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Books Reviews


"All Right Now"
by Andy Fraser
with Mark Hughes
McTrax 2010

A story of rock Phoenix who bares it all but still leaves some questions unanswered.

For all its good-timey stance, rock 'n' roll often leads to sadness and madness - it's rooted in blues, after all - and Andy Fraser knows that better than many. One of the best British bassists at 16, he was a self-proclaimed leader of FREE whose biggest hit, which gives a title of Fraser's autobiography, marked their undoing because the success it had brought went against the grain of that rootsiness and set Andy on the quest of self-searching that, what with the man's abandon in all his deeds, resulted in tragedy. Lesser mortals would give up to HIV and cancer, but not Andy Fraser who scratched his way back to normal life, to music and performing, so in his case what sounds like preaching in the beginning of this book is fully justified: and doesn't "All Right Now" sounds like a mantra to begin with?

It's an honest book, where Fraser admits to his strengths and foibles that are tangled in an integral way which makes Andy's very personality, and there's a lot of personal stuff in here. Surely, for the most readers the main focus of it all is FREE, and although this story was told before, the Mr. Big reveals the band's inner mechanisms, one gem being a characterization of himself as the group's brain, Simon Kirke as the brain, Paul Kossoff as their soul and Paul Rodgers as the voice. Fraser doesn't dwell much on his famous attempt to "kidnap" the former Paul and save Koss from drugs, even though while mentioning it he goes as emotional as in other touchy places of the narrative, yet however Andy tries to suppress it, a rivalry with the latter Paul, his "All Right Now" co-writer, seems to be seeping through, as if the author is still looking for his erstwhile mate's approval of the music he does. He goes beyond that team, of course, and expands on his creative friendship with Frankie Miller, another survivor, and Robert Palmer, both having had hits penned by Fraser, although one of Fraser's ensembles, TOBY, remain as blind a spot as ever.

At the same time, Andy doesn't turn a blind eye on his family situation, his coming out as gay, and the circumstances of falling down that well of sorrow from which he emerged even more belligerent than ever: when he compares those who, unlike him, don't support Barack Obama to homophobes, Fraser comes across as the same cocky teenager that rocked the Isle of Wight crowd in 1970. He returned there 42 years later with his protege named, surprisingly, Tobi, to see his music matters more to the masses than the politics Andy discusses in the last, the least compelling, part of the book. To those familiar to his story, the passages by his co-author Hughes, the instigator of the tome, may feel redundant but they provide a solid context to the narrative, and it's him who points out that Andy Fraser's most famous song allowed him to pay for his treatment. As it was, he's chosen the luxury of life over the life of luxury, so indeed, it's all right now.

****

Playing The Band
by Martyn Hanson
Temple Music 2010

Subtitled "The Musical Life of Jon Hiseman", the tome encompassing the whole story of British rock and more.

When it comes to schools of rock, namedropping stops once Alexis Korner and John Mayall are mentioned, while Jon Hiseman's name rarely crops up. Yet it was his mindchild, COLOSSEUM and its offshoots, that became a springboard for big movers, such as Gary Moore and Clem Clempson, to name but two. But Hiseman's scope has been so wide that his is a quiet institution - if this can be said about a drummer-led band unique in their blend of jazz which Jon grew with and blues rock which he loves dearly, a band that, unlike others, never landed at fusion and always stayed progressive. UNITED JAZZ & ROCK ENSEMBLE, BLUESBREAKERS, GRAHAM BOND ORGANIZATION: Hiseman started to blaze his trail even before he crystallized a vision of his own and then followed it with TEMPEST, COLOSSEUM II, Andrew Lloyd Webber and so on. Quite a life!

That's why when, having enriched libraries with books on ELP, THE NICE and GROUNDHOGS, Martyn Hanson set his sights on COLOSSEUM he found out that confining a narrative to this group only would limit the story immensely and there'd be no point presenting just one snapshot from the many-colored picture which is Jon Hiseman's vision. Thus, the cast multiplied - and the author interviewed all the protagonists save for Jon's partner-in-crime, the great late Dick Heckstall-Smith - while Hiseman, not mean talker himself, opened up his doors and archives. And his soul, too, for this book allows a peek into the mechahics of musical creativity (some drumming lessons appended are a treat) and business; more so, there's love in it - not only for the music but also for the muse, the main man's sax-wielding wife Barbara Thompson, who made him an important part of her PARAPHERNALIA and has been a vital part of the group that's in the center of it all.

And it's a gripping read, so even those who haven't heard a note from COLOSSEUM will enjoy floating down the stream of events and, perhaps, feel the urge to investigate its aural side. It's equally sad, with fallen faces by the wayside, and happy, for there's no end to it - Jon Hiseman's still playing not the drums but the band, which means he's still in the thick of things spreading the joyous beat that this book conveys so good.

*****

Rockmos!
by Thilo Rahn
Thilo Rahn 2010

The last hurray of the royal flush: the only photo book of three QUEEN tours with Paul Rodgers at the front.

There are iconic images of QUEEN but all of those come from the classic era and are as stylish and camp as the band were back in the day. Then, Brian May and Roger Taylor, unable to shake off the crown, gave the ensemble a new lease of life with Paul Rodgers at the front which - and we're not talking music here - considerably changed the group's visual image. Where Freddie Mercury did the strut, Rodgers brought bluesy athletics, and this change is perfectly captured and preserved for posterity by Thilo Rahn. A young man who never had a chance to see the original line-up, Rahn was so delighted when QUEEN raised from the dead that he decided to do a little tour and witness more than concert but less, as Thilo discovered, the hardcore aficionados he soon got to know. The book Rahn came up with once one tour became three tells about the fans as it is about the band.

Shot from the audience's perspective, the pictures in this lavish tome, which boasts prefaces by Brian, Roger and Paul, are amazing - given that Thilo never got the permission to use a professional equipment or to get on stage and had to make do with small cameras, sometimes smuggled into a venue - and reflect both excitement and hard labor that QUEEN + PR put into their shows. Just look into Taylor's strained face or May's glowing smile to feel their pleasure and pain, or marvel at weighty easiness of Rodgers one minute juggling a mic, the other pounding a grand piano to deliver "Bad Company" and then strapping a guitar for "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", all in ever-changing garb so contrasting with his colleagues' mostly austere clothes. With not a single frame from a floor level but with many photos of the crowd, Rahn, a top-notch master of lense, places his reader (or, rather, spectator as you don't need to ride the text that's not as good in English as it is in German version alongside) into the happy milieu he was a part of in 2006-2008, and there can't be a better document of those treks than this.

With reproductions of tickets from each concert, from Italy to Canada via London, plus a full setlist, with commentary, for each one, "Rockmos" emerged as indispensable addition to any QUEEN collection to make its author rank among the best rock photographers. Real commissions to shoot should be forthcoming.

*****

Grumpy Old Rock Star
by Rick Wakeman
Preface 2008

"And Other Wondrous Stories", goes the subtitle. Wondrous they are, indeed, yet fantastic they ain't even though they may seem so.

"We defy you not to laugh out loud", here's the challenge from the publishers. Oh yes, sure, no question here. But if this scribe lasted four pages before breaking into his first guffaw, it was because he's in possession of Rick Wakeman's 1995's autiobiography, "Say Yes!", bought on eBay for a good sum. It was worth every penny, though, if to quote one of the pranksters depicted in this book, the author being the first and foremost of these. Reading it on a bus, then, might be considered anti-social behavior, so it's rather good that this time the main culprit doesn't look like professor on the cover (alright, alright, he looks like one, yet it's a mad professor now), and the giggles can be excusable. It's a collection of anecdotes Rick's recently been touring with rather than a chronological yarn but with a method to the madness one can expect from the man who likes a good concept as much as he loved excess which today provides a basis for these stories.

We're more than lucky that Wakeman is such a great narrator and has such a good memory to vividly recall and candidly retell some of the funny, and sometimes tragic - he had a heart attack at 25 - events which seem to be happening wherever the legendary keyboardist goes. Of these, the infamous curry-eating during the YES concert feels the least hilarious, and even the close brush (okay, push) with Salvador Dali wasn't the most unbelievable encounter in Rick's life as wasn't the night on the town with Keith Moon. The artist with a sense of humor like the author's needs not to rely on big names when there's a laughter in every crook and nanny... sorry, nook and cranny, so even the personal dramas are told here with a winkle in the eye. And there's a tear in the eye in the "Gone But Not Forgotten" chapter exposing Rick Wakeman's gentle soul behind the deadpan - and good pun - veneer able to mislead the canny KGB officers.

Intimidated? Who? The artist who met Fidel Castro? You're kidding? The only thing Rick must be afraid of is that the demand for another book will be exorbitant. Ah, he mentioned a twenty volume set. Come on, bring us the head of Anne Boleyn!

*****

Angel Air Is 10
by James McCarraher
Sarum Publishing 2007

A time for the label where the artist has a voice to blow their own trumpet.

A record label can be either a money-making endeavor, which is not the case these days if you're not a major, or an outlet for your love of music and desire to share the music you love with the like-minded people. For Peter Purnell the choice was obvious when he decided to launch a new business a decade ago, and that's the reason Angel Air is talked about in such reverential tone - and now has its history documented in a book. But it's more than just a history - Angel Air is business as usual, even though it's very unusual to let an artist have his say and his paycheck now - it's a quest to uncover a treasure trove and let the long-lost gems shine anew.

So, once the backdrop's drawn, the musicians enter the scene, and every act who ever released anything on the label is represented here in alphabetical order, with a short biography - some written with the artists' collaboration - cross-references, as Angel Air is a family, and the press reviews snippets. Not without flaws (GREENSLADE didn't have to cover MOUNTAIN's "Theme From An Imaginary Western", as Dave Greenslade had previously recorded the piece with COLOSSEUM once Jon Hiseman brought it from his Jack Bruce session), but the 350-page hard-back tome prompts to investigate, to invest or to insert a CD into a player and drift away to that trumpet call. Go tell it to the other labels with their primitive catalogues!

***

The Gift Of Gabe
by Brian Joseph
Avention Press 2005

There's only one language in this world, the language of love. Which is all we need.

The subtitle of this strange book reads, "A Novel Experience", and that's perhaps a key to understanding its drift. There's no action in "The Gift Of Gabe", all there is is the movement of thought. It all starts from the unnamed protagonist's accidental meeting with former college teacher, Gabe, who hooks him on by providing an explanation of "Yellow Submarine" real meaning. Real for Gabe and like-minded people who consider everything in this world is connected, which in the broad sense is true indeed, and that this connection might be perceived if one strips the mind back to its primeval state setting it free from the dogmas brought by the culture. Thus, the hero's learning curve begins.

The connection, as Gabe has it, is the common language: the language of love as opposed to the language of fear - mostly fear of dying. Surely, the best way to get into any language is listening and reading, and that's what the protagonist does. His wise friend gives him books to read, music to listen to, and great lectures, each receiving its own chapter in the book. The hero cuts a surprising figure seemingly having no clue as to who King Lear was while embracing such philosophers as Kirkegaard and Ouspensky, which is mystifying - but Gabe doesn't mention mystics like Blavatsky and keeps to the "straight" science path. Likewise, looking deep into the classic rock lyrics, mostly those by John Lennon and George Harrison, he never tackles Jim Morrison or Bob Dylan's imagery. Still, many names are dropped, and yet...

"The key to understanding this is to understand that he uses the term 'girl' to describe the societal group mind", says Gabe of Lennon. Isn't there a catch - as well as in telling wrong the well-known circumstances of the "Blue Jay Way" composing? In "Glass Onion" Lennon himself mocked such attempts to find different meanings in THE BEATLES' songs, but Gabe maintains that sometimes writers just don't know what they talk about until later, if ever at all. There can be no end to it, then, with the book's end open to speculations. Whose name is never mentioned in it, still, is the name of Occam whose 'razor' principle is that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. So that's a fiction, a noble novel experience. Thought-provoking, the book may indeed open the doors of perception.

**1/2

Hoggin' The Page:
Groundhogs:
The Classic Years
by Martyn Hanson
Northdown Publishing 2005

The long shadow of the underestimated heroes gets a place for the casting.

"It's about goddam fucking time these GROUNDHOGS started to get some recognition": sometimes even the great late Lester Bangs' words weren't paid much attention to, and this recommendation, dropped back in 1972, didn't turn out prophetic. Musically up there with the blues elite, the band - John Lee Hooker's band of choice for his '60s British tours - lacked in the charisma department, no matter how strong a character Tony "TS" McPhee has been through all the years, not only classic era this books spans. It's him who was to write the group's history, but a musician's supposed to play and not sctibble down, so the guitarist returned the publisher's advance, and Martyn Hanson, an author of the acclaimed tome on THE NICE, stepped in. Tony couldn't have come forth better than this.

Hanson received all the possible support from the band members who all seem to have good memories, diaries and collections, yet what emerged out of this explains why they didn't get their due: an image of an ensemble set on music so firm there was nothing more in their lives - but what's the point of a book, then, when there's records out there to listen to? If complimentary reviews therein go over the top of objectivity offered in McPhee's own comments are down to the author being a fan, it's not his fault that the 'HOGS story comes off as uneventful while it can't be such being a rather long one. The classic trio shared the stage with STONES, ZEPPELIN and SABBATH, but there's no even real anecdote told in the dry narrative, save for a couple of surprising facts such as that late as 1971 Keef Richards travelled to the gigs by train. Sure, there are details and insights - like as to what stands behind the "TS" in the group's leader's name, him liking to write songs in the toilet and his acid trip which birthed the band's masterpiece, "Split" - yet the book doesn't bring a reader closer to the GROUNDHOGS' heart as before. Still, there's a gentle push to give their albums another spin, which can be considered the scribe's ultimate goal, and if the music will do the job, the book will have served well.

***

David Byron:
Born To Perform
by Jeff Perkins
African Breeze 2003

He could "out-sing Ian Gillan and out-prance Rod Stewart" yet couldn't out-live his own stage persona. Not a regular rock casualty.

For a brief period of time he reigned the stage: no matter how the press slagged off URIAH HEEP, a band David Byron was a singer with, it's only Freddie Mercury who could rival him for flamboyancy. And here lay a great tragedy. As Jeff Perkins puts it, "a front man with nothing to front is a terrible waste". Indeed, Byron left the group which he co-founded - well, he got sacked, but everybody says he left, because David was flying too high in his alcohol-addled star reverie to notice he'd let the ensemble down - in 1976, at the time when their music style and his lifestyle became unfashionable. Not the best period and not the best state to be picking up a career. The glamor peeled off and the decline was torturous, with vain attempts to catch up again with solo albums, ROUGH DIAMOND and THE BYRON BAND. Not able to kicked out the addiction, the singer died in 1985 - and once a couple of years later hard rock reclaimed its fame, the legend was born.

Today, when lesser artists have a book written on them, David, revered and adored, deserves one, and surely it took a devoted fan to deliver the goods. So "Born To Perform" - that's how Ken Hensley described his late colleague - is as good as a fan's book can be, with its fair share of repetitions and punctuation going AWOL but, unlike suchlike aficionados, Perkins went to respectable length in his pursuit of tracking down the bits of his idol's life. The author interviewed not only obvious characters of the story - Hensley or Mick Box but also got in touch with those from Byron's later life, among them Clem Clempson and Robin George, and collected testimonials from Heepsters all around the world, to glean precious details that make a picture as full as possible. Doing this, Jeff embarked on a personal investigation which, told in the "Biography Of A Biography" sub-chapters which read like a detective novel and sometimes outshine the main line. And it's there that a fan's perspective wins.

Perkins knows all the traps of writing such books, saying he doesn't want it "to be just an imbalanced glorification of David Byron... but an honest appraisal of his life including both his achievements and and his failings". Honest Jeff's work is: while he couldn't keep from singing gloria, there's always a counterpoise, he always is ready to admit like "some of this criticism was possibly justified". There'll be criticism in Perkins' own address as well, yet his ruminations on life - not only Byron's - are interesting even to those who was born too late to see their heroes in full flight, and make up for blanks in the account of the years preceding the singer's death. A good read.

***3/4
CARL DUNN -
This Is Rock 'n' Roll
Rutledge Publishing 2003

Read the interview















Buy the book

Rock 'n' roll isn't only sound, you know? The attitude as seen through a lens.

Quite a familiar feeling: to look at a picture taken at some concert and sigh, "I wish I was there", but it's very rarely that a photo takes you on a time warp with a real presence effect. Because it takes a real master to stand behind a picture, and Carl Dunn is the master. For years his works have been hitting both the pages of many a musical publication and records' sleeves so, after three and a half decades since the first time Carl went to a gig with a camera, a time came to collect a good portion of those pictures under one binding given a very simple title.

"This Is Rock 'n' Roll" gets to the gist of the matter, as almost each of the 538 photos which comprise the book shows the acts in the action - after all, it's the stage where rock lives. Still, capturing this life on a film is difficult, though it may not seem so - especially, when it comes to artists with a stage persona, like Ian Anderson or Alice Cooper; a genuine art, then, is to reveal a person in a guise, and that's where Dunn excels. Carl's pictures don't breathe fire, even though Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Phil Lynott do look menacing, but radiate immense warmth. Here's Joan Baez dancing with Mick Ronson, the fragile Mick Jagger on the verge of a breakdown, Steve Marriott giving away the whole of his soul - not a moment of rock's wildness there, they're all just people, and the camera caught them at work and in love with their work. And you can feel a total compassion that tells as much of the photographer as of his subjects - a sign of a great work.

The focus here is on the '70s, the time that rock 'n' roll's visual element reached its peak, but the glitter and glam aren't paid much attention to in the book, the only David Bowie's photo presenting him as The Duke and Rick Wakeman's seen as a piano player rather than The Wizard, while inclusion of Cheech and Chong will raise many eyebrows. Sometimes Dunn applies special effects to outline a mood preserved for posterity, yet no matter if a picture is black-and-white or color there's the music enshrined in it. The dismissal of alphabetical and chronological order only serves to stress that this is music of many faces - a couple of which had been photographed in the '90s, to create a contrast with their younger selves - and very whole. For this is rock 'n' roll.

*****
Rainbow Rising -
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
by Roy Davis
Helter Skelter 2002

Catching the rainbow ain't easy yet the pot o'gold is still filled with beans.

Many consider Ritchie Blackmore an enigma so it surprisingly took quite a long time for somebody to dare looking through the black to get a glimpse of multicolored phenomenon that was RAINBOW. Well, not exactly looking but putting out the results of his research through previously published material, that means the advertisement claiming the band members had been interviewed for this tome was false. Still, complaints aren't many as even the most knowing fan would love to have it all gathered under one cover.

With half the book taken by the reference material such as concert log, discographies and chart placing, the narrative itself is not as detailed as one could wish for and rather confusing in places but, as Blackmore himself confessed, there were "too much friction going down - but a lot of that was down to me", so you can't blame the author for that. He may have given too much space to the guitarist's pre-RAINBOW work yet this helps better understand what the band was like - up to notions regarding the "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" riff originating from Chuck Berry's "School Day" and "All Night Long" lyrical idea coming from Ritchie. Highlighted come even moments many tend not to pay attention to, such as Ronnie Dio's amicable split or Blackmore's business-mindedness as a reason for some twists in the tale.

A pity is the writer not only isn't able to solve the contradictions - like, when Graham Bonnet says he left and wasn't fired while the leader insists the singer got kicked out - or explain why, say, "Straight Between The Eyes" was released six month after it had been recorded, but sometimes Davis only adds to the confusion, writing about an album and forgetting to relate to its title or mentioning one Shoshana singing on "Still I'm Said" which is an instrumental track. Anyway, subject to relish are bits-and-odds that may seem rather unimportant yet make the overall picture shine like a rainbow: thus, one comes to know the photo in the "Long Live" gatefold had been taken at the RUSH concert, or names of the singers who didn't make it into the ranks though Peter Goalby recorded some vocals for "Since You Been Go" on his way from TRAPEZE to URIAH HEEP, or that RAINBOW toured with such unlikely ensembles as VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and PROCOL HARUM. Anecdotes are great too, all funny, if familiar and in those, the musicians are revealed as human beings, because a RAINBOW ad with only three names on it - Ritchie's, Dio's and Cozy Powell's - is quite telling, as well as Ritchie's decision on Ronnie having to have a second name or Powell feeling like a family doing things that made Tony Carey feel like a hell.

A hell of a story it is - and, hopefully, it'll be written one day with full collaboration from the insiders themselves and not by skilful fan but a professional with a musical horizon much wider to see that same RAINBOW rising.

****
Free At Last:
The Story of Free and Bad Company
by Steven Rosen
SAF Publishing 2002

Good lovin' gone bad - that's how it goes when subjective gets in the way of objective.

There must have been a suspicion with FREE saga languishing in library limbo for almost thirty years and now two books being out with Rosen's work closely following "Heavy Load". On the first glance, this one, written by an experienced rok journalist who convinced "Rolling Stone" to feature BAD COMPANY's start on the magazine's cover and interviewed Paul Kossoff just months away of the guitarist's death, should be much more insightful then the other - but that's as far from the truth as can be. Rosen's reports on the FREE rehearsal he witnessed and BAD CO tour he joined are blistering, yet the problem lies in confusing narrative where some events, like Andy Fraser "kidnapping" Koss, are talked about as if a reader is supposed to already know them, and emotional imbalance, with Paul the guitarist almost having an angel wings and Paul the singer nearly a diabolical figure. And if the main difference between the two books seems to be that "Free At Last" takes in the BAD CO bio as well, this part, making less than a third of the tome, is cursory and interspersed with accounts on CRAWLER and other offshoots.

While we are given some needless information - who wants to dig into PROCOL HARUM and MOODY BLUES stories, to know that Guy Stevens was an Arsenal fan and be reminded of how Bonham and Lennon died? - there's an impression of a homework done badly. Were "Who's Next" and TULL's "Benefit" being mixed at the same time? Was Peter Green really borrowing from Mick Taylor? Did Overend Watts joined Ian Hunter's band or was it the other way round? The list of errors runs long. Moreover, the author must be joking when saying about re-listening to his records when working on the book: if so, he would hardly call arguably slowest FREE song "Free Me" an uptempo track; relate to piano, the leading instrument on "Bad Company" the song, "an odd embellishment"; or place Rodgers' live EP "The Hendrix Set" into a studio.

Alongside stylistic flourishes such as "Bodies were sinking under the weight of the very things that had once buoyed them - success, camaraderie and an unquenchable thirst for respect in an industry that did not even know how to spell the word" and pathetical "they loved each other like brothers - but so did Cain and Abel," here go quotes from Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke, the only band member helping the writer, though sometimes it's hard to pinpoint who's saying what, especially when their memories differ, and referring to Kossoff in present tense like "guitarist invokes" doesn't do the text any good. Still, there are great moments: that "Rolling Stone" interview and poignant Koss words, "I think there's still more room to develop in the way I'm playing", Rodgers naming for the first time ever an inspiration for "All Right Now", and the band meeting with Elton John praising their biggest hit. That's good to begin with, but not for those who carry "Heavy Load".

**
My Own Time -
The Authorized Biography of John Wetton
by Kim Dancha
Northern Line 1997

John Wetton interview

A tireless time traveller gets his life outlined - with stamp of approval from the man himself.

There's a great photograph inside: Wetton facing the Stonehenge. The caption, "John admiring one of the few rock groups he didn't join," has the essence of the story, for hardly any other musician's life spanned such significant bands as FAMILY, KING CRIMSON and ASIA to name but a few. But too few a word this book gives to many a glorious moment so a true fan is left thirsty still and finds a great value in pictures which are rare indeed. Revelations are rare too - though in other sense, yet they're alone are reason enough to delve into this pleasant, if brief, reading. It's only here that the ASIA roots are tracked as far back as 1969 when both John and Steve Howe auditioned for ATOMIC ROOSTER Carl Palmer was drumming with then; even more teasing feels an account of a supergroup of Wetton, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford that might arise in 1977 - will those demos ever surface in their original form?

No doubt, Kim Dancha did a massive work having picked up the pieces from Wetton and people he met in his own time. Still, you can't help but wish author's possibilities stretch beyond friends like Richard Palmer-James, who John's been working with since his teens, or Geoff Downes, his partner in crime of passion. The art of making friends and keeping a marriage safe for three decades tells much of Wetton's human side, with his early years highlighted and ASIA story occuppying half of the book, it's difficult to justify the URIAH HEEP stint being given only a page. Not important this may seem but year and a half spent there brought forth two albums, one marking the band's highest commercial success and other their experimentative peak - here, John's role is downplayed. Fortunately, a funny story of his and Lee Kerslake's antics is told, an opposite to KING CRIMSON's lack of humour. Hard to believe it was so but encoding the "Starless And Bible Black / Starless" enigma deserves acclaim.

The book too. Hastily issued it wasn't - nevertheless, "My Own Time" feels in desperate need of expansion, especially when John Wetton's always ready to help and the likes of Robert Fripp, Ken Hensley and Steve Hackett never far away.

****
Free: Heavy Load
by David Clayton
and Todd K. Smith
Moonshine Publishing 2000

It's all right now that the greatest boy band ever finally receives its written history.

The fact that "Heavy Load" is the first book ever on a group so massive seems logical following the train of events which make this story of rise and fall amazing and tragic in equal measure. It unwinds slowly but inevitably takes one in just like the FREE music does. They came as a lightning on the bluesy skies, those four guys, young yet menacing, and the mark they left on the face of popular music is indelible. There are many witnesses to that, the list of those interviewed for the tome is impressive: relatives like David Kossoff, showbiz types such as Island head Chris Blackwell and Andy Johns and a lot of musicians - among them members of LYNYRD SKYNYRD and MOTT THE HOOPLE, Ronnie Dio, Mick Box, Bernie Marsden and Peter Green (quoted Alexis Korner, a mentor, "there was a very definite Jewish blues guitar playing sound"). And, of course, there's a look from the inside, from Paul Rodgers, Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke themselves - without their help this work of love wouldn't come to such a glorious fruition.

OK, it suffers from orthography side and sometimes careens to fanzine stylistics (sure, David Clayton masters Free Appreciation Society but some paragraphs seem to be taken directly from the magazine and not adapted into context) yet plethora of details makes up for it more than adequately. Here, explained are the meanings of album title "Tons Of Sobs" (lots of money) and Rodgers' band's name PEACE (a sort of Japanese cigarettes); told are stories serious - of Ian Hunter wanting Rodgers to join HOOPLE, funny - audience admiring Paul Kossoff to such extent that they cram into the loo to watch him piss, and dramatic - Kirke teaching stoned Koss to play "All Right Now", the greatest hit. Footnotes serve well too providing a reader with additional information on what is Leslie cabinet, Lennon mention of FREE and so on, while narration strays to outline the Island Records story and Champion Jack Dupree biography. The latter, perhaps, is a bit too much as well as too arguable may feel records reviews incorporated in the text - especially when an odd yet unforgivable for such cognoscenti error occurs ("Heavy Load" ending "Fire And Water" album?). And there are terrific pictures, as important part of a story - one a perfect illustration to the notion of how tight and insecure the foursome might be.

Some myths authors manage to dispel, like tensions between Rodgers and Fraser getting loose before the band reformed in 1972, some remain a mystery - did FREE actually turn down an invitation to play Woodstock? - but overall it's a thorough and arresting reading. A kind of novel maybe, quite hastily compiled epilogue notwithstanding. Well, as Paul Rodgers said, "Keeping it simple was a good secret to playing the blues because the human being is a very complicated thing, and human emotions are very complicated." They were only human beings, that's why their load was so heavy. With this book it might be lifted off their collective shoulder for all to share.

*****
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