“We considered ourselves a live band that did records every now and then” Andy Fraser. “We really tore up the place, but we were around for less than three years. By the time Fire and Water came along we were really rocking, we were one of the best bands in the land”. Simon Kirke.
Free was a ridiculously short lived project started by Paul Rodgers and Paul Kossoff in 1968, which rose to the heights of a number 2 single in the UK and number 4 in the US with All Right Now, and then rapidly imploded, culminating later in the sad death of Kossoff on a flight to America in 1976, age 26, of a pulmonary embolism related to a serious drug habit. There’s limited high quality film of them around, some of which was apparently filmed at the Isle of Wight festival by the roadie’s dog, such is the random nature of the camerawork (https://youtu.be/YxLZq1cXdBc). The Granada TV film here caught them at their absolute best in 1970. Pity about the sedately seated and slightly glum audience, but that was the way it was – people just listened!
Free had an extraordinary live chemistry, and like other great bands of the time, it could only have ever worked with those four people. They were all teenagers at the start (Fraser only 15), and they didn’t drink before gigs. Each of them was a gifted musician, but none of their solo projects reached the heights of that brief window. Simon Kirke delivered a solid foundation from what today seems a startlingly minimal drumkit. Maybe he had a small car. See 22.30 onwards in the video for how he drives the whole thing. Fraser’s bass was just astonishing at his age, but he had come from a brief stint with John Mayall, which was a guarantee of quality in the 60s – check Songs of Yesterday at 10.40 – the spaces are as important as the notes. And the bass doesn’t come in at all until the first chorus of All Right Now. Koss, what a guitarist, well known for making so much of one note when ten would be the norm for his contemporaries. The facial expressions say it all about how he just felt the music; such a sad thing, he had so much invested in the band that the breakup sent him into a tailspin from which he never recovered. The last two albums were the product of a reunion which was solely to try and help him. I saw him play an encore with John Martyn in 1975, but he was a shadow by then. Mr Big was the showcase for an extraordinary extended solo, back to the amp, physically absorbing his own sounds, the bass notes bouncing around over the top (6.50).
Paul Rodgers is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock vocalists – he apparently had perfect pitch – live recordings never had to rely on overdubs because there were literally no bum notes. But so much blues and soul is contained in the phrasing, and boy could he wrestle a mike stand. He’s recently been Queen’s vocalist. The slightly quicker version of All Right Now here, for me, surpasses the single version, their finest moment, one of the finest pieces of rock video still out there – even the audience showed a flicker of passion! 15000 views? Pathetic. Play loud.