In 1976 Jeff Plewman and Cameron Hawkins were both spinning their wheels and going nowhere while jamming with a Toronto band called Clear. They decided to form their own group, incorporating Hawkins’ keyboards and bass guitar and Plewman’s electric mandolin and violin into an avant-garde progressive rock sound – and FM was born.
With Plewman adopting the name Nash The Slash after a character in a Laurel & Hardy movie, they began rehearsing, and did their first public performance that July, which was videotaped for TVOntario’s “Night Music Concert” show. Not broadcasted until that November, it featured them doing a 30-minute set of three long pieces – “Phasors on Stun,” “One O’Clock Tomorrow,” and “Black Noise,” in addition to a quasi-bio recited by local DJ David Pritchard.
Days later, they played their first real live gig at a local art gallery, and before long their live performances had developed to the point of adding drummer Martin Deller in February ’77. He had actually worked with Nash previously, when they both appeared on Pritchard’s album NOCTURNAL EARTHWORM STEW a year later. Word of their high octane but unusual and yet entertaining show got out, and soon they were regulars on the Toronto club and outdoor festival circuits.
The attention they were getting caught the ears of CBC execs, and they were invited onto their music variety show, “Who’s New?” This in turn led to them recording their debut album later that year. Produced by Keith Whiting, the band assumed it would be a conventional release, but in actuality on 500 copies were pressed, and the CBC only announced its existence during several radio shows and chose to sell it by mail order. Later versions of the album were released with a different jacket on several other labels.
But before the end of the year, Nash The Slash left to pursue a solo career (when he began wearing bandages on his face). He stated the addition of a drummer made the band’s music too commercial for his liking. Ironically, BLACK NOISE is widely considered the only non-commercial thing he’s ever done, with FM or solo. Nonetheless, once he was gone the band set out looking for a replacement – someone who could play both the electric mandolin and violin, and hired Ben Mink (ex Stringband and Murray McLauchlan’s Silver Tractors).
They landed a deal with Toronto indie label Labyrinth Records in the spring of ’78, but weren’t interested in releasing BLACK NOISE. Instead they jumped at the chance to get on board with their new album, DIRECT TO DISK, named after the tapeless recording method. Although nothing set the world on fire, shortly after its release, American based Visa Records came calling, and picked up BLACK NOISE, releasing it in Canada on Passport Records. “Phasors On Stun” became a top 20 hit on both sides of the border, and they were rewarded with a gold record (100,000 copies) during a show at Ontario Place that August, in the middle of a major North American tour. But the band’s first of several issues with record companies over the years occurred when Hawkins claimed they never received royalty payments from any of the Canadian LP editions, as their contract specified all payments were to come through Visa Records in the USA, and none of the Canadian distributors passed royalties on to Visa. Visa claimed it didn’t receive the royalties either.
Just as they were to follow up with a new album, the distribution company in Canada, GRT, went bankrupt. Passport’s products were picked up by Capitol Records, along with the rights to BLACK NOISE, just in time for the new album, SURVEILLANCE, in the summer of ’79. Along with a cover of The Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things,” it also included more of what would become the band’s trademark stories of space and science fiction in “Horizons,” “Father Time,” and “Orion.”
1980’s CITY OF FEAR was the band’s first time in the studio with producer Larry Fast, most noteable for his work with Peter Gabriel. Along with the title track, cuts like the lead-off “Krakow,” “Truth or Consequences,” and “Lost and Found” made it a critic’s fave. They set out on the road for the next year, including an American tour backing up Rush, but wanting to branch out on his own, Mink released an instrumental solo album the next year called FOREIGN EXCHANGE, which actually featured the other members of FM, as well.
When Mink left to pursue a solo career in the spring of ’83, it opened up the door for Nash to return, since he was talking with his old bandmates about doing a tour together, since much of their audience were the same people anyway. But just as they’d begun working on a new album in ’84, Passport Records closed its doors for good, leaving the band in the cold and without a label. Since Nash was now with Quality, it only made sense to talk label execs into signing Hawkins and Deller, as well. The result was actually a Nash The Slash solo album with the other two backing, in what would turn out to be his most critically successful ever – AMERICAN BAND-AGES.
After the final leg of the world tour ended, which saw them reject an offer to open for The Spoons, FM released CON-TEST in 1985. But although critics viewed it as an overall strong product with tracks that included “Distant Early Warning,” “Just Like You,” and “All of the Dreams,” they once again found themselves without a label when Quality went bankrupt. Although MCA eventually picked up the pieces, all the confusion left FM on the outside looking in, and not receiving any support.
They set out on a cross-Canada tour that included a show at Toronto’s Masonic Temple, which was taped for one of the CBC TV’s “Rock Deluxe” specials later that year. Later dates saw them hit the US, but once they were off the road in the summer of ’86, Deller quit, and was replaced by new drummer Greg Critchley (ex Partland Brothers, Spoons). They added guitarist Simon Brierley, ex of Lee Aaron and Strange Advance, and set out on a series of dates while shopping for a new label. But many of their die-hard fans abandoned them, stating that what had made FM different all those years was the fact they didn’t use guitars.
Still, they were picked up by Duke Street Records and released TONIGHT in 1987, and five of the tracks made it to the soundtrack to “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” a year later. Randy Cooke replaced Critchley on drums for the upcoming tour, and a year later the lineup was Hawkins and Brierly with new members Martin Shaw on mandolin and violin and new drummer Paul Marangoni.But although they entered the studios to record new material, those tapes never saw the light of day. Once they parked the bus in 1990 after some sporadic shows over the last year, the band officially called it quits, and everyone went off to do other projects.
During their absence, a generic synthesized AOR group rose out of the UK with the same name to the charts, but was gone by the time Hawkins had started up Now See Hear Records in 1994. He acquired the rights from the CBC to re-release BLACK NOISE, but discovered they no longer had the master tapes. He travelled to the US and dug through the former Passport Records vaults, but again to no avail. Eventually the album was reissued later that year, mastered from good old vinyl. As it turned out, the master tapes for CITY OF FEAR and SURVEILLANCE were also lost.
Hawkins cohersed Nash and Deller into coming back, and they performed a sold out show in Toronto that November. The show was released the next year as RETROACTIVE: FM ARCHIVES VOLUME 1. Along with classics like “Phasors On Stun” and “Horizons,” it also included the new songs “Retroactive” and “This Lonely World,” as well as their cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” The renewed interest in the band resulted in a series of dates throughout Canada and the US that kept them in hotels until after the 1996 summer festival season.
They drifted apart again, reuniting every now and then for the next couple of years while Slash continued his solo career. He released an album called LOST IN SPACE on his own Cut Throat Records in 2001, much to the displeasure of Hawkins and Deller. Unbeknownst to them, the album consisted of unreleased recordings made by the original duo of Nash and Hawkins, as well as out-takes from the CON-TEST sessions in ’84. This effectively spelled the end of FM with Nash The Slash.
In ’06, Hawkins assembled a new band that consisted of himself and Deller with Italian Claudio Vena on violin and mandolin. They did a couple of shows in Toronto to warm up for their performance at NEARFest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that June. Although it was assumed there would be new recordings, the band fell apart until 2012, when Hawkins hooked up with drummer Paul DeLong and Ivana Popovic on violin and mandolin.