By Jeremy Miles
Back in the sixties Andy Fairweather Low was a bone-fide chart-busting pop star. He played Top of the Pops with Amen Corner and his face was on the bedroom walls of thousands of teenage girls.
By the seventies this likeable Welsh singer and guitarist enjoyed a critically acclaimed but all too brief solo career. Blasted out of business by punk rock, he became a hired hand for some of the best in the business.
Which is why for the past quarter-of-a century the self-confessed “quiet man of rock” has been making other people’s music.
Now, after decades travelling the world as a member of Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and Bill Wyman’s touring bands, he is back on the road in his own right.
Leading a superbly tight four piece outfit, he has kissed goodbye to limousines, five star hotels and concerts in stadiums and arenas.
As he approaches his sixtieth birthday he is getting back to basics, driving himself to gigs at small theatres and clubs across the country.
He gave it a whirl last year and was so excited by the reaction that he says: “After 40 years I’m doing exactly what I always wanted to do, playing my music to people who want to hear it.”
This weekend finds Andy playing two show in deepest Dorset - the Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne, on Friday and the Barrelhouse Blues Club in Sturminster Newton on Saturday.
“It’s great,” he told me. “After so many years of playing in all these big, big bands with three guitar players, two keyboard players, horn sections, girl singers, entire orchestras. I’m really enjoying playing with a small unit.”
With Andy on guitar and vocals, his Eric Clapton band colleague Dave Bronze on bass, Dorset born sessionman Paul Beavis on drums and Richared Dunn, a man who has played with everyone from Van Morrison to Johnny Cash, on Hammond organ, it is quite a line-up.
“My role in all the jobs I’ve had with other people is to play specific parts,” says Andy. “Now I get to play and sing whatever I - and it’s very important that word I - whatever I want.”
He admits there has been a fairly drastic change in his on-the-road lifestyle but says he has no regrets about swapping a globe-trotting gig schedule for shows that are often within driving distance of home.
“When I was touring with Eric or Roger I got paid well, I ate well, I slept well and travelled well. Now, standing at the front of the stage each night, I don’t sleep too well and there are elements of worry about selling tickets, how the throat is going to be and whether we can find our way to the Travel Lodge, but you know at the same time it’s very, very rewarding.”
Where once there was a team of tour managers there’s now sheet of dates and the sat-nav on the dashboard. As for the hotels he says simply: “I’ve stayed in some very classy places in my time but I don’t care how good a hotel is, I don’t care how good the menu is, there’s only one place you want to be when you’ve been on the road for six months. The fact is I want to spend more time with my grandson.”
The current 35 date tour which includes a performance at Glastonbury, is accompanied by the release, on June 2, of The Very Best Of Andy Fairweather Low – The Low Rider, a CD that surveys his entire career.
It features 14 of his best known tracks, mixing re-recorded versions of his biggest hits with some of the most popular live numbers that he plays on tour.
It has been an extraordinary career for the boy from Cardiff who first found fame with numbers like Bend Me Shape Me, Hello Susie, (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice and of course the amazing Gin House Blues.
His solo career spawned favorites like Wide Eyed and Legless, Spider Jiving and La Booga Rooga while his session work included not only long running employment with Clapton, Waters and Wyman’s bands but stints with everyone from Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix to The Who, George Harrison and BB King.
Throughout it all he stuck to what he knew and now in a high-tech world awash with gadgets and gimmics he seems both surprised and grateful that his old-fashioned skills are still considered cutting edge.
“I play an amp and a valve and I have a lead that goes into a guitar and that’s it. I never bought into the tricks. God knows how I’ve survived in a world where equipment has changed so much but somehow I have.”
*Andy Fairweather Low and his and band play The Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne, on Friday (May 30) and The Barrelhouse Blues Club at the Exchange, Sturminster Newton on Saturday (May 31).