Dave Woodhall talks to Andy Fraser, bass player with Free and inadvertent seller of blockbuster films.
Andy Fraser first came to prominence as bass player with seminal blues rock band Free, with whom he wrote the classic All Right Now. Since then he’s had a mixed career, writing songs that have been recorded by many top names, including Robert Palmer’s Every Kinda People. Now resident in California, he owns the McTrax record label and is currently touring the UK with a band that features veteran guitarist Chris Spedding and a new talent, Andy’s 18 year old protégé Tobi.
“It’s incredible. It’s great to be on the road again. The whole mission of the tour is to showcase Tobi and we thought intimate venues would be a much better start than dropping him at the deep end. It’s working out great, just what he needed and a good way of introducing him to people who ought to know he’s the next big thing.”
Andy was diagnosed with HIV twenty years ago, which must make touring even harder work.
“No, it’s much easier than I thought it would be. I thought it was great when I was a teenager, staring at the window toking away, and I thought I did all the travelling I needed to do back then, but I’m finding it surprisingly fun. Apart from the security at the airports it’s all very cool.”
What are your shows like? There must be a few songs you ‘have’ to play.
“Well, I know that I would be in physical peril if I left the stage without playing some of the old favourites. There’s a bit of Free, a lot of Tobi, Chris Spedding will also be playing some of his songs. Chris complements Tobi so well, from the first chord you can tell that he’s still got it. It’s an all-round show. I believe that you can learn from the past, live for the present and look to the future and Tobi is definitely the future.”
You’re obviously taken by his talent. How did you find him?
“My keyboard player Nick Judd’s wife is involved in the Earnshaw theatre school and they encourage all sorts of young artists. They’ve had quite a few go through there such as Amy Winehouse. Nick’s wife Jane sent me some songs from Tobi and it snowballed from there. Tobi came over with his dad, who’s the school’s headmaster and in three weeks he recorded his first album, Spirit in Me. Then he went back to school and left me to finish the album, two days after he passed his GCSEs he flew back out for a three months tour of the States, and he’s been flying ever since.
“He’s well grounded and seems to be holding down his end very well. McTrax is delighted that for our first signing we’ve got what seems to be a definite winner.”
If you’re involved with a young guitarist rooted in the blues he’s naturally going to invite comparisons with the tragic figure of Free’s Paul Kossoff.
“Actually there are more comparisons with John Maher, Hendrix, Clapton and Gary Moore. That’s the kind of guitarist he is but I’ve not heard anyone say more than that. We play a few Free songs and no-one compares him in that sort of way except to say how well he can play, especially because there’s so much of his own material they see him in his own right. He can play Kossoff songs too, without breaking sweat, so there isn’t really any tough comparisons that people make at all.”
You’ll be performing at a Free convention in the north-east during this tour.
“It takes place every year and I’ve accepted the invitation this time. I’m taking along Tobi and I’m going to play a few songs with a tribute band as well so it’ll make it a fun affair. The north-east was where Free broke out early and maybe with Paul Rodgers coming from the north they felt he was one of their own, so that helped too.”
Which leads onto the obvious question. Is there any chance of the surviving members of Free getting back together, or of you playing with Paul at all?
“Last year we nearly opened in the Olympics. That was the only time all three of us agreed to put aside our differences for a worthy cause. In the end it all fell apart but truly, the only thing Paul and I agree on these days is that we’re on different pages. There’s nothing right or wrong about it, that’s just the way it is. We’ve always been polar opposites as personalities, and we found some common ground which was hard enough as a gay boy and a northern street fighter who needs to shave his back twice a day.
“In the beginning we learned from each other and helped each other finish our ideas until we got to the point where we’d have half an album that was mine and half was Paul’s. Now we actually enjoy what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and I don’t think there’s any room. For example, Paul is managed by his wife and one day they called and asked if we could meet up. It felt like she wanted to interview me to see if I would fit into her world and it was all a bit too Spinal Tap. He’s quite happy to keep hiring bass players to do what he wants and not give him any mouth and that definitely ain’t me.
“And I never expected how my life has turned out. I never expected to be running a label, finding fresh talent, have a movie department – our first movie comes out next year called Tears of a Mermaid – you can see the trailer at tearsofamermaid.com. I need 36 hours in a day and I don’t think I can be one of Paul and Cynthia’s side guys and tread carefully on egg shells like others have to.”
Finally, you must always be asked this but when you hear All Right Now, do you feel like screaming, or is it something of which you are still proud?
“You know, we fought against its release. We thought it was just a throwaway and we wanted something more weighty but we lost that argument to Chris Blackwell at Island and he turned out to be right. But whenever I hear it, it still sounds like a three chord trick, a bit of a demo so my head hasn’t grown too big. It still doesn’t sound like Beethoven yet.
“It’s still very popular with advertisers and movie people. I can be asked for it to be used in a movie trailer; they’ve spent $140 million on the movie, another fifty on the advertising and they’re still desperate because they don’t have that final attention getter. I’ll say yes to tens of thousands of dollars and they’ll use a couple of seconds to grab your attention to watch their trailer, and it will be on TV the day after I give my permission. That’s the kind of desperation they’re in and what can I say but thank you very much?
“It’s turned out be one of those songs that won’t die. Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, One Love by Bob Marley, that sort of song. I’m very lucky.”
Andy Fraser plays the Robin 2 on Thursday.