ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW – ROGER WATERS BAND SOUNDCHECK
JUNE 2002 By Greg Phillips
Roger Waters seems oblivious to the fact that he’s only an hour away from playing to thousands of fans at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. He’s wearing an old grey T shirt and still soundchecking after almost an hour and a half of tweaking songs. Twenty minutes alone has been spent on one section of the Floyd classic “Money”. During “Shine On” Waters insists that keyboard player Andy Wallace has played half a note too many and the decay effect he’d implemented for this song needs to be removed. The backing singers who have been sitting patiently waiting for their cue, step up to perform harmonies on “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” and instantly achieve perfect pitch. Their volume however according to Roger is a tad loud. The ten piece band, made up of some of the world’s finest musicians run through each song as requested and as one, turn to face Waters at the mixing desk awaiting his approval.
Long-time friend Andy Fairweather Low is part of this band and knows all too well that founding member of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters is a perfectionist.
“Roger has an eye and ear on everything” said Fairweather Low. ” I have never worked with anyone like it. I mean this show is huge, there’s a lot in it. At the end of the show, if the lighting cue is wrong, he’s aware of it. He talks about it, constantly thinking about the show, trying to make it better. To keep all these elements and these people working, and being positive and wanting to do it right, takes something. It doesn’t take a tyrant, it takes something a lot more than just being a bully. Everybody wants to do it for Roger. As band members we get an immense amount of respect from him and we are treated well.”
Fairweather Low’s introduction to Pink Floyd was in 1967 when his band Amen Corner was featured on a package tour which also included Jimi Hendrix. Andy claims he would never had listened to Floyd’s music had he not been on that tour. His preference was for straight up and down R&B. Floyd’s music was not so accessible. Even in 1967 Pink Floyd were experimenting and exploring the use of theatrics in a rock show. Their props included an enormous backing sheet and a huge wax disc on which they projected images. Unfortunately for most of the ’67 tour the combination of wax and cotton was deemed a fire hazard and Pink Floyd had to play bare bones. Andy recalls. “A lot of the time they couldn’t use that huge wax disc because the sheet that they put up, which was just a big bed sheet really. I mean a hell of a big sheet, but most of the places we played in back in ’67 they wouldn’t allow them to use it. So I would watch the Floyd without any of the lights and theatrics and I remember listening to ‘Set the Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and thinking ‘Well…yep, I suppose so!’ I just didn’t get it, but we get it now and get it in a big way.”
Andy’s recollection of that tour is not so vivid any more however he does recall that the guys from Pink Floyd were not the most genial group of people. While all of the other bands on the tour travelled together, only Floyd travelled separately. Andy can laugh about it these days. “They never spoke to anybody, they were a real unsociable bunch of buggers.” He relates the story to Roger Waters now who explains their behaviour then as being ” just a little different, was the way he put it” says Fairweather Low. Roger also recalls that Ron King, Amen Corner’s manager at the time threatened to break Waters’ legs after shouting at the 16 year old Fairweather Low for something as trivial as touching a Leslie speaker.
The Pink Floyd of 1967 was the version that included the reclusive Syd Barrett., who was later paid tribute to by his fellow band members in their song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. Not a great deal is known about Syd and Andy certainly didn’t get close to knowing what made him tick. ” Syd walked alone! Syd absolutely walked alone, and it was all part of something I found hard to understand then. I wasn’t after deep meaningful lyrics, I wanted a back beat and I wanted to hear the guy sing the soul and I didn’t want to hear anything else,” said Andy.
Andy went on to establish a solo career of his own and had a hit single in Britain with “Be Bop N’ Holla”. With a unique singing voice that didn’t take too kindly to travel, Fairweather Low gave it away when punk music, according to the record company, rendered his music insignificant.
In 1985 Roger Waters asked Andy to join him on his Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking tour and in between regular stints with Eric Clapton’s band, the association has continued ever since. “When I was on stage in America that first time with Roger” says Fairweather Low, “not having to worry about my voice or selling tickets, I’d be there playing the full catalogue of Pink Floyd, and thinking …and he’s going to pay me for it! It was then I thought there’s something in this.”
Andy’s brief for Roger’s In The Flesh tour, which features music from all the big Pink Floyd albums, plus tunes from Roger’s solo albums, is basically to play rhythm guitar, however he plays bass when Roger wants to play guitar, and also gets to do the solo in “Money”. Lead guitar duties are shared between Snowy White and Chester Kaman.
Andy is predominantly using Fender guitars with Roger’s show.
“My Fender bass is a cross between the Precision and Jazz bass, you can flick between the two. I use two Vibrokings. I really like that amp. I don’t use them both at the same time but there’s one clean set up and one dirty. I have one of those Martin Eric Clapton signature guitars which is fantastic. I’ve a couple of P90s and one with humbuckers. I never got on with the lace sensor pickups. I found some old humbuckers and actually, some new P90s. I like the sound they make. I was using a Vox Phantom but that’s been ditched now. That sounded awful, but I really liked it. It made a unique, strange guitar noise. Plus I’m using an old Washburn I got from Roger. It’s like a single cutaway.”
“As far as effects go, I have a Voodoo Vibe for my part in ‘Money’, then flick it off when I do the solo. I used to use a Chorus on ‘Amused to Death’ but I don’t even bother with that now. That’s it. I don’t use a radio mic or anything, I use a lead to the amp. The amp is very straight forward and that’s it, valves, lead, guitar. Most of the guitarists I like played in the 50s or 60s and they had no effects. I have always found with effects that, even when I played with people that had them, and I thought they were great sounds, but it never moved enough air. Back in 1967, Hendrix was on that tour with The Floyd and my band Amen Corner. Although he had a few analogue pedals, and a wah wah, it was air that moved. He just turned the bloody thing up. There’s absolutely no substitute for it in my mind. Although you might create it through the PA, it’s how you feel when you’re standing next to it . There’s no substitute for pushing air.”
Andy Fairweather Low continues to roam the world making a comfortable living playing rhythm guitar on classic British rock songs alongside greats like Waters, Clapton, and Van Morrison, but never takes it for granted.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that I get the same thrill as the audiences.” says Andy. ” I am fortunate enough to play a lot of the signature licks, which kinda frightens the life out of me. With Clapton the licks get dangerous because everybody knows what they should sound like, and there is no reinterpretation. You play it like it’s meant to be played, and I think that if I were in the audience I would feel the same way.”
Roger Waters’ In The Flesh CD, video and DVD, which is basically the current tour show, is available now through Sony Music as is “Flickering Flame, the Solo Years, Volume 1” a compilation of his solo music.
ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW – ROGER WATERS BAND SOUNDCHECK