Thomas Tripp, Christchurch

Led Free

Just to clarify, Led Free are a Free / Led Zeppelin tribute band (see what they did there), from Bournemouth, consisting of Martin Boucher on vocals / keys / harmonica, Neil Nile guitar, Phil West bass guitar / keys / backing vocals and Andy Harper on drums. If any of the names sound familiar, that’s because these guys have been around the block a few times in various bands plying their trade in virtually every pub, working men’s club, village hall, skittle alley and marquee from here to Piddletrenthide. They came together roughly three years ago after a difficult gestation period in which they struggled to find a suitable singer, but it all came together with the addition of Martin Boucher and now they are going from strength to strength.

A typical Sunday night at the Thomas Tripp in Christchurch finds the punters in short supply, however the band launch into their first set regardless, with a handful of Free numbers starting with A Little Bit of Love, a song that sounds like it should be on a Bad Company album, although, considering two of Free ended up in said band anyway, it’s a moot point and I’m a Mover, a prime example of their sparse, uncluttered sound. Fire and Water follows, giving Andy the chance to have a quick rattle around the tubs before the final chord, then The Stealer with its funky bass lines and Wishing Well, which triggers an outbreak of dad dancing. Free were first and foremost a simple blues band, who built their reputation on a catalogue of distinctive riff-laden songs, based on the bedrock of Andy Fraser’s melodic bass and the solid, unflashy drums of Simon Kirke, overlaid with Paul Rogers gritty, soulful vocals and Paul Kossoff’s sweet vibrato, Led Zeppelin on the other hand, were a different beast altogether and Led Free have to switch gear literally to capture their balls to the wall, rock n’ blues bravado. Neil and Phil change guitars to accommodate the dropped tuning and Martin, dons a tighter pair of underpants to tackle Robert Plant’s high-pitched squall, (only kidding Martin). First up is a spot on reading of Good Times Band Times from Zep 1, one of my favourites and then Black Dog, with its stuttering stop, start riff and complex rhythm changes, it’s a tricky one to pull off, but apart from a couple of minor timing issues towards the end they get through it virtually glitch free. For the mellow All My Love Martin takes to the keyboard, before the three note riff of Misty Mountain Hop picks up the pace once again, only for Since I’ve Been Loving You to come along and slam on the breaks, this slow blues utilises dynamics to great effect and gives Neil a chance to showcase his improvisational skills on an extended solo. Heartbreaker brings the guitarist to the fore once again on a middle section that tests his speed and dexterity before bringing in the rest of the band for the frantic coda, Ramble On close’s the first set.

Led Free

Led Free 1

By the start of the second half, the crowd has grown considerably and appear to be in the mood for a bit of energetic cavorting, and The Hunter, My Brother Jake and Alright Now fit the bill admirably. In most band repertoires there is a song, or songs that have to be performed and in the case of Free, it’s Alright Now, it doesn’t matter if you’d rather cut off your ears with a pair of pruning shears rather than hear “that” song yet again, but it has to be done, similarly with Stairway to Heaven which crops up later, Led Zeppelin’s own albatross may have been played to death since its inception back in 1971, but it doesn’t curtail people’s expectations and tonight is no exception, mind you I have to say they do both songs justice. The rest of the set is a mixture of the epic, Kashmir with Phil taking on keyboards duties and Whole Lotta Love with Communication Breakdown grafted into the middle for added spice, instead of the free form widdling and moaning of the original, and then there’s the straight ahead rock of, Bring It on Home to Me with Martin on harmonica, Rock n’ Roll which pretty much does what it says on the tin and Immigrant Song, (this one always reminds me of Jack Black screaming his head off while driving his beat up van in School of Rock, but I digress). To round off the evening they encore with Hot Dog, a country curiosity from Zep’s final album In Through the Out Door, on the surface an odd choice to finish with, but on reflection an inspired way to bring things to a close with an enthusiastic crowd partaking in a mass knees up , Yee-Haw.

Due to one band being a tad more popular than the other, the set list is weighted in their favour, however the contrasts in style, the taut economy of Free to the all-out guns-blazing approach of Zeppelin adds variety to an evening’s entertainment, if you’re a fan of either, catch them in a pub near you.

Set List
1. A Little Bit of Love – Free
2. I’m a Mover – Free
3. Fire and Water – Free
4. The Stealer – Free
5. Wishing Well – Free
6. Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin
7. Black Dog – Led Zeppelin
8. All My Love – Led Zeppelin
9. The Rover – Led Zeppelin
10. Misty Mountain Hop – Led Zeppelin
11. Since I’ve Been Loving You – Led Zeppelin
12. Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin
13. Ramble On – Led Zeppelin

14. The Hunter – Free
15. My Brother Jake – Free
16. Alright Now – Free
17. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
18. Whole Lotta Love / Communication Breakdown – Led Zeppelin
19. Bring It On Home To Me – Led Zeppelin
20. Rock n’ Roll – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
21. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
22. Thank You – Led Zeppelin
23. Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
24. Hot Dog – Led Zeppelin


Words by John Cherry.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to MySpace