Isle Of Wight & Stockholm (Midas Touch 93621/2)
Half of the band Free, bassist Andy Fraser and guitarist Paul Kossoff, were still in their teens when they finally achieved notable success in the summer of 1970. Their first two albums Tons Of Sobs and Free, both issued in 1969, showed promise with some good songs. But when their new single “All Right Now” hit number two in the UK charts in March 1970 followed by their new LP Fire And Water released in June, and also hitting number two on the UK charts, the band became superstars almost overnight.
Because of the sucess of their single, they were booked for an afternoon slot at the massive Isle Of Wight Festival that summer, and touring the UK and Europe also increased.
The creatively titled Isle Of Wight & Stockholm on Midas Touch presents two outstanding soundboard recordings from Free’s initial taste of sucess. The two shows fall four months apart and straddles the time right after “All Right Now” became a big hit to the release of their follow up Highway and its promotion.
Both shows are taken from soundboard tapes in clear and well balanced stereo. The sound quality is good enough for official release. It is shame that only one song from these two shows has seen the light of day. This is undoubtedly one of the best Free titles to be produced.
Isle of Wight Festival, Isle Of Wight, England – August 30th 1970
Disc 1 (52:07): Introduction, Ride On A Pony, Woman, The Stealer, Be My Friend, Mr. Big, Fire And Water, I’m A Mover, The Hunter, All Right Now, Crossroads
Free performed an hour long set in the afternoon before an estimated crowd of 600,000. There are obvious nerves in the band members and there are constant equipment problems, but it is still a very nice to listen to. Only one song, the hit “All Right Now,” is included on the officially released Message To Love on DVD and CD.
An audience tape is utilized on Complete Isle Of Wight (Gypsy Eye GE-103). A fragment of the show from “Ride On A Pony” to “I’m A Mover” from a high generation copy of the soundboard tape can be found on Walk In My Shadow (Tendor TDR-097). Midas Touch is the debut (and thus far only) complete, excellent sound quality edition of this set available.
This was the biggest audience Free ever played for. The 1970 Isle Of Wight is noted for being a kind of “changing of the guards,” with established acts like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix making some of their final appearances while newer bands like Jethro Tull and ELP, who would find much success in the seventies, began to stake their claim.
A snarky review in The Austin Chronicle, in a review of the DVD Message To Love, claims “even Free, doing “All Right Now,” are captured during what must be the only 10 minutes they ever mattered.” It’s true Free never reached the level of success suggested by the chart performance of their big single that summer. But the assessment is unfair because they do play a role in the history of hard rock.
The tape starts off with the mc introducing the band before the begin with as yet unrecorded “Ride On A Pony” which Rodgers calls simply “Pony” at the end. It sounds ragged but energetic. “Woman” from their second album Free sounds much tighter, even tough Kossoff’s guitar sound a tad out of tune at the end.
“We’re gonna try a new one we’ve never played on stage before” Rodgers says before “The Stealer,” another song that would be recorded the following month for Highway as would be “Be My Friend.” It’s certainly unusual for a new band to start their most important set with almost all new songs, but such if their faith in the new material.
Of all the new songs played, the best is “Be My Friend” which Rodgers calls “something gentle.” Taken at the expected slower tempo, Kossoff’s guitar is very subtle and understated but yet very expressive and, at times, quite profound. It’s a great performance and is followed by “Mr. Big.” This tune would have been more familiar to the audience not only because it was on their latest release Fire And Water, but because they band played it on Granada television earlier that summer. It is one of their “proggier” numbers and builds to a fuzzy climax by the piece’s climatic end.
The set ends with their hit “All Right Now.” The only encore is a cover of the Cream arrangement of the Robert Johnson song “Crossroads.” Free didn’t put that classic blues song on their early albums, bit a version did show up on their Songs of Yesterday box released in 2000.
Radiohuset, Stockholm, Sweden – December 12th, 1970
Disc 2 (49:10): The Stealer, Fire And Water, Ride On A Pony, Heavy Load, Woman, Love You So, All Right Now, Be My Friend, Mr. Big
Free recorded a set for the Swedish “Midnight Hour Radio Show” on December 12th, 1970. It was broadcast about three weeks later on January 2nd, 1971 and has seen several unofficial releases in the past. The complete show can be found on Radio Free (The Eternal 624 030-2) with various BBC sessions included.
“Woman,” “Love You So” and “All Right Now” can be found on Walk In My Shadow (Tendor TDR-097) “The Stealer” to “All Right Now” are on Songs From Yesterday (Discurios DIR 118) and the same fragment is found on Remembering The Free (Live Storm LSCD 51677), and all except “Be My Friend” and “Mr. Big” are reshuffled and labeled as Belgium May 11th, 1970 on Rarities (Vintage Rare Master VRM-012).
The sound quality is a bit cleaner than the Isle Of Wight venue, most likely because it’s a smaller indoor venue. But the performance actually is noticeably tighter, a huge improvement starting with “The Stealer” from Highway. Compared to its debut at the Festival, this is slightly more uptempo and much more confident and energetic. It is a tune good enough for Rodgers and Simon Kirke to recycle for Bad Company in 1974, even playing it on television on “Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert.”
“Since we’re here we might as well enjoy ourselves” Rodgers jokes before “Fire And Water.” And after “Ride On A Pony” Andy Fraser switches to piano for “Heavy Load.” Fraser isn’t the best pianist and sounds stiff and uncertain at times, but the piano interludes add a different wrinkle on Free’s sound.
“Love You So” is another song from Highway recently introduced into the set. The final song is the expected “All Right Now,” but the band continue with “Be My Friend” which Kossoff says is “more sad than usual.” The final song of the set is “Mr. Big.” It’s a strange choice to play as the final song of the broadcast. Reaching almost seven minutes, it features Fraser’s excellent bass playing in a quasi-solo in the song’s middle.
Highway, the album Free were promoting at the time, ultimately flopped and almost lead to the band’s dissolution. They would of course carry on for a couple more years before breaking up with half of the and going on to form Bad Company. Despite the unpopularity of the new album, these performances both are excellent and worth having.
Isle Of Wight & Stockholm was released in 1999 and is packaged by Midas Touch in glossy cardboard gatefold sleeves with several live shots of the band and the Midas Touch discography printed on the inside. It’s a phenomenal production all around despite its age.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)