By late 1972 Free were falling apart. Andy Fraser had left to be replaced by Tetsu and Rabbit, and in a few short months the band would be no more. This was a result of internal friction particularly between Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers, and because of Paul Kossoff’s health problems. Kossoff was replaced by a session musician on some of the tracks of their final album, Heartbreaker and on a tour of the USA his place was taken by the guitarist from Osibisa, which marked the end for the band. Free returned to play in Sunderland only a few months since their last gig in the town. I have a programme from that time which doesn’t actually list the Sunderland gig, but it does mention local gigs at Newcastle Mayfair, Durham University and Redcar Jazz Club. However, I’m certain that I bought it at a gig in Sunderland Locarno, which was presumably added as an extra date after the programme was printed. By this time Wishing Well had been released as a single and some of the new tracks from Heartbreaker will have featured in the set. My memories of this Free gig are much hazier than those of the gigs I saw earlier that year, which suggests to me that it didn’t reach the same heights, both in terms of performance and audience reaction. I don’t remember the place being packed. The programme lists support as caming from Smith Perkins and Smith, who were an American soft rock / country band. The next time I was to see Paul Kossoff and Andy Fraser it was as part of their own individual bands, and in the case of Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke as members of Bad Company.
Archive for the ‘Free’ Category
I next saw Free at Sunderland Top Rank (or the Rink as we knew it at the time). Support came from Vinegar Joe featuring Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer, who I had seen the previous year in the band Dada. I went along with a few mates from school, and we arrived early sitting cross legged on the dance floor; as you did in those days. Vinegar Joe were a great live band; Elkie was very much the raucous rock chick singer, with swirling gypsy skirts, and quite a raunchy stage act. Her vocals were complimented by Robert Palmer’s more soulful approach. I saw Vinegar Joe quite a few times around that period; they were very popular, but didn’t achieve anything like the great success that Elkie and Robert went on to in their own right. The place went crazy for Free. I recall being crushed near the front of the stage, and concentrating on watching Paul Rodgers and Paul Kossoff. These guys seemed so much older than me, but they were actually pretty young at the time. Paul Rodgers was an incredible front man; lots of throwing the mike stand around, and a great vocal performance. Kossoff would really wring the notes out of his Les Paul. He has influenced so many people, including Joe Bonamassa who owns one of Kossoff’s original guitars. The setlist is likely to have included Little Bit of Love (which was a single at the time), My Brother Jake, Travellin Man, Ride on Pony, Be My Friend, Fire and Water, Songs of Yesterday, Mr Big, All Right Now,and The Hunter as the encore. A great gig. Thanks to John for sharing his memories of the gig with me, and for reminding me of some of the songs for the setlist.
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”.”