Andy Fairweather Low is possibly one of those names that doesn’t truly register with many. And yet, this guy from Wales is without doubt one of the most important and significant musicians of a generation. And although Fairweather Low has been at the top of the musical tree for the better part of half a century now, he somehow manages to remain just below the popular radar, a largely self-induced state of affairs from a guy who seems to thrive on diffidence and unaffected charisma.
Since his days as frontman with sixties pop band Amen Corner, Fairweather Low has continued to play and compose near-instant hit music. Back then he had smash hits ‘If Paradise Is Half As Nice’ ,’Bend Me, Shape Me’ and countless other winners, songs still loved and sung by many. After a quiet period in the seventies, he again burst onto the stage with another huge hit, an unexpected smash in pre-Xmas UK, 1985, with the cleverly crafted lyrics still heard being chorused by raucous holidaymakers in bars from Arizona to Adelaide, and amid Karaoke chaos the world over, ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’.
For the past twenty years, he has been the sideman of choice for one of the world’s acknowledged greats, Eric Clapton. Clapton’s clearly a guy who knows a thing or two about guitars and music in general. But interestingly – in particular -he chooses Fairweather Low both on the road as tour sideman and in the studio. Indeed, he even goes as far as to credit the Welshman with the success of one of his biggest selling albums, the famed ‘Unplugged’ release which has now sold in excess of 14 million copies worldwide. Fairweather Low, who toured as a band member with Clapton on the promotional tours for the album, also worked with Old Slowhand in creating the arrangements of many of the tracks, including the wonderful version of ‘Layla’, a CD centerpiece in many ways.
And Fairweather Low’s career just doesn’t splutter to what would be a remarkable achievement and close here either. Apart from his impressive and entirely enviable work with Clapton, he has also toured , recorded and played with most of the world’s leading music royalty: George Harrison; Van Morrison – ‘Playing with Van’s a bit of a right of passage for many musicians,’ he quips tantalisingly; Tom Jones; The BeeGees; Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd; Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings; Pete Townshend and the Who; Chris Rea; Paul Carrack; Brian Wilson. The list seems endless.
‘ It was the Stones that made me a musician, really. In February, 1964, I went to see the Stones. At the time I was drifting a bit, a secondary-modern guy with no real ambition or future. I saw the Stones and they were fabulous. I thought that’s what I want to do. I was hooked. I never looked back from that day on. It genuinely changed my life.’
But, strange to think with the benefit of hindsight, it could all have gone so very differently, muses Fairweather Low: ‘ Punk finished me. I’d just recorded the old Cliff Richard hit, ‘Travelling Light’ when The Sex Pistols released their original, infamous single, ‘God Save The Queen.’ I had a seven-year contract/recording deal in its first year. But when this happened, basically I was done and dusted. I even sold off my equipment – needs must – for cash to keep going. ‘ He acknowledges the change in his fortunes came about when the late Beatle George Harrison made contact and asked if he could play a bit of slide guitar on the ‘Material World’ live tour project in Japan.
‘What was lovely about George Harrison,’ he adds,’ is he was a great guy. Really decent and incredibly generous. “I’ve never met you and I’ve never seen you play but everyone seems to like you,” he said. He eventually told me I hadn’t been the first choice for the slide guitar-work on ‘Material World’. I’d been the seventh choice, but he also said, I’d been the right choice.’
Of course, it’s impossible to chat to Fairweather Low without raising the elephant in the room, – his work with Eric Clapton. Again, chance or serendipity played a part: ‘I was in a rehearsal room in London with Eric and a few others. We stopped for a short break and Eric casually asked if I could join him at the Royal Albert Hall on his next tour. A life-changing moment, I knew at once.’
Clapton has often said he considers Fairweather Low to have been the architect of the success of the “Unplugged’ album, in particular. This is a credit most musicians would kill for. Not so Fairweather Low, who instead adopts his customary self-deprecating approach to his life and career: ‘Eric gives me too much credit for ‘Unplugged’. In reality, I helped a bit but the arrangements were something I just worked on. I worked at his home doing it, and we got on well together. The thing about Eric is he’s an absolutely fabulous electric guitar player. He was wary about acoustic to some extent but he wanted a version of the old Robert Johnson song ‘Malted Milk’ included. It’s not an easy number and I asked if he really wanted to try it. He said yea, so I put that together for him. The rest is history. It was a success; the album and tours were both great fun.’
Now again concentrating on his own solo career, I ask what he feels about the huge, annual Clapton tours coming to an end with Slowhand’s self-declared retirement on the horizon: ‘Layla! Playing that every night was killing me. But, tell you what, good music never goes down, he’ll be back.’ And he laughs when he adds that he himself will just keep plugging away: ‘I’m not a natural guitarist, not like Eric. I have to work on it every day. Eric doesn’t.’
BY IAIN PATIENCE