Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Andy Fraser and the lot of the bass guitarist

"You're fucking shit mate!"

It was not the first time the leather-jacketed, middle-aged man standing a few yards to my left, pint-glass in hand, had yelled such a finely-judged critical appraisal in the direction of the stage. In fact, he'd been barracking Noel Redding, one-time bass guitarist for Jimi Hendrix, almost continuously for two hours now.

The place is Mr Smith's, a small music venue on Poole Hill, Bournemouth. It's sometime in the winter of 1998/1999, and I've been dragged here by housemate and Hendrix obsessive, Sue, to see Noel play a small gig with a couple of other guys. The music is fine, but the evening is ruined by the heckling. The audience stands a matter of yards from the stage, and despite initially fielding the abuse with good humour, Redding has no choice but to spend the balance of the evening trying to ignore it.

Sue, a bustling, gregarious, flame-haired Londoner, who insists on pronouncing the venue as 'Mr Smiffs', turned up earlier in the evening to get Redding's autograph, but her joy has now turned to silent fury.

Indeed, as we return home later, she can barely bring herself to speak. Home, incidentally, is in this case a sprawling, three-storey shared house overlooking Branksome, wherein our rooms are rented from a landlord who styles himself as 'JD', and drives a Saab in dark sunglasses to the local architects' office.

JD displays a level of generosity towards his tenants which makes Rigsby look like the inspiration for the Bill and Melinda Gates' Charitable Foundation. As a consequence, the house resides in a state of permafrost, its tenants drawing their only warmth from the small black-and-white TV in a back room.

Sue would subsequently write to Redding, apologising for the abuse, and is over-the-moon some weeks later when she receives a friendly and courteous reply. The letter is stored away as a holy relic, and is, I suspect, still cherished to this day. Redding, however, sadly died in 2003.

The sometimes unfortunate lot of the bass guitarist occurred to me again today as I read the opening sections of 'All Right Now: Life, Death, and Life Again', the story of Andy Fraser. Fraser was bass guitarist in 1970s blues-rock band, Free, and his life is charted here with a combination of first-person recollection, linked together by narrative and analysis from Mark Hughes.

In fact, the style is very similar to that employed in 'Crashed and Byrned', Hughes's fabulous book on racing driver Tommy Byrne. It's a style which is more honest than the ghost-written autobiography, for it makes clear where the division lies between the contribution from the subject, and that from the professional writer. It also gives the writer an opportunity to engage in third-party analysis which would be impossible in a work purporting to be the product of self-observation alone.

It's only available in electronic form at the moment, but let's hope it gets a print-run some time soon.

No comments: