Quireboys singer Spike is on a mission to bring the work of one of his big influences, gravel voiced Scottish singer Frankie Miller, to a wider audience, much in the same way that Joe Elliott has championed Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople. It is only a shame that since his brain haemorrhage over 20 years ago Frankie has been unable to return to making music.
Having recorded an album of his unreleased songs (‘100% pure Frankie Miller’) he assembled an all star band, including the Free rhythm section of Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser. The latter was also a former songwriting partner of Frankie, but things threatened to be derailed by his sad death earlier this year.
However their first gigs went ahead and indeed became something of a tribute to Free too. Indeed the band name ‘Free House’ was the best triple pun I have heard in ages, playing in the affable Geordie’s love of a drink, the band’s name and the Frankie Miller album ‘Full House’.
Given the quality of the artists involved I was surprised to arrive at the Borderline to find it relatively empty, although it filled up dramatically in the moments before they were due on stage, possibly through people emulating Spike by staying in the pubs and bars to the last possible moment.
Having accessorised his usual stage gear with a polka dot scarf straight out of Frankie’s wardrobe, Spike kicked off with his vintage hit single ‘Be Good To Yourself’ and it was appropriate to see Luke Morley laying down the riff, not only as Thunder had covered it at last year’s Brooklyn Bowl show, but you might argue the original set the template for much of their work.
However I was shocked at quite how faint and croaky Spike’s voice was with the words simply struggling to come out, and the same was true for the Free classic ‘Wishing Well’, compensated for by Luke again excelling himself and a youthful Simon a pleasure to watch with his tight economical style with the odd fill and flourish.
Yet between songs there was nothing wrong with Spike’s voice. He did improve as the set wore on but his always raspy voice has gone beyond a healthy level of huskiness.
The majority of the set was drawn from 100% Frankie, and a skilled band did justice to a rootsy set of songs, rocky but with one foot in blues, country and R&B influences. ‘Bottle of Whiskey’ had already been covered live by the Quireboys and lyrically is a perfect song for Spike, complemented by some slow slide guitar playing.
Numbers such as ‘Fortune’ (sadly without Bonnie Tyler who duetted on the original) and ‘Cold Cold World’ had a country rock feel , whereas ‘Intensive Care’ had a Stonesy raunch. These were interspersed with some Free classics including ‘My Brother Jake’ which was a pleasant surprise and ‘Mr Big’ with some great jamming and Quireboys bassist Nick Mailing doing Andy Fraser’s bass legacy proud.
It was also marvellous to see Magnum’s Mark Stanway showing off his keyboard skills in a different musical environment to that which I has seen him countless times- his piano blended well with Luke’s guitar on the Faces-esque ‘Cheap Hotel’ while as the band jammed to ‘The Hunter’ the two combined once again as the guitar solo segued into some wicked organ playing.
By the time of ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ I was really appreciating the craft that was going into the new songs so was disappointed when Spike said they had run out of time and closed with a cabaret version of one of the most over played songs of all time in ‘All Right Now’. To be fair it did get a rather ‘mature’ crowd going and Simon’s presence did lend some authenticity.
After calling for a drink from the bar, Spike led the crowd through Frankie’s biggest hit ‘Darlin’, though while admirable in sentiment it was a rather ragged version.
Despite a slightly short hour and a quarter set and my reservations over his singing, Spike and his first class acolytes delivered a great set drawn from two great back catalogues but accompanied by songs that stood up in their own right. The good news was they left promising to do more shows in the winter.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by John Mills
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