Paul Rodgers treated us to a Free-heavy set at the Venue in Chichester last year; the audience responded accordingly on a night to remember.
“It was great,” Paul recalls. “I really enjoyed it. It was fantastic. Pete and his guys (in the Deborah Bonham Band) just really rehearsed it. They had all the material down, and the audience just gave it such a beautiful warm atmosphere.
“It really took my breath away, the love for Free that is still out there”, Paul said from Canada where he now lives.
“When I do my solo shows, I tend to play a medley from all the bands that I have played with, plus new songs. But I just thought that the guys in the band are such Free fans, that Free was the music to play.”” On the back of the response, he’s now doing it all again. Chichester will be Paul’s only UK gig this year, once again at the Venue, this time on Thursday, May 31.
Joining Paul on the bill will be Deborah Bonham, organiser of the night which is a fund-raiser for her Racehorse Sanctuary and Rehoming Centre, which operates from Bridgehill Farm, Thakeham Road, Coolham (www.racehorsesanctuary.org).
For Paul, on the night, those Free tracks took him back to being 18 again, he laughs.
“I was in a band from when I was 13 or 14. I remember being in a school band, and we earned enough to have a Bedford dormobile. We were all very organised. That was down to our then manager. He taught us that although music is a very free approach to life, you have got to be organised to do it. If you are going to tour, there is so much detail to put everyone on stage properly. You’’ve got four or five people in the band living in different areas and you’’ve got to get them to the show at the same time. Everything has to co-ordinate.””
You also have to learn. In the very early days, as a fledgling band, Paul toured with The Who and The Small Faces: “It was an incredible bill. We did pretty much every theatre in England, and that was a great experience. We were back stage and saw The Small Faces warming up. You could see them getting ready and focusing on their stagecraft. You see the relationship between them and then with their fans.
“Stagecraft is something that is very important to learn, but just to get beyond it so that you don’t have to think about it. You are there to deliver a great show and take people on a musical journey That means big impact to start with, go out with a bang and offer plenty of subtleties in between.
“Everyone has got to come away thinking ‘’Wow, do you know what I have just seen!’”
Part of the fascination for Paul is that Free songs come from a different age: “”When Free distingetratged, Mick Ralphs and I wrote a completely different catalogue for Bad Company. We didn’t do All Right Now. It was not that I thought I never wanted to do it again. We were just doing other things. I didn’t do All Right Now on stage from about 72 to 92.”
Everyone was urging him to do it: “And so I just cracked!”
””Part of the reason for our disintegration as Free was that we went to America and we played stadiums. We were just not ready for it. We were not prepared for the size and the scale in equipment and management. We were trying to manage ourselves and we were overwhelmed. In the States, it was just night after night. Yes, we had done Isle of Wight, but that was a one-off and it was huge for us.
“But in the States it was night after night after night.” It was a different league.”
If Paul wanted more sound, he was used to turning up his own amp - something no longer possible in the big stadiums where your sound was in the hands of a sound guy a hundred yards away monitoring the delivery.
“There were also personal things going on. I came away thinking ‘OK, I am going to get a band together that can handle what happens when we play stadiums around the world.”
Mick and Paul started writing songs together; and then they got the “best manager in the world””, Peter Grant; Bad Company was up and running.
Sadly, his ex-Free bandmate Paul Kossoff wasn’t to live much longer.
“I loved Koss. We all loved Koss.”
It all began when he and Paul seemed to keep bumping into each other. Then Kossoff turned up at a blues club where Paul was playing; Koss joined them to jam, and that was that.
”I just thought we have to form a band. We just had an instant rapport. It was tragic that he died. I don’t think it had to happen. Part of the reason is that Free folded. It left him bereft. At the same time, he got an apartment in the Portobello Road. It was a notorious drugs area. People were knocking on the door saying ‘’Try this, man’.’ It was very sad...”
Paul’s new track With Our Love is downloadable from www.paulrodgers.com, with all proceeds being split between the UK Racehorse Sanctuary and Rehoming Centre and one in New York.
Tickets are limited for Paul’s Chichester gig and available only by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for booking information. Doors and bar open 6-11.30pm, showtime 7-10.30pm. Ticket prices £30 standing and £50 seated.