Rock royalty rolled into town on Saturday night when Andy Fairweather Low and the Low Riders gave a concert of such diversity and aplomb that it’s a struggle to find enough superlatives to do it justice. I managed to grab a few minutes with an exhausted but effervescent Andy at the end of the evening and came away with a picture of a man wholly motivated by the sheer joy of what he does.
Andy Fairweather Low has been a significant player on the British music scene for fifty years. He has played with the crowned royal heads of classic rock including George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Joe Satriani, queens of country Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, the first lady of blues Bonnie Raitt and countless other luminaries from Pete Townshend to Sheryl Crow. He toured for two decades with Roger Waters, is a regular still for Clapton and is opening for him in New York in a few weeks’ time.
Accustomed to the roar of stadiums and vast audiences, Andy was keen to impress on me how much he loves the intimacy of small gigs, ‘Arenas are about money, playing venues this size is what it’s all about. In an arena the work is done for you. Here you’re in control as a musician. You’re always aiming for the big gig but it doesn’t make you happy. They’re an event, a spectacle and that’s ok but this is what I like to do. This band is about me as musician and working as a team.’
Although it is the name ‘Andy Fairweather Low’ that has the cache in terms of fame, the Low Riders are an impressive ensemble with immaculate pedigrees. Saxophonist Nick Pentelow played in Wizzard in the early seventies and has worked with the great Gary Moore, Elton John, Nick Lowe and Steve Gibbons. Drummer Paul Beavis has credits for Lisa Stansfield, Thea Gilmour and Toyah Wilcox among others and bassist Dave Bronze has an equally diverse background having worked with Nik Kershaw, Barbara Dickson and The Art of Noise.
In Andy’s words, ‘These guys really can play. They can play anything.’ The Low Riders have been playing together for eight years and have cemented the camaraderie and musicianship essential to a successful band.
From the opening number of the first set, the classic Tequila, the capacity audience in the Roy Kemp suite knew it was in for a rollicking ride. The Low Riders could have shaken the building to its foundations but they didn’t need to.
As the first set built they relied on quality musicianship, interplay and dynamics rather than the force of volume to create a performance of breathtaking sweep and diversity, moving seamlessly between styles from rock to blues to pop and back again.
Fairweather Low moves about the stage with Tiggerish glee, tearing through solos with that distinctive sound that has featured on so many classic recordings of the past five decades. His showmanship is natural and unforced. He is also an accomplished raconteur, telling stories between songs that recount his history and connections as a musician. He manages to be funny, self-deprecating and entertaining and although he name checks a stellar cast list of contemporaries he does not name drop in that fashion that can be cringeworthy. Throughout the evening he acknowledged those who had influenced him from Jimmy Reed to Hank Marvin.
After performing the beautiful Rocky Raccoon from The Beatles’ White Album he joked that the hardest part of getting older was remembering the words to that song. A couple of times he acknowledged his age and longevity saying ‘We remind myself of who I was. I know who I am,’ as if the music he plays anchors his sense of self and his story. His age and experience are there to hear in his voice, still strong and capable and full of character. When we spoke after the show he said he’d had a bit if trouble with the monitors and had over-sung to compensate. ‘You can’t fake the high notes,’ he said, ‘they expect to hear them.’ He clearly wants to give the audience what they came for and is gracious from the stage and afterwards when he comes out to sign CDs and shake the many hands in a long queue. He has time for everyone and it is humbling to watch a man used to international tours, huge venues and the company of rock demi-Gods posing for selfies with starry eyed fans.
If the first set was a tour of styles and influences packed with treasures from the lovely, gentle Travelling Light to the heavy blues of La La Music with its saxophone driven riffs then the second set moved from what was already a high bar to an altogether new level. La Booga Rooga with its funky and syncopated style was an early show stopper, being the second song in but from there it just got better. I was watching a masterclass in performance and thought how so many young performers would benefit from watching a band of this quality and experience. The energy on the stage was palpable and infectious to the audience who were captivated and who roared in appreciation at the close of each song.
The biggest surprise of the second set was Lay My Burden Down/May The Circle Be Unbroken. Performed in true Americana style it was given an added dimension with Nick Pentelow’s clarinet adding a New Orleans jazz layer that was quite unexpected. By the song’s climax it was approaching full on Revival style and came to a stop with a flamenco inspired flourish. The clarinet continued to add magic to the set in When Things Go Wrong a cover of the Ottilie Patterson version of the song. Fairweather Low also worked with Pattersen’s husband, Chris Barber.
The second set built and built as the band entered that state of play when the music is the master and everyone in the room is in thrall. It is thrilling to experience that kind of magical transcendence at a gig and it is what all musicians hope they will achieve. It is the point at which the synergy between the musicians undergo an alchemical process and for a time everyone is in a state of euphoria. Songs that might be cheesy in less accomplished hands such as Bend Me Shake Me became anthems to the hey-day of sixties pop. The spirit of Bill Hayley romped across the stage in If I Ever Get Lucky. The smooth tones of Wide Eyed And Legless contained jazzy and Latinesque romantic nods to give it a sweet charm.
From there the band launched into Gin House which was smoky, dramatic and sexy in places with Nick Pentelow playing in the sultry style of the legendary Ben Webster. The dirty tones of Fairweather Low’s Stratocaster made the song viscerally exciting. The sound built to an explosive finish and then once again acknowledging his influences Fairweather Low launched into a medley of Peter Gunn/Apache/Hide Away. Apache was just gorgeous with the rich chocolaty deep notes resonating deeply around the room.
The final trilogy of the evening started with Route 66 sounding as fresh as if it had been recorded yesterday. He said, ‘my Dad used to buy records. It’s only later that you realise how important they are to you,’ and went into Lonnie Donnegan’s Putting On The Style to which the hall sang along sweetly. The band finished with Half As Nice and left the stage to a room cheering and on its feet.
He did say the band would like to come back to Grimsby and Grimsby will welcome them with open arms when they do. Backstage after the show I expected Andy to be tired out. His supper was waiting for him and I didn’t want to take up to much of his time but he was generous to a fault. I asked him about his previous visits to Grimsby.
‘We came a few years ago with Dennis Loccoriere (formerly with Dr Hook) and The Low Riders played a gig in Cleethorpes last year and there was just one table of about fifteen in. Oh it was difficult, but those fifteen, they had a great time.’
I asked him what it was like to face those kinds of gigs. ‘It’s not what you want, but everyone has them. Doesn’t matter how many people come, you give them the show, but it’s not great.’
I told Andy that I had first seen him in 1983 at the Royal Albert Hall at the Ronnie Lane ARMS (Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis) concert. The bill that night was stellar featuring Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and of course Andy. One or two of those notables arguably ‘phoned in’ their performances that night but Andy stole the show. When I told him that he laughed and batted away the compliment modestly. ‘It was one of those gigs, when Ronnie rang, everyone said yes. Of course he was very ill at the time. The show toured, did nine dates in America. Ronnie did what he could. He was a great songwriter. His songs remind me of George (Harrison). He was beaten by that you know, the MS.’
I leave him to his supper and the tedious business of the get out. He strikes me as the kind of musician who still loads his own gear into the van at the end of the night, part of a generation of musicians who refuse to fade away and whose music is still being discovered afresh by young people today.
What a legacy, and what a gift.
This review appears in The Peoples Issue 32 Web Edition.