‘I think that All Right Now has probably got to be played’

Paul Rodgers

Paul Rodgers

Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter James House.

It’s a long way from Nashville to Abbey Road as James hits London

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He’s the man who started legendary rock act Free nearly 50 years ago.

He was in the supergroup Bad Company and it was he that legendary guitarist Jimmy Page teamed up with in The Firm after Led Zeppelin finished. He was also the singer who Queen looked to when they finally felt ready to tour again after the death of Freddie Mercury.

This is the man his fans call, simply, The Voice.

So why on earth is Paul Rodgers telling The Guide about a 400lb pig?

Apparently, along with his wife Cynthia, they’re patrons of the Willows Animal Sanctuary and Assisted Therapy Unit in Aberdeenshire.

‘There was one story that touched me, it was a little piglet on the way to the slaughterhouse and it fell or jumped off the wagon right outside their door. It was slightly injured so they took it in and rescued it, now it’s like 400lb...’ he cackles with delight.

‘But it’s lovely what they do. Their motto is “People helping animals, helping children”, and it’s not just children, they help soldiers back from Afghanistan with PTSD.

‘The therapy between people and animals is unbelievable, that’s part of what they do and we’re trying to help them.’

Paul’s latest tour is dubbed Free Spirit, marking 50 years since he met guitarist Paul Kossoff, with whom he would go on to form Free. As Rodgers had one of the voices to define his generation, Kossoff’s guitar playing regularly features in all-time greatest lists.

The tour’s name came from a Shetland pony foal which should have died, but survived against all the odds, and was named Free Spirit by the sanctuary.

‘I went: “Hmm, Free Spirit, now there’s a name, if we ever do a tour, that’s what I shall call it.’

Free sadly broke up in 1973, with Kossoff, ravaged by drug addiction, dying of a pulmonary embolism aged just 25 in 1976. But between 1969 and ’73 the band produced six albums and classic rock staples such as All Right Now, Little Bit of Love, My Brother Jake and Wishing Well.

‘It is a large body of work for such a short amount of time and a lot of those songs have never been played on stage,’ say Paul a touch wistfully. ‘Soon I Will Be Gone, Come Together In The Morning. When I listen to Come Together In The Morning now, I think it’s the best record we ever made. Koss’s guitar-playing on that is phenomenal. He just rips my soul out when I hear it, it makes me cry. And we never really played it live.

‘I will be playing a lot of the songs you’d expect to hear when you come to a show like this, A Little Bit of Love, Be My Friend, Ride On a Pony, Fire And Water, and I think All Right Now has probably got to be played.’

But as Paul reveals, he didn’t play the band’s signature hit for two decades.

‘Not a lot of people know that after I left Free, after we all disbanded, I didn’t play that song until about ’96, and that was when I was playing a blues tour. I had Jason (son of Led Zeppelin drummer John) Bonham on drums and he was forever saying: “Let’s do Mr Big”, and I was forever saying: “Jason, this is a blues tour!” Then one night, in this blues club, it was packed, and he’s going: “Do All Right Now”, and the audience started picking up on it, and in the end there was only me going: “No, this is a blues show!” So I threw up my hands and said: “Okay, let’s do it...” And it was amazing to revisit it.

‘I didn’t actually make a conscious decision about not playing the song. When I moved on to Bad Company, it’s always been with me to write your own songs for that band, and off we went – Feel Like Making Love, Shooting Star, and so on, it’s a completely new catalogue. It never crossed my mind, I always thought you moved forward, and then with Jimmy in The Firm we were writing new songs again. It was just was the way it was.’

Throughout his music career, Paul appears to have been blessed with some serendipitous moments.

‘When I left my home town of Middlesborough, I didn’t know this at the time, but looking back, I realise that I was looking to survive, to find peace of mind and to make music doing it, and that’s what I’ve been doing, and what I’m still doing. Each thing that comes along, it just sort of happens.

‘With Jimmy for instance, he came around with a guitar when I was recording a solo album and we started jamming and writing songs, from there The Firm evolved. I never thought, “I would love to work with Jimmy Page – get him on the phone!”

‘And the same with Brian May, I never ever in my wildest dreams imagined fronting Queen.’

Rodgers’ appointment to front a revived, touring Queen in 2004 was seen as controversial in some circles. After all, how do you follow Freddie Mercury?

‘That was my thought, “how do you do this?” The only way to do this is to be myself.

‘I had a lot of respect for Freddie, they were very different from everything else at the time and they were very flamboyant, but they had great, great songs. At first, I thought, I don’t think so, and then I thought, hang on, it’s going to be a great experience.

‘It started out just as a short tour. It lasted four years, but I thought this isn’t going to be me for the end of my days, I have to step away and do my own thing, but it was great, I loved it.’

n Paul Rodgers: Free Spirit tour is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday, May 25. Doors 7pm, tickets £61.25 - £94.25. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk

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