The ghost of that big band you were in can be very hard to shake. Everyone is only really interested in those songs that you used to play with the band you used to be a part of. Very frustrating indeed. And almost no one has more success as a solo artist than the successful band you made a name for yourself in. Fraser was no exception.
Fraser walks the line
By Martin Hayman
Small, almost runtish, curiously aloof without aiming in any way for effect, almost head in the clouds. These are the first impressions of Andy Fraser on re-acquaintance after a couple of years.
When I arrived at Andy`s sixteenth-century cottage in Surrey, I found the small, dynamic bassist, writer of Free`s biggest-ever hit (and constant repeat hit) `Alright Now`, in his garage putting up shelves.
Tiring of the necessary elbow work in driving the screws home, he takes out his hammer and gives them a wallop. “That`s me for today,” he says, and retires into the beetling house for a cup of tea. He tells me that it was once one of Henry VIII`s hunting lodges, though Andy lives there, without a seraglio, in a more conventional connubial bliss. It was one of the more obvious benefits conferred by the success of that single which is periodically revived and can be seen to draw normally reluctant celebrities on to the dance floor.
Since Free, Andy Fraser does not seem to have been much in the public eye. There was Toby, which was his own group, and there was the Sharks and their much-publicised hassles, both with each other and with Island Records. Fraser has severed his connections with both, and is now starting a new recording and playing career as a solo artist, feeling that it`s unlikely he will ever again find a group situation which worked with the same co-operation as Free.
It may be that Free spoiled him for any other group, both because it worked so well as a unit, and because of the personal interaction within the group and, not least, for its early and devastating success. When worldwide acclaim has been tasted at such an early stage, it can be difficult to recapture.
Many might say that, in trying to recapture that success, Fraser attempted too literally to emulate the group by trying to carry it off single-handed. That`s certainly how his album with Nick Judd sounded. This may merely be backbiting, for Andy presents a fiercely independent front to the world and is little swayed by current fashions or the social obligations of the rockbiz.
But the proof of the pudding, as always, is in the eating, and after the failure (comparatively speaking) of his last two ventures, we must conjecture that Andy Fraser`s latest venture will satisfy the public`s appetite. It is an album recorded at Muscle Shoals, home of those strong-arm players Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins and Jimmy Johnson. A show will go on the road playing those same tunes at the beginning of November.
Sitting in Andy`s low-beamed rehearsal and playback room, listening to the album, it is obvious how very deeply into it Andy is. He sits there, his head slightly bowed under its short fringe of wiry black hair, and his sneakered foot is going like a hummingbird`s wing. First, some factual fill-in: it`s a solo album; Fraser playing the bass with Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (rhythm guitar), Pete Carr (lead guitar) and someone called `Roadie` on percussion. The production was overseen by Brad Shapiro, a seasoned operator, who flew to England before the sessions to select the songs that seemed likeliest from a bunch of Andy`s rough dubs.
This was Andy`s first time with a producer and he found such a method of working very much to his taste. It seems there was an interesting tension between the Muscle Shoals band and Andy`s bass playing, which is unconventional. Andy says that his aim was to kick them along a bit. Normally these guys can just about play in their sleep. Everything is set up for a perfect sound: it`s merely a question of plugging in. This is exactly what Andy did. He hooked up his own instrument with the existing bass amp and they took it away. It`s all very well thought out: Barry Beckett charts the songs and marks up the changes, and when there`s someone in the band who knows (and in Andy`s case, is passionately involved with) the song, the feel becomes apparent after the first few bars.
Some of Fraser`s songs are repetitious. For some this can be mesmeric, for others boring. Andy explains his thoughts about song composition and the `Hey Jude` chorus pitch as follows: “I try to get a very basic root for every song. Two or three words should sum up every song and that should always finish it off. That`s what it`s all about.” You will note that this applies with particular force to `Alright Now`.
The single cut from the album is likely to be a number called `Be Good To Yourself`. “Even as we were cutting it Brad said it sounded like a single.” It`s one of those numbers which sounds extremely short, and I even suggested it would have been a good idea to let the chorus run out. “Well I didn`t have anything to do with the mix – Brad took all the tapes away to Criteria Studios, Miami, and that`s the way he did it. But if you`ve got a single which lasts longer than three minutes your chances of getting it played on the radio are very slim.”
What then of the concert tour? The previous tour was booked in big halls and failed to sell out by any means. This one is to be another big one, and it will also be a lot more expensive, for Brian Gascoigne has been deputed to find a band which will be able to get, and improve on, the performances by the Muscle Shoals album band. Would Andy Fraser be enough of a pull, as a solo act plus band? “How I regard myself is as a bass player in a group that has some hits, and only one big one. Now the thing is that most bass players in groups remain pretty faceless. So I regard myself as a new act. I know that the reason we can do big gigs is partly that I`ve been in a big group. But for me it`s sort of like starting again as Andy Fraser, a new singer and songwriter who plays bass.”