I first encountered Andy Fairweather Low when I was ten, watching top of the pops, and singing along to “If Paradise is Half as Nice”. Forty seven years later I managed to see him live for the first time.
AFL broke at the apogee of pop, the late sixties, when the cultural winds coalesced to create the perfect storm of musical talent. Music is no better, or worse, than it was then, the landscape within which it operates now though is unrecognisable.
Pop music was focussed on three things. Radio 1 , Top of the Pops, and live venues at affordable prices. Radio 1 was listened to by every teenager, the bastard love child of pirate radio and radio Luxembourg who had latched onto the emerging phenomena as interest and ratings for pop music exploded. The Light station was never going to be enough. The Sunday countdown to discover the new number one was nothing short of essential listening, with a microphone from your reel to reel tape player, or later your cassette, placed next to the radio so you could record it.
Top of the Pops was watched weekly by all teenagers , once again it was essential viewing, and the only topic of conversation on the way to school on the Friday morning. What records you bought on Saturday morning at your local Boots or Harlequin were determined by what you heard on the Radio 1 playlist or who had appeared on Top of the Pops. Combine that with basic four track, then eight track recording facilities for musicians which needed simple songs, and you had a discipline and framework which all artists need. Leap over to America where commercial radio ruled, and the demand was for three minute songs, and the alchemy was complete for a new form that in the late sixties was barely ten years old, replete with potential and possibility.
AFL with Amen Corner was a perfect fit for the era. His songs’ melodies were catchy, the lyrics wry and memorable, and his good looks and long hair made him adored by the girls. His big hit, which endures to this day, was “If Paradise is Half as Nice”. Using the bold device of starting with the chorus, it captures a simple idea and musical motif and bleeds it dry, wrenching everything out .Of course he played it tonight, and finished with it, still with brass, but with an elegiac tinge to it – we are all a little closer to paradise than we were 48 years ago!
Looking fit and dapper, but with less hair, Andy was keen to impress that the night was about the band, the Low Riders, with which he was merely the singer. The Low Riders’ credentials are impressive. Paul Beavis on drums, Dave Bronze, bass and vocals, and Nick Pentelow on Sax have played with a panoramic pantheon of rock, pop and blues artistes, Andy himself regularly rubbing shoulders with Clapton, Roger Waters, Daltrey and Dylan. And what struck me immediately was that they were playing because they like it, and wanted to share their music, not because they needed another payday ( which I suspect was modest).
Of course things have moved on since when I saw my first gig 39 years ago. At the interval Jane and I settled for a tea, rather than four pints, and the rush towards the stage as the set drew to a close was not one of crazed fans seeking to fling themselves onstage, just of those needing the toilet.
The set list was accessible, impossibly eclectic, embracing many diverse styles and genres, and a delight. Of course we enjoyed all the Amen Corner hits, faithfully played, not carelessly thrown away . “Wide Eyed” was delivered hymn like, reflective, as though a grandfather was recounting his misspent youth, with a smile. A surprise inclusion “because we can” was Dave Barber’s “Petite Fleur” from 1959 which showcased Pentelow’s sublime woodwind talents. A playful romp towards the end of standards like Route 66 and Apache was lapped up by an adoring, appreciative audience.
A wonderful show, majestically played which combined musicianship of the highest order with heart and humility. What a night!