THE GUARDIAN / Dave Simpson
A the age of 74, Andy Fairweather Low didn’t expect to see in 2023 as a viral sensation. He was on Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, performing his new song Got Me a Party and his old band Amen Corner’s 1969 chart-topper (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice. His appearance was so well received that he trended on Twitter. On New Year’s Day, his Wikipedia page was the second most trending in the UK.
“I was oblivious,” he chuckles, “because I don’t do Twitter and all that.” The broadcast had been filmed in mid-December. Low had appeared on Later … With Jools Holland before, with Eric Clapton, but never on his own. “I said to Jools: ‘It’s taken me 74 years to get here.’”
It is just another chapter in a remarkable musical life. Low has topped the charts twice with Amen Corner and became a solo star in the 1970s with Wide Eyed and Legless. Since then, he has become the ultimate musicians’ musician, playing with the likes of Clapton, George Harrison, Stevie Nicks, two Pink Floyd legends, various Rolling Stones and many, many more. He has played the Royal Albert Hall 116 times, played football with George Best, snooker with Alex “Hurricane” Higgins at Phil Lynott’s house and even jammed with Jimi Hendrix. “He sidled over and politely told me: ‘You’re in the wrong key.’”
The amiable Welshman carries all this very lightly. He turns up for our interview in a Cardiff City top and is fantastic company, which is why musicians like him.
“I know I’m good, but there are better players than I am,” he says. “But on a world tour whoever you’re working for doesn’t want to be looking after you and they’ve got to like your company. Most of the people I’ve played with have become my friends.”
Low’s gregarious but quietly determined good nature shines through Flang Dang, his first solo album in 17 years. He plays everything apart from drums and sings soulful R&B about how he is “trying to make the most of what I’ve got before I die”. He wrote the songs during lockdown and recorded in Rockfield, Monmouthshire, where he previously recorded in 1965. Countryfile came down to speak to me,” he grins. “Afterwards people kept saying, ‘I saw you on Countryfile. I thought you were dead.’”
Low grew up in Ystrad Mynach, Glamorgan, in a council house with no heating and an outside loo: “So when it was cold you had to really need to go.” His life changed when he saw the Rolling Stones at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens in 1964, aged 15. “From that moment, my education was finished. I stopped revising, everything.” A job in a music shop gave him access to guitars and he formed the Taff Beats, the Firebrands and the Sect Maniacs before becoming a teenage idol with psychedelic era popsters Amen Corner. “Our house had the curtains closed because [the fans] were all outside camping on the lawn,” he says.
Amen Corner played themselves in horror film Scream and Scream Again alongside Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee and experienced the dark side of the music business for real. “We never saw any royalties and ended up £12,000 in debt. Our manager, Terry the Pill, was threatened with a sword stick. The only way out of it was to break up the band.”
He formed Fair Weather, clearing the debt with the 1970 smash hit Natural Sinner before they split in more Spinal Tap fashion. “There were five of us and it took four to carry the Hammond organ, so one got a free pass. Then one night in Scarborough there was this huge argument about whose turn it was to carry it. I thought: ‘I’m done with this.’”
He went back to live with his mum, then reached No 6 with 1975’s Wide Eyed and Legless, one of the great pop songs about drinking. “But I started living my own record,” he sighs. “I became wide-eyed and legless.”
The turning point was the birth of his son. “I was on the baby shift, drinking vodka, watching the tennis and went: ‘Yeahhhh!’ Broken glass everywhere. I thought: ‘I can’t keep doing this.’” He had already stopped smoking in 1971 after coughing up blood. “You need the moment to be bad enough that you remember it.”
After his career was derailed by punk (“they spat at me in the street”), he glimpsed a different sort of musical career when the Who invited him to sing on the 1978 album Who Are You. “Keith Moon was fabulous,” Low grins. “He came to one of my gigs with Lionel Bart. ‘Dear boy!’ I never got involved in the madness, but witnessing Pete Townshend in full flow was magical. I felt the same as when I saw them as a teenager in Porthcawl … I’ve never lost that.”
Stars feel kindly towards him. When Low was on his uppers, Clapton sent a telegram of encouragement before a chance meeting in a studio led to a 30-plus year working relationship. Low played with Roger Waters for 23 years. “A lot of people don’t take to Roger for many reasons, but he treated me unbelievably well,” he says.
In the 80s, Low turned up to audition at George Harrison’s mansion in a VW Polo. He puts on a dry Scouse accent. “He went: ‘Do you have to drive that?’ But we got on. After we toured Japan, George stood up and said: ‘Andy, you weren’t my first choice. You were my seventh choice.’ Then he went: ‘But you were the right choice.’” Low adored the late Beatle. “He made me feel really, really good.”
When Kate Bush rang to ask him to sing on 50 Words for Snow, he thought it was a joke. “Because one of my mates once rang up pretending to be John McEnroe, and I fell for it, but she said she liked my voice.” Paul Weller sent him the song Testify to work on for 2021’s Fat Pop and then met him with a cheeky: “Where’s your hair gone?”
He played in Bob Dylan’s band for a charity gig at Madison Square Garden in 1989. “Bob was fabulous and talkative,” he remembers. “He wanted to know about a particular chord I played on Malted Milk, on Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album – a favourite song. He knew who I was.” On stage for the gig, Low says that Dylan would shout, “God – go,” at his band, leaving Low and the other musicians thinking: “Which one? He’s got three songs with God in the title!”
Low has loved every minute, although he stopped world touring in 2006 after consecutive final outings with Waters and Clapton. “I left two of the best-paying gigs. People thought I was mad.” But he had grown tired of the “boom-crunch” of arenas and wanted to perform his own material: “I wanted to get back to playing.”
Having once performed The Wall in Berlin with Waters to 450,000 people, his first gig with his own band the Low Riders in 2007 was to 20 people in a 2,000-seater in Rhyl. Gradually, though, they built it up to “300 to 400 people every night, which is great at my age”. Lately, he has been off the road to become primary carer to Barbara, his wife of 50 years, who has terminal motor neurone disease. It is a task he is no doubt undertaking as gracefully and diligently as all the others.
“I got to where I dreamed,” he says, “but I’m not finished yet.”