VETERAN drummer Simon Kirke returns to the North East venue where a piece of rock history was created. In 1969, a struggling young rock band called Free were performing at Dunelm House, Durham Student’s Union building in the city’s New Elvet.
Kirke recalled: “At that particular Dunelm, gig we were a bit flat. We left the stage to the sound of our own feet and we didn’t like that because the fans would normally be screaming for more. We decided there and then we needed an up-tempo song to put that right.”
Backstage that night, bass player Andy Fraser and singer Paul Rodgers – now fronting Queen’s UK tour – put together All Right Now. Kirke said: “Andy soon had the riffs worked out and Paul came up with the words. That song changed our lives.”
The song, released in the summer of 1970, reached number two on the UK singles chart and number four on the US charts. It was a number one hit in over 20 territories and was recognised by ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) in 1990 for garnering one million plus radio plays in the US by late 1989. In 2000, an award was given to Paul Rodgers by the British Music Industry when All Right Now passed two million plus radio plays in the UK. Kirke is teaming up with North-based Free tribute band Freeway to play at Dunelm House again on Friday. Freeway guitarist John Buckton said: “It means so much to us as Free fans to have him join us and give us his stamp of approval.”
Kirke will be playing his own set with former Foreigner guitarist Larry Oakes, including new songs and classics from the Free and Bad Company back catalogues before joining Freeway, who will be playing a full electric set. Dunelm has another notable page in the Free story. There were riots there at a Free gig a year after the night their muted reception prompted that creative flurry.
With All Right Now catapulting the band to stardom, 2,000 fans stormed the 800-capacity venue and those unable to get in rioted.
Free were formed in London in 1968 when Kirke and guitarist Paul Kossoff met Rodgers. Blues legend Alexis Korner put them in touch with young bassist Fraser and the four teenagers took the British blues boom by storm. All Right Now was the commercial high water mark in a brief but brilliant career that was ultimately undone by Kossoff’s descent into drug addiction and a breakdown in the Rodgers-Fraser song writing team.
Both Fraser and Kirke have approved Freeway’s interpretation of their music and the drive to keep Free’s sound alive. Buckton said: “We hope as many Free fans as possible will join us at Dunelm to mark both the 40th anniversary of the band and the venue’s part in All Right Now’s creation. Dunelm has a special place in Free’s history and we are honoured to be playing this gig with Simon. It should be terrific.” Freeway are calling for original Free fans who were at either of the Dunelm gigs to contact their website with their memories. The band can be contacted at infor.freeway@ yahoo.co.uk Tickets for Dunelm House are available at £14 from firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07704 154442.
JOURNAL reporters Neil McKay, Graeme Whitfield, Sam Wonfor, Tony Henderson and Matt McKenzie pick out their favourite North East gigs.
The Sex Pistols, Middlesbrough Rock Garden, 1977.
Billed as Acne Rabble because of a nationwide boycott, Johnny snarled, Sid pouted and the audience were terrifying in chains and leather. (Neil McKay)
Dr Feelgood, Newcastle City Hall, sometime in the 1980s.
Blistering performance by the R&B and rock band. Notable because half the audience were ageing Teddy Boys in drapes and half were punks wearing bin liners and facial piercings. (Tony Henderson)
Queen, St James’s Park, 1986
At the tender age of 10, I went all Radio Ga Ga for Freddie and his right royal backing band... and so did a full ground of fans. (Sam Wonfor)
REM, City Hall in Newcastle, 1989.
Two years before they became the biggest band in the world, REM were still enough of a secret to play the City Hall and it was a privilege to see them from six rows back. (Graeme Whitfield)
Toots and the Maytals, Northumbria University, 2004.
Reggae legend Toots Hibbert bounced his way through a relentlessly high octane set packed with classics. (Matt McKenzie)