Andy Fairweather Low was born in the Welsh valleys in 1948, and has been described by Gary Brooker as ‘one of my closest musical friends’; yet despite meeting in 1967, when their agents had adjoining premises in Denmark Street, they didn’t play together until the Pierhead Restoration Band, a constellation of musical talent (including Mel Collins, Mickey Jupp, Henry Spinetti and Chris Stainton), was assembled by Brooker to raise money for Bognor Pier in the mid 80s. ‘Gary was the first person to bring me out as a lead guitarist,’ says Andy, whose unique electric style reflects the influence of the old blues and country pickers. He rose to fame as a singer / songwriter (playing back-up guitar) with 60s chart band Amen Corner, who took their name (‘despite many rumours to the contrary’) from a short-lived club in Cardiff where Andy has lived most of his life; his hits included Bend Me Shape Me, High In The Sky, and (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice. ‘It was a real privilege to have been so successful at that time,’ says Andy, who at the age of nineteen was playing two shows a night on a shared bill with Jimi Hendrix, ‘Yet I look back at those days as if it had happened to someone else.’ Amen Corner had started out as a soul band and Fairweather Low was not wholly comfortable with the poppy direction in which management steered him. ‘One’s memory gets clouded by the bad deals and the dodgy people, but for me A Whiter Shade of Pale always brings back the great side of the sixties. I was going to a gig in Great Yarmouth when it first came on the radio, and the minute I hear that opening I’m back in that Transit van. You’ll find hundreds of musicians with a similar story.’
Since those early days Andy has had hits in his own right (Natural Sinner, Wide-Eyed and Legless) and lent his talents to sessions or gigs with ARMS Benefit, The Albion Band, Aztec Camera, The Big Town Playboys, Julie Covington, Bob Dylan, Dave Edmunds, Foghat, Dave Gilmour, Emmylou Harris, George Harrison, BB King, Love Sculpture, John Mayall, Stevie Nicks, Gerry Rafferty, Rockpile, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Satriani, Leo Sayer, Richard and Linda Thompson, and Roy Wood among others. Andy became a regular at Brooker’s blues sessions at the Parrot Inn, socialising with the likes of Henry Spinetti and Eric Clapton, in whose band he went on to play guitar for thirteen years, much of that time alongside Brooker. In the 1980s he played with Willie and the Poor Boys in a series of all-star benefits for Multiple Sclerosis research. As well as touring with Pete Townshend of The Who, he has played guitar all over the world with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, also acting as his deputy bass guitarist: he has missed only two Waters gigs since 1984.
Yet apart from playing on David Crosby’s Thousand Roads in 1993, Andy had not been featured on record as a lead player until 1995 when Gary Brooker invited him to play on The Orchestral Music of Procol Harum. ‘It was only the second time anyone has asked me to play as me,’ Andy recalls. ‘You always walk away from Gary feeling a better musician.’ Andy has been the main guitarist, and a featured vocalist on many of songs of his own and traditional numbers, in Brooker’s No Stiletto Shoes. At the ‘Concert for George’ Fairweather Low reverently played a 60s Fender owned, indeed sprayed, by Harrison himself; he has enjoyed getting to grips with the mandolin for the present performance.
Next project for Andy involves going into the studio this month with twenty self-penned songs to prepare a solo album; but he is always ready for the call from Gary Brooker, ‘A helluva writer and a belter of a singer,’ he declares. With characteristic deadpan Brooker attributes the undimmed range and power of his voice to ‘fresh air and tobacco’. The latter is Andy’s only reservation about working with Brooker but, as he concedes, ‘If you love the man, I guess you have to love the pipe!’