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Free Reminiscence

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Japan: 1977

Source:  The venue for the 30 April 1971 concert was Kyoritsu Kodo Kanda in Tokyo, a multi-purpose auditorium with a capacity of 2010 (Yes would also play their last night in Tokyo during their Japan tour in March of 1973)   ^ noted tracks on side 2: Free opening for ELP at Tokyo’s Korakuen baseball stadium on 22 July 1972

Side 1: Fire and Water / The Stealer / I’m a Mover / Heavy Load
Side 2: The Highway Song / My Brother Jake / Soon I Will Be Gone / Lady^ / Seven Angels^ / Honky Tonk Women^

Quality rating in HW: “Vgs”

1971 set list:

01 – Fire And Water
02 – Ride A Pony
03 – I’m A Mover
04 – Be My Friend
05 – The Stealer
06 – Heavy Load
07 – The Highway Song
08 – My Brother Jake
09 – Soon I Will Be Gone
10 – All Right Now
11 – Mr. Big
12 – The Hunter

I have listened to a short sample of the start of this concert and while technically lacking, I preferred the start of “Fire and Water” found here to any other live version of the song I have heard.

An eye witness account of the 1 May 1971 concert at Sankeii Hall as well as a Melody Maker article about ELP & Free at Osaka’s baseball stadium in ’72 can be found in this lengthy post about early Japan tours by Western rock acts. 

1972 Japan Tour set list:  I’m On The Run / Like Water / Lady / Seven Angels / Unseen Love / Heartbreaker / Honky Tonk Women / Fire and Water.

Free Tokyo 1971


While researching this article I came across this early Japanese Free bootleg I had never seen before:

Japan: 1973 – earlier/later?

Free Live Japan

Seller description:

“FREE / LIVE IN JAPAN ’71  (CL1015 Japan)

Ultra rare early ’70s Japanese private pressing live LP from their first Japan tour ’71 April Tokyo show. This is original first pressing with printed (front+back) deluxe cover, white label with stamp. Later, second pressing exist, with wrap around insert cover (from back cover of first edition) and blue label but this genuine first edition is now impossible to find.”

Side 1: Fire and Water / The Stealer / I’m a Mover / Heavy Load
Side 2: The Highway Song / My Brother Jake / Ride a Pony / Crossroads

Free Live At Tokyo 71

“FREE / LIVE AT TOKYO 71 (no label, ’73? )

Ultra rare vintage early ’70s Japanese pressing live LP from their first Japan/Tokyo show ’71 by original line up!! Never turns up in these days even in here because of very limited pressing at that time. Nice b&w wrap around/paste on cover.
Songs are: Fire and water/The Stealer/I’m a mover/Heavy load/The Highway song/My brother Jake/Ride on a pony/Crossroads. April 30 ‘1971 Tokyo.”


Free’s tumultuous biography has distinct pivot dates just after their first and before their second Japan tour, as found in descriptions such as these: “Frustrated by HIGHWAY’s commercial rejection and unsure of their future musical direction, Free was consumed by internal friction and a nagging sense of self-doubt. In May 1971, following a turbulent Asian Tour, Free disbanded.”

“On the eve of their [1972] Japanese tour Fraser fought with Rodgers and once again left the band, to be replaced by Yamauchi.”

Here is a longer excerpt from the book HEAVY LOAD by Clayton and Smith

CHAPTER 14  Free – The Japan Riots

“The only band I knew to go on without thinking they’re superstars, were Free. To me they were a great band. They were far ahead of any other band I know. I think they’re the only English band that people should feel they’re lucky to have.” – Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) Sounds interview, January 1974

For Island Records Manager Johnny Glover and the rest back at Island’s round table, plans were put together for a fortnight’s stay in Japan and four big shows in Australia. The tour would then continue with the talented package of Free and Mott The Hoople storming through the United States, capitalising on the popularity of Free’s two previous stints. Likely tours of Europe and the UK would then be booked to round out the itinerary before the band headed back to the studio and finished off another album.

Management had no indication that the band was about to self-destruct. “They’d become a big act,” noted Glover. “So I said to Chris [Blackwell], ‘Look, I’d really like to do something properly, like a three-month world tour’. We were going to put them in a different bracket.”

Johnny Glover’s relationship with Andy Fraser was much closer than with the other members of the group because of the bassist’s prominent role in the band’s business affairs. The two spoke almost daily constructing the intricate details that were then surrounding a soon to be ‘world-class’ band. The first unsettling indication of a split, for Glover, was on the plane flight to Japan. Unusual for the two, Paul Rodgers and Fraser chose not to sit together. Simon Kirke and Paul Kossoff tried to lighten it up in their usually style, Kossoff with his comical impressions and Kirke with his sailor-like humour.

Sitting next to Glover, Fraser leaned over and said, “I’m gonna be quite sad when we get off this tour’.” Glover asked, “Why?” “Oh, yeah,” Fraser went on nonchalantly. “It’s always difficult coming to the end of something.” Glover remained speechless as Fraser confided that, the night before, he and Rodgers had broken their code of silence and gone in to see Blackwell. They told him they were going to “knock it on the head because it just wasn’t happening”. In short, Fraser and Rodgers were breaking up the band at the end of the tour. Andy said that basically he and Paul had fallen out and that was it. Free was over.

The intensity of the songwriting team that had pushed Free to its most successful heights was now the leading factor in their destruction. “Andy would tell everybody what to do because he was that way inclined,” said Johnny Glover. “Andy is a tremendously strong personality, and was very much the business driving force of the band. They all accepted that. Then one day, Paul Rodgers realised that he was quite capable of making those decisions too. The two clashed at that point. All of a sudden Andy was being questioned.”

Exhaustion added to the conflicting emotions. “I had made it clear to everyone that I wasn’t ready to do an American tour straight after Japan and Australia,” says Rodgers. “That was one of the frustrations. It was booked regardless and I thought, ‘Wow! I’m really not being listened to here’. Everything was going along flat out and you felt that you were on a big wheel turning and it was out of your control entirely, and that really brought it home to me: ‘Another tour, is everybody deaf?’ I was not ready for it, and actually I’d just bought my cottage in the country and I needed to chill a little bit – sit back and take stock, that’s really all I wanted, but I was so frustrated by the fact that it just went steaming ahead. They ignored anything I had to say about the subject so I said ‘Right, I’m out’.

“Another serious wall of contention would be that there came a time when I felt we needed to add more blues back into the set. We’d kept ‘The Hunter,’ made it our own, and I felt we could do the same with other blues songs – similar to what Zeppelin would do later. I could feel Koss’s frustration not being able to freewheel the material we’d been playing. Each attempt we made to play a blues song, Andy would either, put his bass down and walk out, or deliberately sabotage it by playing like shit. His inflexibility seriously pissed me off. I tried on a number of occasions and then gave up. Andy had the idea that the band was his creation alone – playing the little Emperor.”

“Simon and Koss didn’t want to break the band up. They would have been happy to play in Free forever.” ~ Johnny Glover

Everyone was looking for someone to blame as the plane descended into Tokyo airport. The imminent break-up hung heavy over the band and its management. Glover recalls, “There I was sitting on the plane with two months ahead of me on the road in Japan, Australia and America with Andy not talking to the other three. And that’s exactly how it was from that minute on.”

Though the band was in Japan for nearly a fortnight, Andy rarely left his hotel room apart from brief business meetings and press calls. He secluded himself from the rest of the world, ordering and eating in and becoming involved with a Yuki Shibata, a young Japanese public relations girl from Atlantic Records.

“Everyone got involved with Japanese chicks,” remembers Glover. “Rodgers fell in love with one and later married her. Kossoff fell in love with one who was going out with somebody else, so he was heartbroken all through the tour. Kirke fell in love everywhere he went.”

Japan enveloped the group in its exotic scent. Kirke says: “The group was almost over, and we had never seen anything like Japan. We took full advantage of our situation. The Japanese girls knew everything about us and they were doing everything for us.” From Rodgers standpoint “Tokyo was wild. They had never seen anything like us.”

Free played two nights in Japan: Kyoritsu Kodo, Kanda, on 30 April and Sankei Hall, Tokyo, on 1 May 1971. The first night was absolutely electric, stretched to the very edge with tension. Free hit the stage, a vision of fury boiling over the top in front of 5,000 screaming fans.

“I think Kossoff and Kirke were playing better because they were trying to will the thing to stay together,” Glover speculates, “or they were desperate.”

An American singer named Alan Merrill (later in the UK band The Arrows and, with Jake Hooker, co-writer of Joan Jett’s massive American hit I Love Rock & Roll) saw the Kanda show. It just so happened that the girl Andy Fraser was dating invited Merrill along.

“Yuki was my public relations girl at Atlantic,” says Merrill. “I’d heard about Free, but I wasn’t really familiar with their records. Then I went to this show and was just blown away. It was such magic I still get goosebumps even now talking about it. I walked in about the third number and I stood at the back of the hall and was just transfixed. The sound was incredible. It was so powerful. I’ve never heard anything like it since. It was just unbelievable.”

Merrill wasted no time becoming friendly with the group and joined the ranks of their Japanese entourage. Recently commenting on Free’s after-hours escapades he said, “Yuki was friendly with Machiko Shimizu, who was a big lyric writer. We all went out to this place called Spiglow, which was like speakeasy. We had some burgers and Paul [Rodgers] and Machi were all over each other. They were attached at the mouth like kiss fish.”

Later that same evening the friends continued their party moving on to a nightclub called Byblos. The alcohol continued to flow and after a very lively evening they decided to head back to the hotel for some long-overdue shut-eye. As they were leaving the club, Merrill – somewhat the worse for wear, noticed that Rodgers’ hair was on fire! “I guess it was caused by a cigarette – his hair was so LONG,” says Merrill. “I didn’t know what to do. Paul had a reputation for a quick temper and no fear of fighting at all – not the kind of guy to take kindly to being smacked on the head out of the blue. So I told Machi, ‘Your boyfriend’s hair’s on fire!’ She grabbed a glass of water and dampened it. This all happened in a matter of seconds, but to me it was like a slo-mo camera.”

Merrill’s connections included the Japanese bassist Tetsu Yamauchi. Born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1947, Tetsu had been playing in bands since high school. His parents hated the idea of him playing rock ‘n’ roll, so Tetsu’s elder brother, who was doing some jazz drumming, helped nurture his talent. Tetsu later joined a progressive band called Samurai who recorded a couple of albums for the Philips label. In 1969, they managed to break out of the country and do some work in Europe. Tetsu first saw Free while in Geneva at a club called the Black Cat. “I thought they were a really good band,” he says today, “and in the next year they came to Japan.”

Tetsu Yam 71

When Samurai returned from Europe they broke up and Tetsu became a gun for hire. “One day someone in the studio came up to me and said, ‘Free is coming, why don’t you come and see them.’ I said, ‘Okay’, and went to see them at their hotel. Then I started talking to Paul Kossoff about Europe and music and all that. He said, ‘What do you do?’, and I said, ‘I play the bass’. Then we started talking about the gig in Geneva. He said with a laugh, ‘I didn’t notice you there’. He then asked to hear me play. The next day I had studio time so I said, ‘If you have some time, you can come to the studio’. I wrote down the address and phone number thinking he probably wasn’t going to make it. But if he did come, I would be really pleased.

“The next day he came, with his guitar – his Les Paul – and we ended up playing for about two hours non-stop. The next day after that he brought Simon and Paul Rodgers down. So we did a session, the four of us in the studio. After that we went for a drink and Kossoff told me that they were going to split up after the Australian shows. He said, ‘Maybe we can form a band,’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ Free was a really good band and I really liked them so I asked Koss why were they splitting up. He said there were too many things happening in the band so they had to split up. He was saying, ‘It’s just a bad time’.”

Free’s second Japanese gig was at Sankei Hall, Tokyo. The venue had a revolving stage with the headline act on one side, the support band on the other. Free blazed through their set and were called back for three encores by the exuberant crowd. The band retreated, sweat-soaked, backstage. Kirke jumped into the shower while the others went to their independent corners of the dressing room. No one was speaking much.

Within 15 minutes the promoter came running up to Glover shouting, “Look, you have got to go back down there. All hell’s broken loose. A riot has broken out and the police are firing smoke canisters outside. Everyone is going berserk!”

The riot was bad news but the last thing Glover wanted was to intrude on the dressing room. “I never went in there after gigs because it was awful, even when they were great,” says Glover. They were so intense that when they’d get off the stage they were unbearable.” He refused to allow the promoter to address the band personally, saying he alone would be the one to ask them back for another encore.

With a delicate knock, Glover entered the room and was greeted by cutting stares. Hesitantly, he pleaded with them to consider returning to the stage to calm the riot. Moments later, still filled with aggression Free prowled out into the spotlights. Simon, half dressed, a towel draped over his shoulders began to pound out the beat and Rodgers picked up the microphone lunging out to the front. When Fraser and Kossoff reached down to plug in they suddenly realised that in their short absence, the circular stage had been rotated. Although they were facing the audience, their equipment was not. There was a riot going on and they were about to plug into the support band’s gear.

Rodgers, eyes aflame, stared at his bandmates with uncomprehending anger – then began to sing. Within four measures he was in full song. He made no introduction, just ripped into an old blues number. No one remembers exactly what it was. Kirke continued to bash away on his adopted kit. The word went out to the roadies to rotate the stage again. Rodgers, suddenly realising what was up, leapt off the rotating section onto a fixed ledge at the front of the stage. Kossoff and Fraser followed suit, and Kirke broke off for a moment to sprint around to his own kit as it moved into view of the audience. At which point the rotating stage stretched their mains power cables to breaking point and all their equipment and lighting expired.

Glover grimaces at the memory: “Just when they were all supposed to come in there was only an awkward silence.” Free smashed everything in sight and the crowd went berserk again. Still, this difficult night had its consolations. “In Japan, that one thing made them an absolute household name overnight,” notes Glover.

All the success in Japan didn’t make matters any better inside Free as they moved on to Australia. The manager had his hands full the minute the plane landed in Perth, Western Australia 5 May 1971. Glover’s ego was still badly bruised knowing that Chris Blackwell had been aware of the split prior to the tour and hadn’t seen fit to tell him. It didn’t help matters to see the Australian promoter completely shaken when they first met at the airport. Free soon discovered why; the tour had been hi-jacked by a local hood named Sammy Lee and while the official promoter was still handling all the arrangements, Lee was taking all the money. “Sammy Lee had essentially kidnapped the promoter of the tour, but things were made to look normal,” says Fraser. “He would be sent out to meet the bands at the airport and would tell them to get into this van or that bus and be taken to the hotel. All which would seem to be perfectly normal.

“In fact, everything occurred as one would expect, except that this promoter seemed under an abnormal amount of stress, nervously perspiring as if he was on the verge of a heart attack. He was being told what to do by these big guys with bulges in their coat pockets. The major difference was they were collecting the money.”

Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, also on the tour, says, “Sammy had this side-kick called Jake who carried a case full of guns, silencers and ammunition. Those guys were so powerful that part of the plane was set aside for them…not even the hostesses would go up to them.”

But, for Free, all this was a distraction compared to their internal problems. Rodgers and Fraser resented being together, Kossoff and Kirke were hanging on by a thread, none of them liked supporting Deep Purple, they were homesick and they missed their Japanese girlfriends. To add to their misery they were traveling without their own gear, and the equipment provided in Australia was substandard. For example, the tour cabinets contained only one 12-inch speaker and not the four 12-inch speakers they normally used. When Purple refused to continue with the gear provided, Sammy Lee intimidated them saying, “If you don’t carry on, we’ll shoot your legs off,” claims bassist Roger Glover.

Despite their troubles within, Free were determined to outplay Purple at every show. “We had to be tight,” says Graham Whyte. “No matter what happened internally we had to go on stage and put on a good show. That was the whole aim of it.”

At the Festival Hall in Melbourne, the only indoor show, 5,000 fans were turned away when the venue sold out. At Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, the last of the three open-air gigs, the crowd was estimated at between 35,000 and 50,000. The shows themselves were aggressive to the point of violence. Marc Biddall, an Australian fan, recalled Paul Rodgers throwing the microphone and stand into the swimming pool in front of the stage at the end of the first show in Perth. During the same show, “Andy Fraser was kicking the shit out of the bass speakers”.

On 8 May 1971, at The Memorial Stadium in Adelaide, Australia, the show nearly didn’t happen at all. “Sammy Lee, he was just amazing,” says Whyte. “He liked me because we called his bluff. We were supposed to have a certain size stage and I went down there and it was a postage stamp. I went to Sammy and I said, ‘The stage ain’t big enough, we’re not playing here tonight’. He just freaked out and threatened to shoot the brains out of me. The other roadies were a bit scared because he had this other dude with him. I said ‘Come on let’s go. So we went to a pub down the road and we had quite a few bevvies and we’re there for a couple of hours. When I said, ‘Come on let’s go back and see what’s happening.’ The other boys were like, ‘Well, we’ve already been threatened!’ I said, ‘Naw, naw, it’ll be alright’. So we kind of waltz back in through the door. We heard all these skillsaws and hammers going. Sammy had got rid of 200 chairs and extended the stage. He sees me and comes running up and throws his arms around me and says, ‘Go and get hamburgers and chips for the boys. We got a show to put on tonight’.”

Free o a g

Above: Free on stage at Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse. The drums look awfully close to the front of the stage, don’t they?

By the time the bands arrived in Sydney on 9 May, the atmosphere had become so bad that for Johnny Glover it was challenging just to stay sane. “They [Free] were looking to do two months in America after Australia and it was getting impossible to deal with,” he says. “It came down to the [Randwick] gig when I said to the guys, ‘I’ll have to cancel America, we’ll never get through it’. So I cancelled America two or three days before the end of the Australian tour. I’d rung up Blackwell and said, ‘Look Chris, I’m going to have to do this. I can’t keep them together. You should have told me they were going to break up’. I mean, it was getting violent, Andy and Rodgers were getting close to blows.”

DP Free Syd flyer

With the decision to cancel the American leg of the tour, Randwick had suddenly become their farewell gig. Glover sighs, “It was the day it was all going to end and it was real emotional. I was upset because it was the first band I’d been involved with on a management side, and one that had made a hit! You can’t recapture the excitement of the first time you’re involved with a band that has a hit record.”

As the caravan of buses, trucks and vans rolled up to Randwick racecourse the bands were greeted by the largest audience ever assembled for a Sydney rock concert up to that point. Free arrived in a green Ford Transit. But, behind the scenes the more sinister side of the tour was showing. Fraser says, “I remember Kossoff being threatened with a gun. When we were being shuttled from the hotel to the gig, Koss went into one of his favorite characters. With his hand on his forehead he proclaimed, ‘Oh! I can’t go on tonight. I won’t be ready for my close-up for quite a while, Mr. DeMille’. Well one of the big guys close by didn’t have a sense of humour and thought he needed to change Koss’s mind with showing his firearm! I think the most remarkable aspect of that was far from rattling anybody, we just figured… ‘Oh, no sense of humour’ and went back to our business. The whole situation was so surreal what with us breaking up anyway; it didn’t seem that absurd at the time. I have since heard that Sammy Lee is long dead, quite unpleasantly I believe, and won’t be kidnapping any more tours.”

Randwick went down a storm. “We just captivated the audience,” says Whyte. “It was just a fantastic afternoon. Free was all over the front of the Australian newspapers the next morning. That’s how big it was.”

“Free: Just too much! UNDOUBTEDLY THE NEXT BIG WORLD WIDE GROUP!” wrote one reviewer. “The young FREE had everything.” The review climaxed with its account of Rodgers flinging his mike stand into the wings in a final defiant note. And that’s what they intended Randwick to be – final.

During this leg of the tour and especially during the Randwick show in Sydney, Sammy Lee’s thugs tried to take control of the bands, insisting they do all the dates over again. Every night had been sold out, busting the capacity of each venue and raking in the dough. Sammy Lee’s bunch saw a financial windfall at their fingertips. Manfred Mann’s manager told the “Mafia types” he didn’t think that this would be possible. He was answered with a rather bad beating. So, says Fraser, “Johnny Glover just got us to the airport and outta there.”

There was a final poignant encounter as Free climbed into their cars after the gig. “This English guy comes over,” recalls Glover. “And he says, ‘Hi guys, just wanna shake hands with you’. I saw one gig of yours in England before I emigrated and thought you were great!’ Nobody was really interested in what he was saying ‘cos they were all preoccupied thinking about getting outta there. But somebody says to him, ‘Where did you see us?’ He said, ‘Chesterfield Quaintways,’ and there was this quiet moment. That was the first gig they ever played as Free. He’d seen their first and last and nothing in between.

“We sat in the car and the sun was going down. It was one of those things, an afternoon gig, and I was sitting next to Kirke and he looked out at the sunset and looked at me and said, ‘It’s a bit of a weird moment, isn’t it?”

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