By Eamonn Keyes
I’m in Dublin, it is the summer of 1970 and my cousin Valerie is playing that record endlessly. She is infatuated with it.It’s on the radio all the time as well, unsurprisingly, as it’s Number One in the charts in this summer when I’ll fall in love for the first time. A hopeless, unrequited love that will stay with me, bitter-sweet, for all my life as only a first love can, especially when she wears braces.No, not orthodontic braces. Men’s trouser braces, and a long mustard cardigan, with freckles aplenty to boot.
I hate this song. I’m just discovering Sergeant Pepper, and this shouty guitar rock is outside my comfort zone. I watch the sickly pink of the record label circle the spindle at 45 RPM, wobbling slightly as it hasn’t been placed dead centre on the black vinyl. It is summer 1970, and that pink label will soon signify all that is good in the music of my teenage and early adult life. Outside of The Beatles of course. If it stopped the label would depict a white lowercase letter ‘i’. Chris Blackwell’s Island label. The label of Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Cat Stevens, John Martyn, Traffic, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and later, Bob Marley and Roxy Music. And um, U2.
The record played on, the guitar solo wailing to a climax as the vocalist screamed and the band shuddered to a halt momentarily, before launching into a drum phrase that links into the last chorus- dah- dum dum dah-dum-dum crack!
“Allllll riiiiiiighhht nowwww, baby, it’s aalriiiiiight nowwwwwwwww”
It’s 37 years later. I’m in London sitting in a stairwell with that same screaming vocalist, along with his pretty Canadian wife and manager. “You’re a healer, man”, he’s telling me, “it’s obvious, I can see it”. Paul Rodgers, ex of Free and Bad Company and currently of Queen, has been playing a gig with The Answer, and I’ve just been sound engineering the show.
Over 37 years I’d come to love his voice and his music. One of the finest Blues/Rock singers ever. The superb album “Fire and Water”, featuring that once-hated song, “All Right Now”, now a classic. Add in songs like “Oh I Wept” and the title track and ohmigod, magical, and all at 20 years old. The first Bad Company album, and the sight of Rodgers and Mick Ralphs guitar-duetting live on Top of The Pops playing “I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” was a pivotal moment for me, showing me true excitement and the power of voice and guitar.
We’d done the gig, and afterwards sat talking for hours in the dressing room about old Bluesmen.Eventually he reminisced about recording “Fire and Water”, telling me about those treasured songs coming to life in the studio. And then Catrina, bassist Micky’s then-girlfriend and now his wife, had a bad asthma attack and suddenly couldn’t breathe at all. And then the weird stuff started.
At times like this-and it may sound like hippydippy shit- something takes me over. I can feel what’s wrong, and I instinctively know what to do. Like in this case. I asked Catrina to focus on me and my voice, to slow the breathing down, to dig deep in her stomach and find the air, to just hold my hands and take the strength and gently let the air enter fully. I could see the panic in her eyes, but gradually it diminished, and she began to breathe fitfully, and very soon she was back to normal.
Paul Rodgers was astonished, and asked me about what I’d done. I didn’t have a clue and said so. He started telling me about his life, how he stopped drinking and smoking and now meditates, and he started with the healer talk. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable. I wanted more tales of touring and Koss and Bad Company, of Jimmy Page and Andy Fraser. Eventually I got some, as we sat on the stairs of the venue, waiting for his limo to arrive, in a surreal bubble. Star and Nobody.
When the limo pulled up, he stood up. He’s quite a small man, stocky and solid, still with his rough Middlesbrough accent, and with a daunting presence despite his size. He shook my hand, and looked into my eyes. “You’re a healer man, I can feel it”. Then he turned and walked to the car, got in and it drove off.
It certainly was All Right Now, Val.
This is for you, still singing and enjoying music in Goa.
Let’s move before they raise the parking rate, cousin, and we’ll always be fourteen.