My arrival at Melody Maker in the summer of 1970 coincided with ‘All Right Now’ becoming a huge hit and Free breaking big time. I really liked the group and latched on to them quickly, going twice to see them play in their stomping ground, the North East, and interviewing them many times. This had the additional benefit of forming a lifelong friendship with Geoff Doherty, then the area’s top rock promoter, and Island’s PR David Sandison, now sadly with us no more.
My first trip abroad, to Holland, as an MM reporter was also with Free, on an Island Records package tour that also featured Traffic. But here’s my first interview with Free, published by MM in June 1970, a few weeks into the job. I remember going to Paul Rodger’s poky little flat in a big old redbrick block in Clerkenwell to meet him, and we went to a nearby greasy spoon café to do the interview. Tomorrow I’ll report on Freemania in the North East.
For some groups a hit record is the answer to a prayer, recognition after years of work and a reasonably steady income at last.
For others it’s a bit of an embarrassment.
Free, currently at number four in the MM chart with ‘All Right Now’ and rising rapidly, come into the second category. So much so that singer Paul Rodgers is as concerned about a follow-up as the Beatles are about not performing live any more.
“We are not really a single band and never have been,” he told me. “There may be another single and there may not be. I am really surprised at the success of ‘All Right Now’. I don’t see myself as a single singer, but it’s there and people are going to be a lot more interested in buying the album because they will have heard of us.”
The album Paul refers to should be pretty familiar to Free fans who have heard them playing lively gigs over the past 12 months. Many of the tracks are numbers they have featured in concert, including ‘Mr. Big’, ‘Fire And Water’, ‘Heavy Load’, ‘Oh I Wept’, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ and a longer version of ‘All Right Now’ with a heavier solo.
The album, called Fire and Water, comes out today (Friday).
The embarrassment of a hit record spreads to having to do semi-live shows like Top Of The Pops, which the band were obliged to do under protest.
“They asked us to do Top Of The Pops so we did it. None of us wanted to do the show but the management said we had to but we didn’t enjoy it at all, but we did Disco Two and quite enjoyed that.
“There was too much standing around waiting on Top Of The Pops, but there was an easier atmosphere in Disco Two. I felt very inhibited and the rest of the band felt the same because they were just pretending to play their instruments. It wasn’t too bad for me because I was singing. At least you are actually playing instruments on Disco Two.”
Free scored a massive hit with the crowd at the recent Hollywood Festival where they did two encores and this has given them plenty of confidence. At the Isle of Wight last year bad organisation left them just ten minutes playing time, which Paul describes as a “shambles”.
At the moment they are very busy with gigs in this country and tours in the near future planned for Holland and Germany. In September they are off to the States for a month.
“We are writing and playing lots of songs now and we have lots of material put by,” says Paul. “Andy Fraser, the group’s bass guitarist, and I have about forty to fifty songs lying around that we intend getting together. We are trying to sort some things out this week.”
Free were born about two years ago and, apart from Paul and Andy, the group features Paul Kossof on guitar and Simon Kirke on drums. “During the last twelve months, we have been getting a lot of people to come and see us. There just seems to be more and more people each time we play and it’s great,” says Paul.
“We were playing ‘All Right Now’ live before we recorded it as a single for a couple of months. We wanted a song that everybody could clap their hands to and sing so we got our heads together and wrote it.”
For a group who write practically all their own material, the inevitable question of influence crops up. Paul: “You tend to absorb the influence of people you listen to and like. The way they play or sing influences me and there’s quite a lot I could name.
“James Brown, Little Richard and B.B. King are just a few, but I also love Otis Redding, Rod Stewart and the Band, and, of course, the Beatles. I have just heard an album from an American group called Bread and it really was very nice stuff.”