FM_red_logo_MASTER_96dpi_trans@ Newcastle O2 Academy, March 20 2013

On the day the latest issue of Classic Rock AOR hit the shelves of newsagents nationwide three of Britain’s finest exponents of melodic rock reaffirmed the notion that chorus-driven guitar music continues to enjoy a sparkling renaissance.

It’s not simply the return of a quality publication to complement a thriving scene that offers fresh optimism to those revelling in a scene awash with talent. The fact that vibrant new acts like Vega are jostling for position with old stagers FM and It Bites suggests the current fashion for all things AOR could last. 

With next month’s inaugural Hard Rock Hell AOR festival looming large – FM and Vega both play Day One with It Bites scheduled to star at the concurrent Prog festival – these are heady times for fans of slick, radio-friendly pop rock.

And this magnificent show demonstrated why.

Openers Vega are patronised by Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and there’s an element of Sheffield’s finest evident in the band’s layered riffs and slick group vocals. With new album What The Hell an energising slab of British hard rock it’s easy to imagine this creative six-piece sharing an arena stage with the Lepps sometime soon.

The title track summed up Vega’s kick-ass attitude while Hands In The Air – another brand spanking new tune – combined Bon Jovi, Journey and Kiss at their best. Saviour raised the bar again and if 2010’s debut long player Kiss Of Life smacked of raw potential then the band’s new material is the sound of AOR legends in the making.

It Bites might be more prog than pomp in 2013 but at their late 80s commercial peak the Cumbrian crew could belt out singalong anthems with the best of them. This diverse set featured a few with opener Kiss Like Judas and Midnight – both from 1988’s fabulous Once Around The World – the obvious highlights. Sorely missed were renditions of Eat Me In St Louis staples Sister Sarah, Underneath Your Pillow and Still Too Young To Remember.

John Mitchell’s command of the mic and his trusty axe belied the fact that this was It Bites’ first putting on the FM tour – swapping places with Serpentine for the second leg. The understated frontman let the music do the talking as he ripped through a set that visited almost every era of the band’s celebrated history – even bringing fans back up to date with the band’s brand new single.

Calling All The Heroes still cuts the mustard as a melodic prog classic and on this standout song Mitchell’s soloing was sublime in tandem with John Beck’s inspired tinkling. FM had a hard act to follow but devotees of the melodic rock kings remained confident they’d Tough It Out.

And so they did – Steve Overland in commanding form as he laid bare his emotions and revived past glories in front of a Newcastle crowd that had already outgrown the Academy 2 and appeared to swell as the evening progressed.

FM remain the biggest British arena band that never was and their fusion of Journey, Styx, Toto et al – underpinned by a defiantly British bluesy refrain – deserved far greater credit 25 years ago.

Perhaps the next five years will be their most celebrated yet. Buoyed by the success of 2010’s comeback album Metropolis – their first in 15 years – transitional EP Only Foolin’ and new long player Rockville there’s a new sense of urgency coursing through the veins of the veteran quintet.

With three fifths of the original line-up providing a quality core there’s the perfect fusion of credibility, creativity and class delivery at the centre of FM’s long overdue rebirth. This sensational set eclipsed many of the band’s glorious late 80s shows with familiar favourites given a tenacious modern twist.

Overland was in mercurial form as he rolled out That Girl, Don’t Stop and Bad Luck with all the boyish enthusiasm of a rising star half his age. That Only Foolin’ – the upbeat title track from December’s superb EP – was only eclipsed by FM’s bona fide classic cuts proved this is a band still capable of crafting sugary sweet AOR dripping with delicious melody.

As the elder statesmen of the UK’s melodic rock scene there’s no better act to lead the genre’s glorious revival. FM are effin’ fantastic. End of.

Simon Rushworth