Catching up with a very busy and energetic Andy Fraser last week in North London, I asked former Free bassist and songwriter what he had been up to since virtually disappearing from the music scene until recently: "Life has taken me by surprise. I've been retired for a couple of decades, during which time I had to come to terms with being gay, after marrying a great woman and having the most fantastic daughters. Then having AIDS and surviving.” Andy was one T cell away from being dead and on more than one occasion came back from the brink. “The doctors were climbing the walls. I've made it though thirty two bouts of cancer (Andy suffered from Kaposi's sarcoma) I had three years of that...Now I'm strutting around feeling like a teenager. Life is good.”
For Andy Fraser life is good indeed. He looks fit, healthy, and vibrant. Andy is insightful and inspirational. He talks with complete honesty and is seemingly without ego. By his own admission he was a cocky young man but says that when you have been through what he has, it changes your values. He has undergone a personal metamorphosis, prioritised what is important to him and become a much more spiritual person. “I do feel like I've been given a second chance and I don't want to waste a minute.” He is certainly making the most of his personal awakening. He is making movies and music, with his latest album On Assignment released last year. A new EP Beautiful has been released to coincide with the current tour of The Andy Fraser Band. Andy is also producing and signing artists to his McTrax label including young London based guitarist and singer songwriter Tobi Earnshaw who is also touring with the band. Andy says Tobi is one of the best guitarists he has played with and that is saying something considering he's played with some of the biggest names in the business. I am sure with Andy as a mentor he will
On Assignment is a very different album from his last, the acclaimed Naked and Finally Free. Andy defines the introspective album as a 'very personal coming out.' For Andy this cathartic process wasn't just about his sexuality, but also a 'coming out' spiritually and discovering God in the process. He says that when you are going through a personal hell of serious illness and also struggling with sexuality you realise that “no amount of fame, fortune, or fast cars have any value. When that is stripped away what is there left apart from God? You have to allow your spiritual side to grow. If there is no God there is no point to anything.” He is very clear to make the distinction that this is a spiritual realisation rather than a religious one saying “we need to separate God from religion. God has always been, religion is something that has evolved on this planet. If you separate the two that's where the good stuff is.” Paradoxically he relishes being controversial and saying that he found God when he accepted he was gay. “I like the in your face religious aspects of putting those two concepts together.” For Andy Fraser, pushing the boundaries of convention and not being constrained by others is something he has carried with him since childhood. He was expelled from school for refusing to cut his hair short. “I thought you're not going to turn me into a bank clerk, I will retain my individuality! They did me the biggest favour in the world, the next week I was on tour with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers." On Assignment is a perfect artistic example of how Andy refuses to be pigeon-holed. Musically it combines rock, blues, reggae and soul but has also been motivated by world issues like oppression and climate change.
After the emotionally charged content of Naked and Finally Free Andy says “I feel I can look more outward and be socially and politically conscious...My job is to understand it and bring awareness...The artists job to look inside, allow yourself to be vulnerable, express yourself and encourage the listener to do likewise.” The deep social conscience and self awareness that Andy possesses really adds gravitas to his music and does indeed make the listener reflect.
During our informative and fascinating conversation one thing becomes clear, Andy has had a varied life with a wealth of experience that has informed his creativity. He is a sensitive soul, who has been affected by what life has thrown at him. One such event was the death of guitarist Paul Kossoff which touched him deeply. “It was one of the reasons I had to leave England... When I first met him he had the greatest sense of
humour. He could have had his own comedy show. He was so loveable and to go to a junkie from that...” Andy breaks off, it is easy to see that this is something still painful for him. “We even kidnapped him, took him in the car to my house in Surrey and kept him there for three days to try and reach him. And we failed. It was one of the biggest failures of my life.”
Last year Free were due to reunite for a performance at the Olympics but sadly it never quite got off the ground. “Paul Rogers (the lead singer of Free) and I are polar opposites as personalities. He wanted to remain in the classic rock vain and I wanted to look to the horizon. I didn't want to be caught going over the same thing and become a cover band of my own material...Last year we had agreed to get together to open the Olympics., all we had to do we find a guitarist.” Which can't have been easy considering the guitarist in question would have to fit the shoes of the inimitable late Paul Kossoff. “Paul (Rogers) was going for people like Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page and those people had already turned it down. I was suggesting David Gilmour or Mark Knopfler and it never came together.” He continues to say with great humility “We never got on the same page. Whenever we talk we clash, it's probably both our faults.”
So back to new horizons. Many young people wouldn't necessarily have been aware of Andy's lineage but Tobi has had a good musical education. " I had a guitar teacher/mentor and his band was called The Stealers after the song by Free. So the first song I ever learnt was Stealer and Fire and Water, which we are playing with the band at the moment. I didn't know Andy wrote for Frankie Millar, Robert Palmer or any of that stuff... but I knew of Free. I knew of Paul Kossoff but I didn't know Paul Rogers, It's funny how that works." It is clear from Andy's new collaboration with Tobi that he has bounced back against the odds. He is truly an optimistic, motivating and uplifting character to be around. If there was ever one of the greatest literal comebacks in music it has to be this one!