By Jeremy Miles
For decades he's been session man of choice for the giants of rock. Andy Fairweather Low has played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix to The Who, but now he's turned his back on mega-stadiums to take it all back to basics.
Earlier this month he hit the road with his own band, playing dates across the UK at the kind of tiny clubs and theatres he hasn't seen in years.
"I wanted to feel I was really connecting with the audiences again," he told me. "It's great playing huge stadiums but at the end of the day if I'm doing say a Roger Waters show, it's so big, such a lavish production that it's really more like theatre than a rock show."
Needless to say the touring outfit features a stellar line-up, with the 59-year-old singer guitarist joined on stage by his old Eric Clapton band chums Chris Stainton on keyboards and Dave Bronze on bass. The final piece in the jigsaw is Dorset's own super-session man Paul Beavis on drums.
Fairweather Low calls them "The band that money couldn't buy," adding: "If you ain't got friends you're nowhere." With friends like this he has no worries. Together they make-up a brilliant performing unit. Tight and intuitive, they slip with ease from blues to soul to gospel to funk to pure sixties pop.
The playing is disciplined but inspirationally inventive. In short the tour offers a chance to see some of the best in the business delivering great music in wonderfully intimate settings.
On Friday they played a superb set at the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne, a home-town gig for the warmly welcomed Beavis. It was curious to see these people who, between them have toured the world with Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen, been Clapton's backline for years, played sessions with Dylan, George Harrison, Bill Wyman, BB King. the list goes on and on, asking the audience to lob money in a bucket on the way out to help pay for the Tivoli's new curtains.
But that of course is what it's all about. Remembering where they came from and getting back to what's really real. This is why, along with material from his latest album Sweet Soulful Music (his first in 26 years) Fairweather Low not only played soul and blues favourites but hits from his earliest days with the Cardiff pop band Amen Corner including (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice and Hello Suzie. Happily this excursion into rampant teenybopperism was mitigated by the sublime choice the band made for their very first single way back in 1967 - Gin House Blues.
There were other sure-fire favourites from the back-catalogue too including La Booga Rooga and Wide Eyed and Legless but the very best material, for me at least, was when the band tipped a hat in the direction of Muddy Waters or Leadbelly or revisited their leader's Welsh chapel-going roots.
While this may have proved that the Devil doesn't have the monopoly on all the good tunes, Fairweather Low made it clear where he stands on the church front.
"I loved the music but the other stuff I'm still working on. So if I disappear in a puff of smoke..."
If there is a God he must have been smiling for The Tivoli show was a cheerily good-natured occasion with the ever amiable frontman enjoying much merry banter with an audience that included a least one other musical legend - John Rabbit' Bundrick who had made the journey from his Somerset home to check out his old mates.
Rabbit - whose connections with Fairweather Low date right back to the Amen Corner days - may well turn up at the band's second Dorset appearance this Saturday (October 27) when they play the Barrelhouse Blues Club at Sturminster Newton.
This tour is clearly proving something of a re-learning curve' for Fairweather Low and the boys who, deprived of such luxuries as guitar technicians and "someone to tell us what to do", are having a whale of a time.
Being removed from the cut and thrust of real life for so long does have it's disadvantages.
Having successfully announced the address of his official website from the Tivoli stage, Fairweather Low heaved an audible sigh of relief explaining that computer technology remains something of a mystery to him.
"I'm only just becoming comfortable with the concept of batteries," he wailed.
Who cares? Plug him in and let him go. This boy may be nudging 60 but he's still the business.