, and other interesting bits of conversation flew our way as well.
“It’s floor 26, but there’s no mike on it.” (Pete and stage manager, Steve, figuring out why the drums weren’t coming through as planned.)
“Get me a bit of Jim in here, please.” (Merv, asking the sound man, Richard, to put more of Jim’s guitars and vocals through his ‘wedge’, the speaker right in front of the musician that allows him to hear what the rest of the band is playing.)
“It’s all top heavy with no body.” (Steve, asking the sound man to alter the way Steve’s voice got played back to him through his wedge.)
Instruments and vocals duly balanced, the band launched into short renditions of songs. The opening riffs for That Girl made me want to bop along instantly and I had to remind myself to be quiet. Closer To Heaven made me predictably weak at the knees, and Burning My Heart Down sounded as hot as ever except… half-way through the second line, Steve’s voice disappeared. Surprised, he tapped the microphone, joking, “You need this mike on, Richard.” Richard nodded and gave a thumbs up, looking busy. Alas, the mike stayed off in spite of his best efforts. In fact, the sound desk went down. And stayed down!
I know it was a really stressful occasion for the band and the crew, but for a fan, it was absolutely mesmerizing to see these professionals work together calmly to solve the problem. Various options were explored, cables were being tweaked and replaced but in the end, a new sound desk was found (at extremely short notice ~ somebody worked miracles). The sound man had that new desk plugged in, wired and set up within a matter of minutes, and ready to continue the sound check within half an hour. You never appreciate, as a humble mortal, all the things that can go wrong behind the scenes and how much work and effort goes into the show. It was an eye-opener and, if you hadn’t been at the sound check, you would never have known that something had gone wrong just a mere couple of hours before the show. AWESOME result.
Whilst waiting for the new desk, there was little idleness ~ small wonder, with so much to do. Here’s Pete, making sure the drum kit is in tip top condition!
Well ~ they’ve got to be shiny for a polished performance! #loveit
Let’s take a moment to meet the crew. Really, without the crew, the tour wouldn’t happen and I am absolutely in awe of what these guys achieve. Here’s the chief sound man, Richard, who’s been with the band since 1994.
Richard, the sound man
The view of the stage from the sound desk
Meet Ralf, the merchandiser. I was chatting to him before the show (bless those VIP tickets!) and soon discovered that he hails from Germany, just like yours truly. Not only that, but he’s also from Düsseldorf, a mere 20 minute drive from my hometown of Essen. Small world, right? It gets more interesting still. You see, Ralf is a massive FM fan but he’s not actually a roadie by profession. In his day job, he’s a company lawyer back in Germany. He came on tour because there was a vacancy for a merchandiser and he thought it sounded like great fun to take part. Thus he took a week’s holiday, packed his bags, waved goodbye to his wife and kids for a few days, and tried out the touring life style. “I’m absolutely loving every minute of it,” he said wryly when I asked him whether it was worth it. Go figure. (Now there’s an idea for my next holiday…)
Ralf, the merchandise man…all the way from Germany, because he loves it.
Here’s the man who, quite literally, makes sure the show goes on. Stage manager, Steve, is responsible for all equipment, for setting up and taking down (more on that later), for organizing the crew and ensuring that everything and everyone is where they need to be.
Steve, the stage manager. “Because the show must go on.”
Sound check duly completed in the nick of time, two rousing support acts made sure we were all nicely warmed up and ready to rock. Well done to Vega and It Bites, you rocked!
The venue went dark as the lights dimmed and the stage filled with smoke. The fans erupted into excited cheers but the band kept them waiting just that little bit longer to savour the anticipation. Drummer Pete was the first to emerge and swiftly installed himself behind his drum kit, a big smile on his face and drum sticks in hand. Next it was Steve’s turn to appear, followed swiftly by the rest of the band. Everybody took positions and the guitars launched into the opening chords for Tough Love, the opening song of new album Rockville. The crowd went wild…
Oh folks, it was amazing. There was instant atmosphere, the fans lapped it up, sang along, clapped, cheered and shouted. Steve‘s voice was as wonderful as ever, carrying strong and clear through the entire show and providing plenty of ‘go-weak’ moments. Jim‘s handiwork on the guitar was outstanding; in some of his solos his fingers were but a mere blur of movement. Merv was grooving at the bass, enjoying the occasional amble to the other side of the stage to hook up with Jim and also jamming with Jem during the keyboard moments. Through it all, Pete was tapping away at the drums, keeping the rhythm, providing the drumrolls and generally dancing in his seat. Honestly, FM is among the best live bands I have ever seen and they never disappoint. It was rocking awesome!
I was fairly close to the front, maybe two rows in, and I had a fabulous view of all the goings on on stage. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Apologies for the slightly misty effect on some of them ~ my little camera didn’t cope so well in the dark, especially when there was stage smoke. But you’ll get a feel for the great vibes that night…
That Girl…. will you ever let her go?
Keeping the rhythm ~ perfectly!
One of Steve’s mesmerizing voice moments. #IGoWeak
I wish I could show you just how fast Jim’s fingers move!
On the other side of midnight… (well, nearly). Merv and Jem share a ‘key’ moment.
Last Encore… Don’t Stop! (No ~ not the FM song, that’s just me saying it!)
I promised you an interview, didn’t I? Well, of course I couldn’t resist the chance to take notes as I was chatting with the band, especially during the lull moments in the sound check. Here goes!
Nicky: What’s a typical day on tour for you?
Pete: Well, let’s see. We get up early…probably about 9 a.m., having gone to bed at around 4 a.m. We have breakfast and lots of coffee–lots!–before we pack and leave at about noon. Often, there’ll be phone interviews in the morning with various radio stations, or sometimes in-person interviews at the venue. You know, like this one. *smiles*. When we get to the venue, it’s very much a game of ‘hurry up and wait.’ There’s lots to do, but also lots of waiting around, as you can see. Normally a sound check wraps up after about an hour, and then we have time for dinner and a quick shower. Then it’s the show, meeting fans, taking down, going to bed–late–and… start the whole thing all over again.
Nicky: Do you ever take your families on tour?
Pete: Not really, not now. My little girl is nine so there’s school and all that. But she and my wife do usually come to our London shows, and my daughter really loves it. When we’re on the road, we speak on the phone as much as we can. It’s not so bad; this tour, for example, is only short, nine days in all. And we finish tomorrow.
Jem: *laughs* My daughter’s music tastes lie elsewhere, I’m afraid. But she does seem to think it’s quite cool what I do…
Nicky: What’s the biggest change in touring since your ‘first time round’ back in the 1980s and 1990s?
Pete: Digital mixing, without a doubt. It speeds up everything. With a digital desk, the sound man just has to press buttons to save settings and retrieve them again later.
Stage manager, Steve: Oh yeah, digital mixing is awesome. With an analogue desk, the sound man would usually have a dictaphone in his hand and when all the dials and buttons where in the right position, he’d dictate the levels to himself, left right, top down. So you’d hear, “4, 5, 7, 2, 3, 1” and it would go on and on. Now, with digital, he just hits ‘save’ and when he needs to get it back, all the dials and faders jump into the right places. It’s amazing.
Nicky: What’s the strangest or most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?
Pete: Oh, probably that tour bus turning over in 1992. We were fast asleep in our bunks, most of us, which turned out to be quite lucky. Andy (Barnett, then guitarist) was up, he wasn’t very well and he was moving about. Which was also very lucky because when the bus went off the road and turned over, Andy’s bunk took the full brunt of the crash. We later found weights from downstairs and all sorts of other stuff in the upstairs bunks, so it must have been one heck of a roll. But nobody was hurt!
Stage manager, Steve: Well, thankfully, nothing really bad has ever happened. Most things are fixable, but it’s when the show is ‘on’ that it can get a bit scary. FM were supporting Foreigner and Journey a while back. They were playing in front of 14,000 people, and there was a cable on the stage that wasn’t in the right position, and I was worried that somebody would slip and fall, so we had to scramble on to tape it down. But it’s all good!
Nicky: Tell me about writing songs and making albums. How does that all happen? Do you all turn up with ideas and say, let’s write a song today?
Pete: Well… yes and no. We all write bits here and there, music, lyrics, you know Steve writes a lot of the lyrics, but Merv and I also do a lot of writing. Sometimes we bring them all together, like you say, and sometimes they just kinda happen when we are together. We do a lot of recording in my home studio now to try things out and for demos. It’s amazing what you can do with a modern home studio, a lot depends on the power of the computer and the processor. But anyway, we then take the files to a studio and take it from there. It’s quite different from before, much faster and a lot easier.
Steve: We always, always over-record. For Rockville, we had, like, twenty songs. You can’t put twenty songs on an album, so we picked the eleven that seemed to us to make a good mix, you know, harder stuff and ballads and all that. You want a nice balance on an album. After Rockville, we had so much material left that when the pledges worked out, we decided to bring out the other tracks on Rockville 2.
Nicky: What’s the best thing about being a rock star?
Pete: *laughs* Oooh… well, let’s see. Probably playing music you love to people who also love it.
Merv: Being on the road and making music. I really look forward to the festivals later this year! We’re doing the Hi Rock at the Loreley in Germany in June, and we’re going to be playing with Whitesnake and Europe ~ it’s gonna be fantastic!
Steve: *laughs* Best thing about being a rock star? You should ask one! *laughs again* No seriously, the best thing is making music and playing it to the fans. It’s always interesting and a bit nerve-wracking when you bring out a new album. Will the fans like it? Will they like the balance on the album? *shrugs and smiles* They seem to, so that’s cool.
Nicky: Any favourite songs?
Pete: On Rockville, probably Story of My Life.
Steve: Yeah, Story of My Life, because it’s a beautiful ballad, and also Crosstown Train.
Nicky: Who inspires you? What do you listen to?
Pete: Oh gosh, that’s a question. I listen to a lot of stuff on Spotify, I like checking out new things. Right now, I listen to a lot of Imogen Heap and Bon Iver. Oh, and the last concert I went to was probably James Morrison!
Nicky: Thank you all so much for chatting with me tonight, it’s been absolutely amazing! 🙂
With the show over and the last of the encores completed; with hands duly shaken and final waves for the whole crowd accomplished, eventually the lights came back on and immediately the take-down began. This is another thing that I kind of knew but never really had seen in action (usually being far too busy trying to figure out a way backstage or waiting for autographs!). This time, I had a chance to watch as the crew undertook the take-down mere minutes after the end of the show. Evidently, there were clearly-assigned roles as somebody worked on the keyboards, somebody else on drums and guitars, and so on. The sheer speed was astounding. Take a look at these pictures from top left to right and then down. All of this happened in about thirty minutes and the stage was practically clear, with equipment neatly packed and ready to go, before we even had to leave. It’s like a well-oiled machine.
The crew springs into action…
Job well done, guys!
Memories, and more memories
Another great thing about the VIP tix was the chance to meet other FM fans and have a little chat. Thus my OH and I bumped into Andrew and Caroline. In a reverse of our own dynamic, it’s Andrew who’s the huge fan and Caroline who’s started coming along as a result ~ and loving it. Andrew was on the lookout for venue posters to be signed and found a couple for himself. Sadly, the only other remaining poster was stuck to the wall with wall-paper glue and wouldn’t come off in one piece even despite our joint best efforts.
Meet Andrew and Caroline!
Imagine my surprise and delight when, after the show, Andrew handed me one his precious trophies to get my own autographs. Initially, I thought he’d managed to find another one but no, it was one of his. “I have so many autographs already,” he simply smiled. “And I don’t really need two of these, so you have one, go on.”
All autographed, all for me. *Happy Dance*
Andrew, you are a rock star. Thank you so much ~ you totally know how much this means. I really hope to see you and Caroline again at the next gig!!
Last but not least, I managed to beg a copy of the set list ~ this one is from Pete’s drum kit, how cool is that?!
Yay! My very own copy of this show’s set list — this one having been Pete’s!!
Farewell, until next time!
And that, as they say, was that. A truly memorable FM gig that began for me at around 4 p.m. finally had to draw to a close at just before midnight. Needless to say, we took one last photo of everyone…
FM and the VIPs!
I had an amazing time, and I am still buzzing! If you get the feeling I’m just a little star-struck, even though I’m no longer a teenager… If you get the impression that there might just be the teensiest residual crush there on the band and the music… well, then you’re beginning to understand why I write the books I write, and how I write them.
Congrats to the Band!
Last but not least, I wanted to offer a huge congrats to this outstanding band. I just had word that Rockville entered the UK Rock Album Chart at #6 ~ yippeeeeh! Let’s hope it stays there and climbs, climbs, climbs.
FM WEBSITE | FM ON FACEBOOK | FM ON TWITTER | BUY ROCKVILLE
And here’s a flavour of what this amazing band actually sounds like. It’s a favourite song so if you follow Music Monday, you might have seen it already… 🙂
Copyright: All photos by Nicky Wells.