This was initially supposed to be a celebration of Frankie Miller. But the recent death of Andy Fraser, who was due to be the bassist in the band, meant it also became a memorial to him. Whatever the motivation for this gig, it’s a brilliant night.
The band strike the right balance between disciplined and relaxed. They’re rehearsed enough to ensure everyone onstage is feeding from the same trough but there’s an instinctive spontaneity that captures the spirit in which Miller always drove his music.
Opening with Be Good To Yourself, the band are quickly into a joyful groove, with Luke Morley’s guitar amply complemented by Mark Stanway’s keyboard playing. The way in which the Thunder and Magnum stalwarts interact is typical of what makes the Free House so special. The pair have an expressive freedom, enhanced by Simon Kirke’s astonishingly simple virtuosity. And Quireboys bassist Nick Mailing is clearly unfazed by having to step in for the mighty Fraser.
Upfront, Spike — the mastermind behind the project to keep Miller’s legacy alive — is loving the whole event, as his unmistakably worn throat chromatics lead the band into Wishing Well, one of five Free classics given a rapturous overhaul.
The set mixes up the Free songs with handpicked moments from the Miller catalogue, as Cocaine, Intensive Care and Fortune are matched by Mr. Big, The Hunter and My Brother Jake. It’s a rollicking ride of rousing rock’n’roll. Best of all is an astonishing, convivial working of The Other Side Of Town (co-written by Miller with Dr. John), before All Right Now brings the performance to a shuddering climax, with Spike amusingly claiming to have forgotten some of the words in order to give Classic Rock “Something to write about!”. Not that he needed to sing anything – the crowd were in full cry by this juncture.
The encore is the inevitable Darlin’, leaving everyone desperate for a whole lot more, which is as it should be. Throughout, the band are determined that what should remain in the memory is the timeless quality of the songs rather than the way they’re interpreted. But while this is achieved, the way these five create an atmosphere of swigging swagger leaves us all praying Spike’s Free House will reopen to entertain again. And the word is that dates are being lined up for the end of the year. If this happens, go and see them. Because you’re guaranteed to have fun, fun, fun.