Free Newcastle City Hall 1st February 1972 and early 70s gigs

Free Newcastle City Hall and early 70s gigs
If you asked a teenage gig-goer from the North East of England in the early 70s to name their favourite live bands, they would probably have said Free, Family, and possibly Stray. All three of those bands played in the region a lot at the time, and were great live, as a result building a strong following. In Sunderland Free in particular had a strong cult following, and played lots of gigs at the Bay Hotel, and Sunderland Locarno. I was just that little bit too young to catch some of those early gigs, and was very jealous at the time of some of my slightly older mates who told me how great Free were live. Indeed some of the tracks on the album Free Live was recorded at a gig at Sunderland Locarno (or Fillmore North) in 1970. Free existed only for a brief few years at the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s, and yet their shows and records are still spoken of today. There was a unique emotional groove to their music that set them above others, and gave them a different feel to the heavier bands of the time like Purple, Sabbath and even Zeppelin. This came from the combination of Paul Rodger’s soulful vocals and Paul Kossoff’s bluesy guitar. The first time I got to see Free was at a gig at Newcastle City Hall in early 1972. This was something of a comeback gig, as the band had broken up briefly in 1971, due at least in part, to Koss’ drug problems. The City Hall was packed but the gig was abandoned due to a power failure. Support came from Bronco featuring Jess Roden, who managed to complete their set by performing acoustic versions of some of the songs. Free took to the stage, but again there were problems with the power, and they had to cut their set short, promising to return later in the month. Free did return for two nights on the 21st and 22nd of February, with one of the nights being a free concert for ticket holders from the original gig. I went along to the new gig and saw Free play a full set, and they were amazing; every bit as good as my mates had told me. By then I had also seen them play at Sunderland Top Rank (I will blog about that gig tomorrow), so I saw them three times in the same month. Live favourites for me were The Stealer, My Big, Alright Now and, of course, The Hunter, which was always the encore. My friend John was one of the friends who did get to see Free at some of those earlier gigs that I mentioned earlier. He remains a strong Free fan and has sent me some of his memories: “I have to say that my three favourite bands of all time are Free, Zeppelin and the Black Crowes followed by Humble Pie and Mountain. There are three things I man does not forget: his first beer, his first real girlfriend and in my case my first rock and roll show. I was very fortunate that it was the Indoor Festival of Music at the Top Rank Suite in Sunderland promoted by Geoff Docherty which featured Free as the headliner with Deep Purple, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, Cochise and Yellow. All for the princely sum of a Pound! I was not quite 15 and can still remember how excited I was to going to the show which was billed as starting at 7.30pm and finishing at 2am – wow how cool was that. Purple had some transportation problems and so Free went on first. Fire and Water was released in June of that year, they had played the Isle of Wight and All Right Now had reached number 2 in the charts, they had appeared on Top of the Pops, very heady times for a band still barely in their 20’s. We bought tickets from Bergs Records (and Bicycle) shop which were very cool looking; we sat on the floor and had a fantastic time. The setlist was heavily drawn from Fire and Water and Highway which was released in December of that year: Ride on Pony, the Stealer, Be My Friend, Mr Big, All Right Now, Don’t say You Love me, Fire and Water, I’m a Mover, Walk in my Shadow, Songs Of Yesterday, closing, of course, with The Hunter. If you ask any Free fan from the time I am pretty sure they say that Mr Big and The Hunter were their favourite songs and to this day I still get goose pimples when I hear the opening chords of the live version of The Hunter. Fast forward to the Sunderland Empire in 1971 and Free appeared supported by Amazing Blondel. I think I can remember local famed promoter Geoff Docherty introducing Free. I have in my head Geoff coming out and saying “he couldn’t ask them to play anymore as they were knackered”.”

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mitch on December 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    As this appears to be one of your most popular blogs Peter I hope you don’t mind if I add a few comments to it as I was at a couple of the concerts mentioned.

    I was at the Free/Deep Purple show at Sunderland Top Rank 16/10/70
    sitting cross legged on the floor about ten feet away from the stage – there were no barriers or security people in front of you in those days! Free were incredibly good. I particularly remember Kossoff leaning backwards against the speaker stacks with mouth wide open during various guitar solos – fantastic to see.

    Their set list at this concert was –
    Ride On Pony, Mr.Big, Fire And Water, Oh I Wept, The Stealer, Be My Friend, Woman, All Right Now, Don’t Say You Love Me, Songs Of Yesterday, I’m A Mover.
    Encore: The Hunter.

    I saw Free again only four months later at Sunderland Empire (14/2/71). I remember support act Amazing Blondel told rude stories between their songs which went down particularly well.
    This was one of the best concerts I have been to. Free were sensational.

    Set list was – The Stealer, Be My Friend, Ride On Pony, Don’t Say You Love Me, I’m A Mover, All Right Now, Heavy Load, My Brother Jake, The Highway Song, Soon I Will Be Gone, Fire And Water, Mr.Big.
    Encore: The Hunter.

    The story mentioned in your blog about them being ‘knackered’ relates to the Sunderland Locarno gig 6/2/70 where the concert (or parts of it) was recorded for the Free Live album.

    A recording exists when after the second encore (a brilliant version of Crossroads) and with the audience going crazy Geoff Docherty steps up to the microphone and says –
    “Right that’s it, that’s it……..that’s definitely it. I couldn’t ask them to do any more. They really didn’t want to come out the second time as they’re really exhausted……so that’s it. I hope you enjoyed it and obviously you did. (big crowd cheer).
    If I can just tell you something…..if I can just tell you who is on next week…….that’s if you’re interested like?
    Anyway……it’s Blodwyn Pig.

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on December 18, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      Many thanks…Fascinating stuff Mitch and great memories of some great days. Sadly I missed those gigs as I was just getting into concert going at the time. Concerts seemed so special when we were younger, I hope today’s kids get the same buzz out of gigs these days….thanks again Peter

      Reply

  2. Posted by Graham F. on April 5, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Hi God I’m nearly 60 now but I recall being at the city hall Newcastle to see them and I am sure it was cancelled due to Koss being not well half way through the set.
    They could only continue without him for a few more songs with andy fraser on keyboards and then it was all over.
    They did a repeat concert due to this I’m sure, I was there and they blew the place apart. I would appreciate any verification of this as I remember it like yesterday.

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on April 5, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Hi Graham
      My memories are much more vague, but Yes I also recall being at a concert which was cut short and that they returned a few weeks later.
      Cheers Peter

      Reply

      • Posted by Graham F. on April 5, 2015 at 10:08 am

        Thanks for that Peter, I remember poor Paul Kossoff looking not too good. Couldn’t string a few chords together, looked unsteady on his feet. They tried to carry on but there was only so much they could do without him.
        I knew there was a problem as I was only a few feet from the front.
        I am sure the free concert no pun intended was for this short concert and I vividly remember Rogers heaving the Mike stand over the amps at the end of this gig!
        God they were so brilliant and exciting for young guys We will probably never see their like again now that 2 have passed away, so sad.

      • Posted by vintagerock on April 5, 2015 at 10:09 am

        Great days, great bands and great memories Graham Cheers Peter

    • Posted by Clive Atkinson on June 10, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Spot on Graham, I was at both gigs. Koss was off his face at the first one but the second he was on fire. At the first one Rogers worked his socks off to keep things going , Toby looked like he was seriously constipated. Second gig was probably the best I’ve ever seen them

      Reply

      • Posted by vintagerock on June 10, 2015 at 4:48 pm

        Happy days Best wishes Peter

      • Posted by Graham. on December 9, 2015 at 9:02 pm

        Thanks for that Clive. You pretty much confirm my recollection. Just remember poor old Paul looking if he didn’t know if he was in York or Cork!
        Mind you, I do remember coming back not long after that and they blew
        The place apart. Happy days then. Used to travel up from Darlington
        on many occasions to the city hall and the Mayfair. Used to get a train
        back at all hours. No chance of that nowadays, bloody trains stop at 10 ish!
        Thanks for the response. Anyone who can shine any light on this gig, I would
        Certainly like to hear some more as I feel some of my brain cells seem to
        Have gone tattys over the years.

  3. Posted by Graham on December 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    I seem to remember they were to play two night. The first of the initial two nights had to be cut short because of a planned power cut due to the miners strike but news got around that they were to take the stage early and they were excellent and performed pretty much a full set before the 9pm black out. I can’t remember the exact details but was then at the night when Kossoff “wasn’t well”. I don’t think they rearranged that night as I remember getting a refund but wasn’t too disappointed as I saw them twice for nothing!

    Reply

  4. Posted by jon pallot on June 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

    ah yes, what fantastic times. we used to regularly organise coach trip from Bede Hall to Newcastle to see these incredible bands. Also have a lot of good, but vaque memories of great bands at Middlesboro town hall, including of course Free.
    Im glad you remember Stray – I agree they were great live and i still play saturday morning picures. The other great live band from the time that stands out for me was mott the hoople – although their early albums never really lived up to their live performances. Long Live Rock

    Reply

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