Book Review: DECADES – Free and Bad Company in the 1970s by John Van der Kiste

Sonicbond Publishing (Publication Date 29.04.22)

The latest in the Decades series, that delves in detail into the most productive phase of a band’s career, is one with a difference.  It spans the activity of two separate bands,  Free and Bad Company, albeit with a 50% overlap of membership in peerless singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke.

In fact a further liberty is taken with the literal brief as Free’s whole career from their formation in 1968 is dealt with in the same detail. Veteran author John Van de Kiste- whose account of Free’s labelmates Mott the Hoople  in this series only appeared earlier this year – charts their musical evolution on each album, with their blues roots largely left behind after their first album as they pursued a broader palette of sounds.

 The criticism, which may be with the format of these books as much as the writer, is they are long on chronological descriptions but short on analysis. As well as an occasionally clunky writing style, he fails to really draw out why it was that the differing personalities of the band members proved destructive, or why a band that seemed to have it all before them- the  now overplayed ‘All Right Now’ seeing them briefly dubbed as successors to the Stones- fell apart so quickly not once but twice in their short life.

The tragic figure in the saga is Paul Kossoff, so talented yet plainly unable to function with his addictions, and the author does make the interesting point that rehabilitation was in its infancy in those days and he was dusted down and put on the road with no concern for his welfare.

Though doomed efforts to keep him in the spotlight such as Backstreet Crawler are covered in full, the second half of the book moves onto Bad Company. Both the characters involved and the musical approach tell a more straightforward story and the author seems more comfortable with his musical descriptions. It is also a happier tale as, under the wing of Peter Grant and Swan Song, they enjoyed the business backing to propel them to sustained success before staleness and changing musical tastes resulted in their popularity starting to drop off by the end of the decade.

As with other books in the Decades series there is a postscript summarising the intervening 40 plus years in less detail. This is where I started to notice some annoying factual errors creeping in – Boz Burrell had left Bad Company’s original mid eighties reformation long before 1993, while Mick Ralphs’ career-ending stroke came shortly after Bad Company’s UK tour and not the Mott the Hoople tour of some years earlier. Their commercial revival under Brian Howe, at least in America, is also inaccurately dismissed.

There is a wealth of information contained within its slim covers but it will not go down as one of the best written in the series. Though as an excuse to dig out Free’s seminal material and Bad Company’s instant blues rock classics and listen to Paul Rodgers’ wonderful vocal delivery again,  it comes highly recommended.  ***

Review by Andy Nathan

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