If ever there was an eighties super group of totally obscure proportions, then A.O.K fitted that bill perfectly. They were made up of ex members of Sam Thunder, Circus and Strutz, to name a few, and tore it up on Oxford Road – Manchester’s answer to Sunset Strip – playing the Banshee and Rockworld. Whilst their history is well documented in Tony Bell’s excellent book “Life In The Bus Lane”, it doesn’t capture the vitality or energy that oozed from their every pore. Unfairly dubbed the poor man’s FM, they were far more than just a bunch of mere clones or plagiarists. In Noel Fraser they had a vocalist that could keep up with the best, but ultimately it was the songs that were the stars of the A.O.K show. In the late eighties, early nineties they stood shoulder to shoulder with a plethora of unsigned acts, ultimately doomed to a life of obscurity. It was hard to pinpoint their exact failings, but it was ultimately the change in the musical climate that put paid to their dreams of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, or as Tony Bell put it in Classic Rock AOR, “Grunge gate-crashed my party. It hid my hairspray, trashed my records, supped my beer, nicked my girl and then dressed her like a bloke!”


A chance meeting between me and the boys at a Firefest after show lead to the discussion of the band reforming, “We’ve got something on the go,” slurred Tony Bell, “But we’re lazy, we need a kick up the arse”. That kick came in the shape of Barrie Jackson, an unknown vocalist who carried a style that was tailor made for AOR. Hailing from the Dales of Yorkshire – more like New York-shire, judging by the sound of that voice – Jackson, alongside original members Tony Bell, Steve Kenny and Rob Naylor, was the final piece of the jigsaw. A slew of promising demos quickly followed, with Classic Rock AOR declaring, “Jackson has given the band an edge that sets them even further apart from the competition.” Setting up camp in Shabby Road studios, the journey towards their debut album began in earnest. With the basics intact, and with original Drummer, Andy Chemmey, along for the ride, they moved to Mad Hat studios (Magnum) and under the guidance of Sheena Sear and Mark Stuart, they put the finishing touches to “The Kings Of Nowhere”. A true statement of intent, the boys have built on their initial promise by delivering a quintessential UK AOR album. Like their early days, it’s all about the songs and this album has them in spades. From the stirring anthemic strains of future classic “Any Other Girl” through to the swirling keyboards of “Lost Boy”, whilst stopping off at the epic “Real Life” and the Van Halen esque “If Her Tears Could Talk”, this rollercoaster of AOR covers all the bases.


They are the people’s band – winning a fan voted appearance at this year’s final Firefest proved that – and they deserve your utmost attention. In a world of AOR that heaps praise on the bland and the boring, it makes a refreshing change to see a home-grown outfit deliver on the hyperbole by actually being good. It’s a little over twenty years since they called it a day, but these kings of nowhere are here to stay this time. They’ve loved and lost along the way but that’s just put some grit under their fingernails, enabling them to provide an album that is both honest and real. This is British songwriting at its absolute best.