" As we mourned Paul Kossoff's death 41 years ago, and then Andy Fraser's passing almost exactly 39 years later, some of our sadness was in realising that the band could no longer get back together.
Yet, with the raw edge of hurt now tempered by time and acceptance, and with Free and Back Street Crawler’s recorded music still available to us, there comes a time when we can celebrate it all again.
Terry Slesser, Koss's friend and Back Street Crawler frontman, has been touring the UK celebrating the genius of Koss, his own heartfelt affection for the man obvious.
But this is no ordinary tribute act content to re-hash past glories. Slesser punctuates the stirring set with insightful and poignant anecdotes, mainly about Koss, but based on his relationship with all who were involved in both bands. Who knew that ‘Molten Gold’, the only song that Koss wrote fully on his own, was about the precociously-talented hands of Andy Fraser? And did Rabbit really believe he’d joined The Hollies when he asked Pete Townshend, “When are we going to play ‘Bus Stop’?”
More than once, Sless expressed his astonishment at the ages of the members of Free, their confidence whilst still teenagers, or a little older, to turn out those first four inspiring albums, and of the camaraderie they enjoyed.
With Clive Edwards (UFO, Wild Horses, Tottenham fan) energetically replicating Simon Kirke's powerful anchoring beats and Tony Braunagel's Texas rhythms, the foundations are solid. He declared that playing the tribute set was “a labour of love”.
Kirke and Fraser were never an orthodox rhythm section. Working out Andy's complex but custom-fitted bass parts, never mind playing them and locking in with the drummer, could be a lifetime's work on its own. Bassman Rick Hunt, the busiest man in Glasgow's delightful Websters Theatre, handled it superbly, nailing those daunting, shifting Fraser rhythmic patterns and even adding Andy-type licks to Tetsu’s and Terry Wilson’s simpler, but no less effective lines.
John Buckton, dapper in a trademark Koss pin-striped waistcoat, and with familiar, tumbling blond locks, has perfected Paul’s Les Paul/Gibson tone, the unusual approach to chording, the ability to make each note and every space count, and of course, Koss’s signature vibrato. It’s little wonder that Simon Kirke has said of Buckton, "If Free were to reform John would be my first choice as guitarist".
Sless himself, of course, was in superb voice, but his own voice. The Back Street Crawler numbers sounded, as they always did, tailor-made for him. Admirably, these were the very tones he deployed to sing the considerable number of Free songs on the set list, his dynamics and phrasing worthy of the timeless material, usually difficult to associate with anyone but Paul Rodgers.
This was a respectful, affectionate show, delivered passionately by true believers. There may even have been the occasional tear in audience members’ eyes. It is definitely worth re-visiting in keeping Paul Kossoff’s memory alive. "
Websters Theatre, Glasgow
18th February 2017