On the evening of 19th February 1969 at The Brighton Dome those lucky enough to have tickets were treated to a great gig. Not only did we enjoy two of the 60s great bands but we were also treated to our first experience of a group that became one of the iconic bands of the early 70s. Tickets cost between 7shillings and sixpence (32.5p) and 15 shillings (75p). The gig was a truly great event with talent in abundance. It features two bands at their peak and one taking its first steps to greatness.
Headlining was the musically unique Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Having achieved chart success in 1968 with the single ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ and released two excellent albums, ‘Gorilla’ and ‘The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse’, the Bonzo’s deserved top spot on this tour. Fronted by the magnificent Vivian Stanshall (vocals, trumpet & tuba) the Bonzo line-up contained talent, eccentricity, genius and insanity. The incomparable Neil Innes (piano, guitar and vocals), Rodney “Rhino” Desborough Slater (saxophone), Roger Ruskin Spear (tenor sax, trouser press and various musical contraptions), “Legs” Larry Smith (drums). Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell and Sam Spoons also played with the band but not at every gig.
Neil eventually had his own TV series, The Innes Book of Records, and founded the Rutles (also known as the Prefab Four) with Eric idle. “Legs” Larry drummed for George Harrison and was immortalised in a song penned by George called His Name is Legs. Roger Ruskin Spear created musical contraptions and was well known for writing songs with a trouser theme. Sadly Roger with his van load of gadgets was stranded on the A23, due to the snow we were told, and never made this gig. The set included music from both albums enhanced by some great lighting and audio effects. With a resounding crash and burst of lights the Dome was thrust in darkness followed by Vivian’s dulcet tones apologising for blowing the fuses. What a great way to start their set after the other two bands.
Second on the bill were the hugely popular Family. Branded as a progressive rock band, Family’s sound included influences and genres such as folk, psychedelia, acid, jazz, blues and rock and roll. They were fronted by Roger Chapman, whose idiosyncratic showmanship and vocal vibrato led him to become a cult figure on the British rock scene. Family had become one the major bands of the “underground” scene with John Peel, a strong supporter providing exposure on the radio.
Their debut album, ‘Music In A Doll’s House’ released in 1968, is now considered a classic of British psychedelic rock. This album featured many instruments that were considered unusual for a rock band at that time. Thanks to the talents of multi-instrumentalists band members Ric Grech and Jim King they incorporated saxophones, violins, cello and harmonica. Ric left Family in May of 1969 to join the super-group Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood and Ginger Baker.
The Family line up this night included John “Charlie” Whitney on lead and steel guitar and Rob Townsend on drums. Rob went to play in Medicine Head and The Blues Band as well as working as an in-demand session drummer. As ever the Family set at the Dome was powerful and loud with a typical Roger Chapman performance both visually and vocally.
The opening band had just finished recording their first album which was due to release in March of that year. The album was produced on a very low budget and contained eight original tracks which demonstrated the bands quality and creativity. Titled ‘Tons Of Sobs’, this was the debut album of the truly legendary rock band Free. Their live set was based around the contents of this album and it rocked an unsuspecting audience to its core. It was impossible to believe that this band, who owned the stage, were so young.
When Free formed in April 1968 bass player Andy Fraser was 15 years old, lead guitarist Paul Kossoff was 17, and both lead singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were 18. Paul Kossof who turned professional at the age of 15 sadly died in 1976 of drug-related heart disease. He was later voted 51st in the top 100 guitarist in Rolling Stone magazine. Paul’s father, the actor David Kossof, formed the Paul Kossof Foundation with the aim of presenting the realities of drug addiction to young children. Paul’s epitaph reads ‘Alright Now’.
Free’s career was brief, they disbanded in 1970 and had a brief re-union in 1972, but in that short time they took the rock world by storm. After the Free at Last album released in ‘72 Rodgers and Kirke formed Bad Company, Kossof released a solo album titled Back Street Crawler before forming a band of the same name and Fraser formed the band Sharks. Fraser moved to California and concentrated on song writing. He wrote songs for Robert Palmer, Joe Cocker, Paul Young and Rod Stewart as well as the song “Obama (Yes We Can)”, which he also sang, to support the campaign to elect Barack Obama.
Paul had success with Bad Company as well as a solo career and touring with Queen after the death of Freddie Mercury. Kirke is now a governor of The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy award committee. After Bad Company he played with the Ringo Starr’s All Star Band and worked with a host of famous names including Wilson Pickett, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Eric Clapton.