We couldn’t do what we do without the support of these wonderful people
Sunday 4 February 2007
A chilly afternoon in North Acton, London and Survival Rehearsal Studios is the venue for FM’s first time playing together in 12 years. After pestering Steve for four years to get the band to do Firefest, Kieran Dargan, a jovial young Irishman has finally succeeded. Why now and not before you ask… in previous years when asked we’d all been quite negative, it didn’t seem the right thing to do, but not one of us when asked this year needed any second thoughts, it was a resounding “Yeah why not let’s give it a go”. Merv's wonderful negotiating skills came into play and the deal was struck. FM would return to the stage on Saturday 27th October 2007 at Nottingham Rock City. The first rehearsal we had sounded remarkably good despite the lengthy lay off though I say it myself. The enthusiasm was immense. It was good to see all the boys together in the same room again. It wasn’t like we hadn’t been in contact over the years. I see Steve every week and had met the other lads on various occasions, we always got on great together. But it was very good to be back playing the old songs again with my friends. Another rehearsal was booked two weeks later, again we were headed in the right direction.
October 27th seemed a very long way off…
March - 24 October 2007
Rehearsals became less frequent immediately afterwards, everyone’s other commitments began getting in the way of things, getting the five of us to be free on the same day was tricky. Still, no problem - October 27th was ages away. Steve headed off to Greece midway through June and I went away on holiday to Majorca the same time but we managed a quick rehearsal the week before. I don’t think you could call the band gig-ready at that point but remember, October 27th was still miles off. We returned tanned, rested and raring to go.
I decided after the excesses of the holiday I needed to get into the gym and get fit. I joined Virgin Active July 2nd and got on the scales in the changing room. 99kg… not only was I 12 years older since our last gig, I was also a fat b*stard. Desperate measures along with strict dieting were needed. I decided not to weigh myself weekly but once a month. We managed two rehearsals that first week in July, because of the gaps due to our busy schedules we were only really re-learning, not actually moving forward. October 27th was about 17 weeks away so loads of time still. Jem went away on vacation to The US of A for two weeks at the end of July and returned about August 12th, tanned, rested and raring to go. Me however, I was knackered, after a month sweating on rowing machines, running machines, lifting weights and eating very little I had my second weigh-in at the gym on July 30th… 94kg - well done fatty.
We felt we needed a change of scenery on the rehearsal front and I went and saw my friend Adam Rowlands, brother of Martin Rowlands the Q.P.R player (come on you R’s). He works at Hanwell Town FC and he said we could use the club house. We headed there on Sunday August 19th, set up and had a blast. The room was great and the band for the first time really started to sound like the FM of old. Andy went off to Malta for a break on August 12th and returned September 5th. While Andy was sunning himself Steve and I met our dear old friend the one, the only, Dave Ling and had a quick chat for a news piece in Classic Rock Magazine. I also had my third monthly weigh-in, I’d been working hard in the gym so was absolutely deflated to find on September 3rd I was still 94kg. I was definitely feeling much healthier, my clothes much looser and my man-boobs were disappearing at a fierce rate. I had a word with one of the fitness instructors who told me I was now building up muscle and muscle weighs more than fat, hence my static weight. I was still very disappointed even a 1kg loss would have been something.
So with Andy back in Blighty it was time to step up rehearsals big-time and we managed to get two in before Merv flew out to The States on September 16th for twelve days well-earned holiday. Now we’d all been away and there were now only thirty days before the gig, unfortunately time was beginning to run out. Although rehearsing at Hanwell Town FC was great the fact of it being a football club meant we could only book certain days. We decided we needed a new dedicated rehearsal room. We tried a place in Mill Hill, North London a couple of times but it just wasn’t the ticket… we were fast running out of time. Merv found one on the internet in Southall, West London called Papa Joe’s. One thing that attracted us, on the directions page there was a line “Continue along Southall Broadway, enjoy its smells and sounds as you might be on this for a while” (for those of you unfamiliar with Southall it’s a predominantly Asian community). We went and checked it out, taking in the smells and sounds of Southall Broadway on the way, and met Nick, Papa Joe's son, who runs it. He showed us round and it looked perfect. We booked one rehearsal and it was a brilliant find, Nick and everyone involved in the place were just such fantastic people, really helpful and what was even better all the dates we needed were available.
Imagine the scene - five guys, now on the more mature side of life, banging out their rock tunes and next door in the reception Nick and the Southall Massive, all in their twenties, on the decks belting out some heavy Bhangra at a billion watts, the place just had the best vibe ever. Rehearsals intensified and that’s just what we needed, the band was sounding great. Merv and I had been busy sorting out T- shirt designs and we’d found a printers in Isleworth, West London near Merv months ago. I gave them a call mid-October to say we’d bring the design down for printing only to be told the company had relocated to Rugby (thanks for telling us guys). It was about 10 days to the show and so back on the internet, this time in search of printers. We found a company in Southall which is handy for the rehearsal room so we were back on track. As I’ve been so busy rehearsing and organising things with Merv my gym exertions unfortunately had to take a back seat. I had what turned out to be my last weigh-in on October 10th and was delighted to be 89kg. So I’d lost 10kg since July 2nd. I hadn’t got a target but I was well proud of myself.
Thursday 25 October 2007
We got the call that the T-shirts were ready and Merv and I went down to collect them. The guy opened the box and the back print was spot on, unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the front, they’d missed a screen and so the breast logo was only one colour not shaded like the back. We stayed calm and asked what could be done and were told nothing because of the time scale involved. We were more annoyed because Merv had specifically asked to see the first one before the print run started for this very reason (remember we’re the band that had 1000 Phoenix logo shirts on the first night of the Tough it Out tour all without beaks). We decided to take one back to show the rest of the band and get their thoughts. Jem was the designated model and as he pulled a T-shirt on he said “it feels like sh*t”. In all the disappointment in the seeing the front print cock-up we’d failed to notice they’d also printed them on really cheap quality shirts. Again we had specifically asked for good quality, more expensive shirts. So Merv and I spent most of our last rehearsal day trying to sort out the T-shirt fiasco. We finally got to run through the set at around 6pm. We packed away the gear at Papa Joe’s for the last time, said our goodbyes to Nick, Papa and the lads, then Steve, Andy, Batch and myself headed to “The Haven Arms” my local pub for liquid inspiration.
Friday 26 October 2007
Got up about 9.30am, called the printers to see if they had got the better quality shirts, we decided that even though the front print was wrong it still looked good but we couldn’t sell poor quality shirts and told the guy he had to re-print on better shirts. He said he had 52 and was trying to get more. I packed my bag, kissed Suzanne and Freya goodbye and headed off to High Wycombe to pick up the plasma screens for the show at about 11.45am. The journey was going fine until about junction 23 of the M1 and the traffic ground to a halt. I turned off at, I think, 23a and tried to cut across on the “A something or other”. Unfortunately everyone had the same idea so more jams. I finally got to Nottingham around 5.00pm and couldn’t find Magnet Rehearsal studios for love nor money. I was finally guided in by the owner via mobile phone (something he also did for Steve, Andy and Batch). Jem “I’ve got Sat Nav” Davis had no such problems (smart*rse). I called T-shirt printer man who was out of the office and I got less than no help at all from his colleague. I was getting mightily pissed off as I didn’t know if the shirts had even been printed. Got his mobile number, called and left him a message letting him know my feelings. He called back and told me the new and rejected shirts were at Papa Joe's rehearsal studio. A quick call to Suzanne and off she went to collect them, bless her. We got the gear and screens in as this rehearsal was mainly for Ant to get his cue points for the visuals. Ant has done a brilliant job on them, they look great and all the cues are spot on. Our last rehearsal over we headed to the hotel in convoy, checked in and checked out the hotel bar. It was about midnight and I had every intention of having just a couple of beers and a good night's sleep… 4.30am, fifty quid worse off and not in the slightest bit sober, I headed off to bed and fell into a coma.
Saturday 27 October 2007
The big day arrives about 8 or 9 hours earlier than I’d hoped when Richard calls and wakes me at 8.35am. I got up feeling decidedly average, got my bag and the box of 52 T-shirts (useless printer man failed miserably in his search for more) which were brought up by my good friends Deb Skeat (sister of Bob) and her boyfriend Ray late last night. The guys from S.T.S Touring are loading in the PA and backline at 8.am so we need to get down there by 9-9.30am to make sure things are running smoothly and hopefully we’ll get a soundcheck. I get to Rock City about 9.30 and it’s chaos but very well organised chaos. The PA is up as is the backline, our lads are getting Jem's keyboard emporium up, soundcheck is looking good. Finally I get to meet Kieran and what a top man he is. It’s about 11.15am and FM are back together on stage after 12 years and ready to soundcheck, well done everyone involved. It feels good being back up there with the guys, it really does. We start up with a bit of Face to Face (Dave Ling tells me later he had a tear in his eye, god bless him) and follow with Burning my Heart Down, it sounds pretty good up there and we’re done in 20 minutes tops. While Jaded Heart are getting set up it’s plasma screen hanging for beginners/drummers. Luckily Richard, apart from being a superb sound engineer, is also the top geezer when it comes to hanging huge screens in rock clubs, an invaluable member of the team. It’s all hands on deck and I’m in the thick of it standing on a very wobbly flight case lid, but after much swearing, sweating and luck they’re up. It’s about 9 hours to show time… Bring it on.
We head back to the hotel and Steve and I head out for a bite to eat. We find TGI Fridays and I order chicken wings cooked in Franks sauce (the best hot sauce ever) and a rack of ribs (s*d the diet today). Obviously the hangover is still lurking as the poor waitress spends most of our time there re-filling our refillable coke glasses. Next it’s Starbucks for a caffeine injection and back to the hotel. We meet up with Kieran and have a chat, they’re about 15 minutes behind but are going to claw it back he assures me. I get to my room and get into bed to try and catch up on some sleep… No chance of that, my mind is buzzing and probably the Grande Skinny Wet Latte isn’t helping matters. I lie in bed going through the fast-approaching show tonight in my head. I’d set my mobile to silent but the bloody thing still vibrates and just keeps vibrating away with well-wishers calling. I get up and call Suzanne to see how her trip up to Nottingham is going. They’re nearly there and she’s well excited, like Jem's missus Lynn she’s never seen us. It’s hard to explain without seeing us live and experiencing what a great bunch of fans we have. 6.30pm and there’s a meet and greet with some fans organised by Craig from the Frozen Heart web site. It really is brilliant seeing a lot of the old faces and we’re shocked how many turn up. I meet the lads from Valentine and we swap a few stories about a certain producer who will remain nameless. Really nice guys, shame they’ve got to be at the airport for 6am Sunday morning. I’m getting bored now so I head over to soak up some pre-show stuff backstage. I’m still not as nervous as I thought I’d be but neither am I calmness personified. I just want to get on with it now, get out there and do my best. The show is back running on time, which is good with such a strict 10.30pm curfew.
Tyketto have finished bang on time, they sounded really good and went down a storm… more pressure on team FM. I head up to the stage to sort out the kit and find there is only one crash cymbal, my ride cymbal has disappeared along with my bass drum pedals and the special hi-hat clutch purchased especially for the intro to Frozen Heart. I end up using a hi-hat cymbal as a crash along with a badly cracked one plus the one good one. I’ll admit to getting very stressed out at that point and probably acted a bit of a tw*t to some of the crew. In my defence I did apologise to everyone before we went on stage and now again in writing, sorry guys, my humblest apologies to you all. I head back down to the dressing room and everyone seems pretty calm to me.
After a few hugs and words of encouragement it’s show time, the Dad’s Army theme tune belts out through the PA… there’s no turning back now… I’m first out and as I climb behind the kit all I see is a sea of hands in the air and hear the deafening roar, I’m overwhelmed, f*ck me I’m filling up. I turn to my right and see Ant behind the guitar amps with his laptop, he’s beaming up at me giving me the thumbs up. Merv turns, gives me a grin and a wink and we’re off into Breathe Fire. The sound on stage could definitely not be described as hi-fi but it’ll work. As long as Steve can hear his vocals that’s all that really matters. I’ll admit the gig was a blur of nervous energy for me.
I remember thinking at one point I’m bloody glad I went to the gym or I would have been knackered. I remember thinking just keep things simple. Barney looked in his element, Steve was singing better than ever, Merv was totally on the case as usual. I couldn’t see Jem until he came out with his harmonica but he was sounding fantastic on his many keyboards. The end of Other Side of Midnight and the power goes off… interesting… what do we do now? I know I’ll come down the front and see the fans at close quarters. Suddenly I hear “Pete Jupp, Pete Jupp” being chanted, sh*t I’m filling up again…
Power is restored and with a bit of Nottingham's finest 240 flowing through the gear again we finish Midnight and it’s into Blood and Gasoline, the last song of the set. At the end of Blood and Gasoline we go into a “Hey Jude” sing-a-long and the crowd doesn’t let us down (mind you, they never have). They’ve been singing their hearts out all night, and yes they probably remember the words better than Mr O himself (or the Richard Gere of Rock as Barney has been calling him all week). The song finishes and it’s back out from behind the kit and down the front to soak up the most awesome atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. I knew the crowd would be good tonight I’ll admit, but I was taken aback by the huge show of affection still for 5 average blokes called FM and their music after all this time. Deepest heartfelt respect goes out to each of you… I leave the stage, last I think, walk off and get turned around immediately and shoved back on (albeit willingly), the witching hour of 10.30pm is fast approaching apparently. It’s back behind the kit and into Frozen Heart and again the FM choir takes over the first verse. Jem does a brilliant intro to Grapevine with Steve and we’re off into the final tune of our - thanks to our loyal fans - triumphant return. With the last chord still ringing in my ears I’m back down the front of the stage to soak up the electric atmosphere one last time tonight. I grab Steve's mic and I haven’t really got a clue what I was saying, it was just pure emotion spilling out (I’ll have to wait for the DVD). Whatever it was I doubt I could eloquently try to put into words the depth of gratitude and love we feel for you guys… God Bless each and every one of you!!!!
Down the stairs to the dressing room and time for the first beer of the day. Ali has got them in a huge tub of ice and they’re chilled to perfection, 10 out of 10 young lady. It’s congratulations all round to the boys for pulling it off in such fine fashion. I’ll admit now, more than once during the earlier months of rehearsals I did wonder if we could really pull it off. Deep down I knew the guys wouldn’t let me down and hope they felt the same way about me, but there was always that nagging doubt until we got to Papa Joe's the final week, and of course on the night I need not have worried a jot because they excelled themselves. Suzanne came down and her and Lynn were beaming, their men did good. Before leaving the venue I went to help the crew take down the plasma screens, which proved to be a bit easier than putting them up. I said my goodbyes and thanked everyone involved for all their help in a job well done. I couldn't believe all the backline was out along with the PA, they’re quick workers those lads. I went back to the hotel and the bar was packed with faces I hadn’t seen for years. I’ll admit this part of the evening is a tad hazy… I had a chat with Danny from Tyketto possibly, but can’t remember specifics… sorry, there’s no juicy gossip. There you are kids, alcohol abuse it’s not big and it’s not clever but it’s bloody great at the time… Woke up feeling terrible again, it’s detox time for me now. Maybe this is why it was 12 years between gigs - it takes that long to get over them now. Andrew Barnetto the International Rock star calls me, he’s having breakfast. Suzanne and I join him along with Richard. Andy has us in stitches with tales from Bahrain (I met Suzanne there). We finish breakfast and Andy goes to the bar and gets a glass of red wine, it’s no later than 11am… you can take the boy out of Clacton…
We go to the hotel reception and meet Kieran and his lovely family there. Suzanne is teasing his two daughters saying they both love Westlife (they definitely don’t). I thank Kieran one last time for all his hard work and having the faith in us to headline Firefest IV. We say our goodbyes and it’s back to London, feeling really good despite the hangover.
I spoke to Dave Ling a few days after the gig and he said “The crowd were euphoric” and that’s exactly the word I’ve been searching for the whole time while writing this piece, but then that’s why he’s a world-famous journalist and I’m but a humble drummer.
Once again thanks for making 27th October 2007 a date which will stick in my memory forever.
God bless you all!