At Last – I’m All Right Now…..
By Andy Fawthrop
I’d been waiting for this gig for quite a while. Bearing in mind my general antipathy towards “tribute” bands, I was feeling both excited and apprehensive. Being of, let’s say, “a certain age”, Free (and later Bad Company) had been my go-to rock bands whilst I was still learning how to grow facial hair, and what girls were for. Just hoping they weren’t going to spoil my memories….
The late Paul Kossoff, erstwhile guitar genius behind that 60s/ 70s band Free, was the inspiration behind tonight’s particular line-up. It’s now over forty years since Koss, one of Britain’s finest guitarists tragically passed away at the tender age of only 25 in 1976. The break-up of Free had been, in part, due to Paul’s ongoing battle with drugs. Only when Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke had gone off to the US to form the highly-successful Bad Company, did Paul come to his senses enough to form his short-lived band Back Street Crawler.
Terry Slesser – the voice of that critically acclaimed band, and a close friend of Koss, is now keeping alive the memory and the music of one of the greatest British Blues guitarists. Sless chose the guitarist John Buckton, of whom Simon Kirke said “If Free were to reform, John would be my first choice as guitarist ” to play this series of special dates reviving for the first time since the 70s the catalogue of Back Street Crawler songs, as well as favourite Free numbers.
And a packed Long Street Blues Club was very much the beneficiary. The night was opened with great local support act Jamie R Hawkins (sounding superb with such a great sound system at his disposal, and doing his third gig of the day!). Then two fabulous sets from the main band.
The big advantage here was that Sless was actually a friend of Koss, and played with him back in the day, so the sets were liberally interspersed with genuine stories and anecdotes. This immediately lifted us out of the “tribute band” category, and into the realm of genuine homage. The focus was very much on early, rather than late, Free material. Whilst there was certainly time and space for such later classics as All Right Now (how could there not be??), Wishing Well and My Brother Jake, the emphasis was very much on the earlier more bluesy material with which Free originally gained their massive following. It was a real treat to hear I’m A Mover, Woman, Songs of Yesterday, I’ll Be Creeping and the stunning encore (as Free themselves used to do) of The Hunter.
All of this delivered with confidence and panache. But no room for anything over-polished – it was all down and dirty, reproducing that thick, squidgy bass sound, wandering round every number like a prowling wild-cat, superb screaming guitar solos and some spot-on vocals – a fruity, solid noise. Could have been in the room and all that. Nostalgia certainly – been good if Sless hadn’t kept mentioning “50 years ago” thanks very much! – but this material stood up to the test of time with some ease. Somehow the band managed to reproduce the sound of Free and Back Street Crawler with some accuracy, whilst still delivering it all in a fresh and full-on way.
It goes without saying that they brought the house down. Ian Hopkins mentioned in his introduction that the band had been one of the more expensive he’d managed to bring to Devizes, but from this punter anyway it was a solid thumbs-up – definitely worth it! Off home happy and heading for the Free CDs on the shelf!
Another great night at Long Street Blues Club and looking forward to the next season already.
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