Bend me, Shape me to 13 years with Clapton

Andy Fairweather Low is playing at the Empire on March 7
Andy Fairweather Low is playing at the Empire on March 7
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Amen Corner was the quirkily-named band that first featured Andy Fairweather Low as its frontman.

The 1960s’ mod-pop groovers called themselves after a weekly disco in Cardiff, that specialised in soul music. And that was also the musical direction for the teenage Welsh musicians. When they started out, they were a jazz, blues and soul-based combo and Gin House Blues was their first hit, but Bend Me Shape Me was the more pop-influenced number that propelled them to fame.

Low from south Wales was the writer, as well as the vocalist, but his own major solo hit didn’t come till 1975, with Wide-Eyed and Legless still a hot classic radio play. And Andy’s distinctive voice still makes it a unique sing-along experience at concerts.

Before his Belfast gig on Saturday, he told the News Letter that it was definitely still on his set-list: “I like to mix everything from rockabilly to blues with our Amen Corner hits as well. Giving an audience a good time is what I aim for.”

Amen Corner broke up, even after their UK number one, (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice in early 1969 and another Top Five hit with Roy Wood’s Hello Susie. It seemed the band could not survive success. By the following year Amen Corner had split, with Andy Fairweather Low escaping the teenybop grind by forming the simply named Fairweather.

But before that, he was part of the swinging London 60s’ scene, with a residence at London’s Speakeasy. It was an eclectic time, according to Andy: “We started playing at midnight and all the musicians came down after their own gigs. Jimi Hendrix joined us onstage twice and then in 1969, he brought me over to the studio in New York, to do vocals, when he was recutting Stone Free.”

Fairweather reached number six in the UK singles chart with Natural Sinner during the summer of 1970. But it was to be the band’s only hit. One album later and Fairweather came to an end. Low then became somewhat of a refugee from the music business, eventually emerging three years later as a solo artist, with an album called Spider Jiving on A&M.

Then he got back on track and back on a roll. The following year, 1975, he released his second solo album, La Booga Rooga, which eventually emerged as his most successful record. It was produced by the celebrated Glyn Johns – at that time fresh from working with The Eagles.

More recently, tours in 2008 and 2009 cemented Andy’s position in the UK as a live touring band with the Low Riders and he won many new friends, whilst opening shows with the band for Robert Cray, Dennis Locorriere and latterly Eric Clapton on their UK tours.

Andy said it was a great life on the road with Clapton: “We had 13 years on the road and 107 gigs at the Royal Albert hall. Fabulous money, fabulous hotels and doing what I loved, playing music, but I needed some time for my own music too.

“I’m 66 and a grandfather now - his 11 year-old grandson Sion (Welsh spelling of Sean) is already excelling at guitar - and I’ve been married for 43 years, so I wanted to have some family time with Barbara my wife.”

So the former Amen Corner frontman’s pedigree is the stuff rock dreams are made of. The Welshman has played with some of the world’s greatest recording artists including Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, blues legend BB King, The Who, the Bee Gees and many others. He’s also played with our own Van Morrison:

“Yes, I’ve toured with Van. He’s amazing, a creative genius and I’ll be doing another gig with a Northern Irish connection in London on March 17. It’s a benefit for Henry McCullough. I’ve known Henry for years. He played on my album Spider Jiving.”

When Low released Sweet Soulful Music in 2006, it was his first solo album in 26 years, but those intervening years have been packed with people and projects virtually amounting to a stellar A to Z of rock history.

His concert at the Empire on Saturday night, as part of the BelNash festival, promises to be a cracking evening of enjoyment, not only for guitar aficionados, but also for fans of his singalong hits like Wide Eyed and Legless. Low has his full band with him for the gig. You can get more information on the 11th United Airlines Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival at