The return of Andy Fraser was as unexpected as some of the material he played tonight. Yes, he glanced back over his shoulder at some of the best of Free, while guitarist Chris Spedding weighed in with his hit ‘Motorbiking’ and the sultry ‘Louisiana Blues’, but the real star of the show was a young 18 year old called Tobi.
Grammy nominated for Best New Artist at the age of 17, he may not yet have the stage presence to match his soulful voice and contemporary song craft, but he’s on the up escalator. I’m proud to say I’ve never seen programmes like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or the like, but the fact that such a phenomenal talent hasn’t got within whisker of such TV bilge, speaks volumes about the chasm between real heartfelt music such as this and the rubbish on TV that passes for contemporary pop.
But back to the script. Andy Fraser opened with ‘All Right Now’, trading the lyrics for a run down of his band. He looks fighting fit, energetic, and generally pleased to be back and judging from the international make up of the crowd so are his world-wide fans.
His bass playing remains peerless in that unhurried way of his, making everything look so easy as he glues together the different elements of his band including two back up singers. He dipped into his Free back catalogue, but in keeping with his aim of seeking new challenges, those songs are anchors in an ocean of new possibilities dominated by Tobi’s contemporary crossover style. He made a good fist of ‘The Stealer’ with some impeccable bass lines and much later ‘A Little Bit Of Love’. The latter is not really in his range but was well delivered, before he inevitably encored with ‘Mr Big’ and a trademark bass solo.
In between Andy’s career reprise, Tobi plus his two backing singers took the evening into mellifluous soulful vein with the gospel tinged ‘I Will Be Free’, before adding some nuanced phrasing on ‘Its Not Easy’ and best of all he stretched himself with an aching version of John Mayer’s ‘Slow Dancing in A Burning Room’.
And much like Mayer, it’s his ability to explore a musical curve from rock and pop to modern r&b with meaningful songs that offers him such a bright future.
Refreshingly the crowd seemed to appreciate Fraser’s protégé, much in the same way they had earlier listened to the singer-song writing efforts of Malcolm Bruce, he of Sons of Cream fame.
So there you have it, Andy Fraser is back, striking a delicate balance between his illustrious past and his new found future as a record label and production company boss. And in Tobi he’s uncovered a real gem who has the songs and the voice to bring commercial appeal to bear on natural talent.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Adrian Gee
Nigel Foster writes
It may have been hottest night of the year but the ‘coolest’ place to be was the Boom Boom Club to hear a night of wonderfully inspired music from terrifically talented and grounded people.
Forget the Pantomime Dames at Hyde Park, this was where the real action was and what a terrific and diverse night it turned out to be.
Big praise to Malcolm Bruce for his incredibly emotional and stripped back acoustic set, which was mesmerising in terms of his playing and impassioned vocal. It is brave to lay your soul bare up on a stage solo.
And so to the headliners and what a heady mix The Andy Fraser Band is. The man himself is a consummate pro and a cool dude that has seen and done it all but now looks totally relaxed with his craft. Chris Spedding, offers so much more than his world famous hit. He’s a brilliantly understated guitarist who can lay down rocky, bluesy licks and clipped solos in equal measure.
And then the truly prodigious talent that is young Tobi. Outstanding, he’s so good, so confident and yet so at ease. I love the fluidity with which he plays and the fact that he seems to have adopted a less is more approach to the solos. Their playing was instinctive and gelled together brilliantly. Put a couple of terrific sassy backing vocalists and a pounding drummer into the mix and every base is covered.
The set list was brilliantly judged, with a smattering of Free classics including a blistering set opener of ‘All Right Now’ , a pounding encore of ‘Mr Big’ and a stripped raw version of the blues classic The Stealer too.
The two John Mayer covers were truly awesome, Tobi handled the pop sensibility of ‘Neon’ perfectly and then the two head honchos combined brilliantly on the atmospheric ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’.
Spedding took the limelight a couple of times to deliver a low down dirty bit of southern blues boogie and then laid waste to the stage and crowd with a pile-driving version of the classic ‘Motorbikin’!
Tobi is an awesome talent and the main part of the set centred around songs from his debut, EP and upcoming album. The tracks allowed him and the band to demonstrate not only their serious ability but just how superbly they combine together.
There are so many gifted young Blues talents out there abut what sets him apart is that he has a pleasing natural stagecraft and a vocal maturity that still alludes some of his peers.
A brilliant show and praise to Fraser and Spedding for pushing this kid firmly in to the spotlight. The crowd reaction at the end of the show spoke volumes for the quality of what we had witnessed.
UK tour dates
11 July – Railway, Winchester
23 July – Chislehurst, Kent
25 July – Cellars, Portsmouth
26 July – South Devon Arts Centre, Totnes
28 July – The Bull Theatre, Barnet
1 August – Robin 2, Bilston
2 August – Free Convention, Park Hotel, Tynemouth
3 August – Railway, Bolton
4 August – Green Hotel, Kinross
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