Thursday, 16 June 2022

Chris Blackwell – The Islander (Book Review)

Chris Blackwell – The Islander
Nine Eight Books (416 Pages). ISBN-10 : 1788705750 
Reviewed by Russell Airey.

Chris Blackwell has led a charmed life. Born into wealth he has a fascinating genealogy. The BBC could produce an entire series of Who Do You Think You Are? on the Blackwell clan. Following his parents’ divorce his mother became close to Ian Fleming around the time he was writing the James Bond novels. The connection with Fleming gave Blackwell the opportunity to work as a production assistant on the first Bond film, Dr. No.

Although Blackwell had a privileged colonial upbringing on Jamaica he witnessed appalling injustices inflicted on some of the poorest natives. These experiences left a deep impression on young Blackwell. He became rebellious and restless, embracing different cultures and eccentric personalities, qualities that subsequently served him well in the music business.

Like most serial entrepreneurs he is an individualist and not afraid to go against the grain. He has the humility to acknowledge that an element of good fortune and good timing contributed towards his success. The good fortune, for instance, to accidentally stumble across a young Steve Winwood performing with the Spencer Davis Group at a small Birmingham pub in 1964. The recruitment of Winwood became pivotal to the growth of Island Records and helped attract other talented artists to the label.

Blackwell didn’t always have the Midas touch though. He passed up the opportunity to sign a shy singer-songwriter whom he felt didn’t have much of a future as a performing artist. Shortly thereafter Reg Dwight morphed into Elton John to become one of the biggest stars of the following decade. In 1968 Blackwell narrowly missed out signing Led Zeppelin and also passed on Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and Madonna.

The book contains numerous entertaining anecdotes. In 1969 Cat Stevens auditioned for an ambivalent Blackwell who was about to turn him down when he played a stunning new song called Father and Son. At the time Stevens was unhappily locked into a contract with Decca and keen to leave. Blackwell suggested Stevens issue Decca with an ultimatum. His next album would be a classic but in order to make it he needed the works. A full orchestra with choir, a large recording budget, and so on. The horrified suits at Decca took the bait. Thinking Stevens had completely lost the plot they dropped him like a stone and Decca’s loss became Island’s gain.

As for Free approximately half of Chapter 8 is devoted to his time with the band. Blackwell recalls their reluctance to accept a radio-friendly edit of All Right Now and dismay at having to appear and mine on Top of the Pops. Blackwell sensed he had a hit on his hands, stood his ground and was ultimately vindicated as ARN shot up the charts across the globe. After hanging out with Miles Davis he had acquired a taste for fast cars and used some of the profits from ARN to treat himself to a new Mercedes sports car.

Blackwell gives the impression Free were often in turmoil and liable to implode at any point. Things came to a head in May 1969 when an increasingly isolated Paul Kossoff became fed up of being bossed around by the younger 16-year-old Andy Fraser. A disillusioned Kossoff discreetly auditioned for Jethro Tull and The Rolling Stones. Blackwell cottoned on to this and tactfully had a quiet word with Kossoff behind the scenes persuading him to stay on thereby keeping Free alive. Phew!

If Blackwell hadn’t intervened and held the band together at such a critical point, the only recorded output of Free on Island Records would be Tons of Sobs and the Broad Daylight single. There would have been no Fire and Water, Highway or Free Live! and you wouldn’t be streaming the likes of Heavy Load, Be My Friend and Mr. Big Live. It’s almost unimaginable.

There are a few factual errors in the book. ARN was not conceived at Durham University in March 1970. Free didn’t play any gigs at Durham University during March 1970 by which time they were already in Trident Studios recording the song. In numerous interviews throughout 1970 both Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers said the bad gig happened at Manchester. And of course Free initially split up in 1971, not 1970 as stated.

Some of the most interesting parts of the autobiography are the final few chapters and cover the financial difficulties Island encountered during the mid-1980’s. A potential crisis was averted when U2 wisely agreed to take a minority stake in Island in lieu of royalties owed. Blackwell realised it was time to exit and after the enormous success of U2’s The Joshua Tree he sold Island to PolyGram in 1989. Quite a journey from the days of driving around London selling 45’s from the boot of his Mini to the various Jamaican communities.

Blackwell will most likely be remembered in the music industry for his association with Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones and U2. To my mind though the golden age of Island Records will always be synonymous with Guy Stevens, pink label pressings, the front cover of the LP You Can All Join In, and the emergence of Steve Winwood, John Martyn, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Nick Drake, Spooky Tooth, Fairport Convention, Mott The Hoople and Free. What an incredible roster of artists and what a legacy.

Arise, Sir Christopher!

Sunday, 15 May 2022

FAS #163 'Addendums'

Free Appreciation Society

Issue #163

Audio and video addendums

 

Page 32 

American (A&M Records) CD release of 'Free Live!' preamble (first) compared to other issues of the recording master (second) on CD, which are edited (the UK 2016 version used in this audio example).

Here on the US release the disco at Sunderland that evening (February 6, 1970) can clearly be heard in the background before Geoff Docherty introduces FREE. This is how Andy Johns initially intended the LP to start, and this is on the original world-wide vinyl releases, but was removed on some later pressings. It was also never included on any of the other CDs, A&M still having (and using) their full original source tape, and still owning the rights to the album in America. The song you can hear is the recently released (January 16, 1970) 'By the Light Of The Magical Moon' by Tyrannosaurus Rex, who Free of course supported on their ever second show in Sunderland at the Bay Hotel on June 27, 1969.


 

Page 39

Slightly different to what was intended here. I've used the original Island CD release and then the American issue, basically because the first and second UK issue of the CD (1987 & 1990) are the same. These edits of the drum introduction to 'I'm A Mover' are straight from the CDs and not altered or enhanced by me in any way. They show the differences in the tonal qualities of the various 'mastering' applied when the original ¼" tape is prepared for a release format - the format here being Compact Disc. Every engineer, like you and me, hears things differently, so the adjustments are what in their opinion make the master sound the best it possibly can. Here the idea is to actually compare the definition on the drums from the versions that have been available previously with the very expensive Japanese SACD release. For more information check the relevant page in the magazine. These examples are best heard quite loudly via headphones.

1: 1987 - UK - Unknown Mastering Engineer

2: 1988 - USA - Unknown Mastering Engineer

3: 2002 - UK, Europe, Japan - Peter Mew Mastering

4: 2016 - UK - Andy Pearce Mastering

5: 2014 - Japanese SACD - Unknown Mastering Engineer
 


Bonus video !!!

Page 39

See the final paragraph regards Harry Goodwin's portrait photos. Free shown here in the TOTPs chart rundown from June 17, 1971 sitting at No.11.


For further information on these audio and video sections please refer to the relevant page in the FAS magazine. If you don't have a copy and want to buy one details are below, or simply send a enquiry to the email address in the border on the right at the bottom of the 'Welcome' section.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Free Appreciation Society Magazine - Issue #163

Free Appreciation Society

Magazine Issue #163

May 2022

Free Appreciation Society Magazine - Issue #163

A few moments ago I dropped the UK subscription issues at the post office. Overseas magazines went out on Monday and Tuesday. I was intending to post these UK issues out next week, but they were ready to go - so why hold them up! We had enough delays during Covid. This will be the last issue for a while, School will be OUT for the summer!

Just as promised this follows hot on the heels of #162 and completes our pentalogy taking us up to the first 'official' split of Free (Andy once told me they used to split up ever other week unofficially!). We deal with the release of the 'Free Live!' album, and touch gently only our journey into the splinter bands, which is coming next. Issues #159 - #163 deal exclusively with January 1971 to the end of June 1971, and everything that happened in that period.

This magazine deals specifically with the world releases of 'Free Live!'. This includes copies from everywhere, UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malaysia, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Japan... even South Korea! It's very comprehensive. Test pressings, promotional pressings, cover variations, label variations and alterations, LPs, cassettes, 8-tracks and CDs! It also details the different pressing and mastering variations, with matrix numbers, and the differences in sound (including edits) over the many assorted versions. The issue is fully illustrated in colour throughout.

There's also a re-examination of the possible Free 'Top Of The Pops' performance for 'My Brother Jake' including which shows actually featured the song, and the current 'for and against' arguments for them actually performing in the 'TOTPs' BBC studio in April, 1971. The footage, should there be any, is still 'lost' of course, but possible dates are nailed down.

Finally there is the complete FREE diary for January 1971 to the end of June 1971 with all the tour dates, studio recording details and release information. Far more comprehensive than the version in 'Heavy Load', updated here for the first time in over twenty years!

This issue checks in at 56 pages and covers quite a bit of stuff we've never included before. There are two addendums in this new issue, and they will be coming to the FAS 'blogspot' in a couple of days. So be sure to come back and check them out when you reach them in the text.

A hugely comprehensive issue. Enjoy!

56 pages absolutely packed with FREE

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Mailed out today to all subscribers.

It is cheaper to buy directly here (from the FAS itself) than it will be on Ebay, where there are other fees involved for both UK and overseas buyers. ALL payments are via Paypal, so it's all very easy and secure.

Casual buyer? Want the magazine cheaper? Get a subscription!

A subscription is the cheapest way to get the FAS magazine.

For subscription information email: fasarticle@aol.com

You can buy this individual issue from the email address above.

Drop me a mail giving your location and a Paypal money request will be sent to you. It's cheaper than buying them on Ebay where they are £6.50 (UK)

UK price including postage from here directly is £5.80 for this issue.

This includes postage and Paypal fees.

A subscription for three issues (UK) is £14.85.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

A quick word about 'fake' autographed items.

Expanded from the introduction of issue #162...

It seems these have always been around, but it appears there are more and more popping up, even at 'respectable' auction sites. The prices are eye watering, which makes it even worse if you buy something that's basically counterfeit. Recently there have been three items on Ebay. Two are real, one I believe is not, and it's a bad fake at that. Of the three recently one is in America and priced at a ludicrous £9,250. Seriously?? This is being sold by someone who says he saw them twice. His information is all correct and every one the signatures (from Carnegie Hall, 1971, according to the seller) are as they should be. The second is being sold by a dealer, apparently signed at Croydon, 1970. This time £2850, ouch!. Again it looks perfectly legit. All the signatures are looking like they should. So far so good if you have money to burn. I wouldn't pay these prices myself. These are on Ebay at the time of writing.

Finally a sleeve with just Kossoff's name 'applied' is being sold by an optimistic Ebay punter in Germany for £2,100. He's been told by a few people that it's very likely phoney, but hasn't taken it down. The seller appears to be saying it was signed personally, in Minden, Germany on January 15th, 1972. This is written under the signature on the sleeve. Not signed by Paul Kossoff it wasn't. Not unless the punter, or Kossoff, had a time machine!

Firstly it's on a UK cover printed for a pressing from 1976 or even later. Paul was likely dead when this album pressing came out, or at best he was in America with BSC. He certainly wasn't in Germany. The 'Sunset' label came into play towards the end of 1975. The first three albums on it, I believe, were by Milk 'N' Cookies, Chieftains and Jim Capaldi (in December). Also note the cover says 'St Peter's Square', a building that Island didn't even own until 1973, and they started printing this address instead of Basing Street on the covers around mid-1976 after they'd moved in, settled, and built a studio in the basement ('The Fallout Shelter', where I spent many a happy day). Prior to this the LPs all had the Basing Street address on the back, before they removed that in 1974-5 and replaced it with 'Manufactured and distributed by EMI Records Ltd'. This was used for a while prior to adding the St Peter's Square address. The first album release I have with 'St Peter's Square' printed on the back sleeve is actually 'Free & Easy, Rough & Ready', released in November / December 1976, itself on the same LP vinyl centre label ('sunset'), and with the same text on the back sleeve. Oops. Not 1972 then... Or even close...

Secondly here, and just as important, it's absolutely nothing like Kossoff's actual signature, which was pretty consistent throughout his life. I have signed items from early on with Free to copies of 'Band Plays On' by Back Street Crawler signed by him. His signature is always small and tight, almost compressed. The letters squeezed tightly together. Some have a downwards line at the end of the last ' f ' (mostly earlier ones, but this comes and goes). Also the final line circles back and goes through both ' f ' letters. You'll see that clearly on all shown here, but one... The fake. 

You'll also notice whoever did this seemed to forget there is actually a double 's' in Kossoff. Doh!!! I've actually never seen anything as large and scrawled as this by Kossoff either, and the shapes of the letters are wrong. Andy Fraser did that big signature thing in the last couple of years. Horrible... But I've not seen Kossoff do that with anything I know to be genuinely signed by him. Also I don't think I've ever seen him sign the back of this cover. He usually signed near his image on the front sleeve of 'Fire and Water' from the copies I have, and others I have seen. This also applies to the collectors I know that have autographed copies of this LP. Which side it's on is actually a small point, the actually handwriting here is much more of a giveaway.

Finally, what would Kossoff have (allegedly) been doing in Minden, Germany on 15th January 1972? It's the weirdest of random dates. Free had just reformed and were trying to get him back into a condition where he could play at this time. He was in a dreadful physical state. They were trying out new songs with him for the impending tour, and were in and out of Basing Street in January 1972, where they did also do a bit of recording. They were not, to my knowledge, in Germany. In fact I don't think Kossoff was in Germany again after 1970 for any reason, personal or business! Free never went there to play again as far as I'm aware, and BSC certainly didn't go there either!

So as far as this final one goes I'd say it's NOT Paul Kossoff's signature and I wouldn't buy it at all, whatever the price. The sleeve is worthless and with the scrawl across it is actually devalued. It's now worth less than it would have been without the 'writing'!

Images of genuine autographs, Kossoff and FREE, and the 'dubious' one are featured here for your reference. Other genuine signatures have been used many times previously in the FAS magazines and you can also find two full sets in 'Heavy Load' on pages 100 and 101. As I've said, this isn't a one off. Recently one well known auction site was selling a signature I felt was bogus. I did tell them about my concerns, but they still sold it! So someone bought a fake, in my opinion. Do your research thoroughly before you contemplate purchasing anything like this.

As I've said before 'Buyer Beware'. These prices are just ridiculous anyway. I wouldn't pay anywhere NEAR that myself for a full set of FREE autographs, but if you did get tempted please look into things before you spend a lot of money on something that is quite simply counterfeit / bogus / FAKE. I did once see someone trying to sell a Kossoff signed copy of '2nd Street'. It made be laugh, but in a sad way, as Kossoff had been dead for a while before that LP even came out for the first time! If there's money involved, and it can be easily faked, someone will try to take advantage.


Finally, just to let you know I have issue #163 and it's pretty much ready to go. I'd like to put at least a couple of weeks between #162 and this, so it looks likely to go into the mail for subscribers sometime
during the week of May 16th. First out will be the overseas magazines and then probably on the Weds the UK issues. So if your subscription ran out with #162 please renew quickly so you get #163 as soon as it's available. 

Weird text 'justification' here is down to 'Blogger' not me.  It simply will not let me correct it!

Saturday, 30 April 2022

FAS #162 'Addendums'

Free Appreciation Society

Issue #162

Audio and video addendums


Page 48

A&M 'live' radio promotional single (AM-1266 / May 1971)
I'll Be Creepin' (Stereo) / I'll Be Creepin' (Mono)
 
A&M 'live' retail/shop release version (AM-1266 / May 1971) 
I'll Be Creepin' / Mr Big

Retail version (above and the audio featured here) was likely withdrawn when the tour was cancelled after the group split up in Australia (just prior to the American shows). Hence, it's pretty scare. The stereo/mono promo isn't too hard to find for sale. Mixes here are unavailable elsewhere and were done by Chris Blackwell and Brian Humphries, not Andy Johns.

 

Page 52

Hallmark 'Top Of The Pops' compilation (1971) features 'no original artist' versions of all the hits of the day!! Possibly some of the worst cover versions ever recorded. 'My Brother Jake' below. Hit play at your own risk!! Please return the LP to aunties radiogram when you have finished or she'll know you've been messing with her stuff.


Page 55

Wilson Pickett goes above and beyond with his version of 'Fire And Water', Below are the LP version (the single edit fades slightly earlier), a concert performance from his 'Live In Japan' 2LP set, and a live TV appearance from 'Soul Train' on March 25, 1972. Groovy!



For further information on these audio and video sections please refer to the relevant page in the FAS magazine. If you don't have a copy and want to buy one details are below, or simply send a enquiry to the email address in the border on the right at the bottom of the 'Welcome' section.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Free Appreciation Society Magazine - Issue #162

Free Appreciation Society

Magazine Issue #162

April 2022

Free Appreciation Society Magazine - Issue #162

Okay, sorry for the delay with this one. There was a printing error and it had to be re-printed... But now it's here... AND it's just gone into the post if you subscribe!

Still dealing with the first half of 1971, part four of our current pentalogy opens with an introduction from Simon Kirke, written especially for this issue. We now start dealing with the fall-out from the group splitting up after the final show in Australia and go through the initial progress towards the release of 'Free Live!', the reviews, press and so on. This includes initial details of the 'solo' projects and final interviews, including a 2-page feature with Andy Fraser from 'The Sounds Talk-In', which appeared in June 1971, and a fantastic rarely seen double colour spread from 'Bravo' magazine in Germany. We also have the first dealings towards the forming of 'KKTR' and the initial letters from Alan Merrill and Tetsu in Japan about working on Merrill's second solo album. Free may have been 'over' for a while, but there really was a lot going on.

Towards the back of the issue we take a look at the world releases of the final single, 'My Brother Jake' (UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, USA etc!), also the 'live' American promo release of 'I'll Be Creepin' and the Japanese 'live' single version of 'All Right Now'. We even sneak in a quick look at the BBC transcription LPs featuring material from the final BBC sessions, along with Wilson Pickett's version of 'Fire And Water'. All very comprehensive and packed with new information, images of all the labels and sleeves, and all the variations available from all over the globe.

This issue checks in at 56 pages and covers quite a bit of stuff we've never included before. There are three addendums in this new issue, and they will be coming here, to the FAS 'blogspot' in a couple of days. So be sure to come back and check them out when you reach them in the text.

A hugely comprehensive issue. Enjoy!

56 pages absolutely packed with FREE!!

---------------------------------------

Mailed out today to all subscribers.

It is cheaper to buy directly here (from the FAS itself) than it will be on Ebay, where there are other fees involved for both UK and overseas buyers. ALL payments are via Paypal, so it's all very easy and secure.

Casual buyer? Want the magazine cheaper? Get a subscription! A subscription is the cheapest way to get the FAS magazine. 

For subscription information email: fasarticle@aol.com

You can buy this individual issue from the email address above. Drop me a mail giving your location and a Paypal money request will be sent to you. It's cheaper than buying them on Ebay where they are £6.50 (UK) UK price including postage from here directly is £5.80 for this issue. This includes postage and Paypal fees.

A subscription for three issues (UK) is £14.85.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

BC Book Withdrawn

The 'Bad Company - A Visual Biography' (see below) by Martin Popoff, has been withdrawn from sale by the publishers. Wymer have told me that anyone who may have paid will be fully refunded shortly.