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- Live, Royal Albert Hall, London May 2-3-4-5, 2005 DVD
Review No: 252
Jack Bruce: Vocals, Harmonica, Bass Guitar
Ginger Baker: Drums and Vocals
Although ‘Cream’ were known as the first Supergroup this certainly was not their intention when they formed in 1966. Eric Clapton who had made his name as a guitarist of undoubted ability first in the ‘Yardbirds’ and then in ‘John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ was looking around for a new gig. One night Ginger Baker, ex Graham Bond’s Organization, sat in on a ‘Bluesbreakers’ gig, afterwards suggesting to Eric Clapton, “How about getting a band together?” To which Clapton responded, “Ok, How about Jack Bruce?”
Now here was the first problem as Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had already played together in ‘The Graham Bond Organization’ and had hated each other so much that during one physical fight Ginger Baker had actually tried to stab Jack Bruce with a knife. But Eric Clapton wanted Jack Bruce and would not budge without him so bridges had to be built.
Since his flight from ‘The Graham Bond Organization’ Jack Bruce had played temporarily with ‘John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’, a couple of gigs with Eric Clapton when a mental note had been made by the lead guitarist, and then had been lured away by the devil money to play with pop band ‘Manfred Mann’. But when offered the job with a real band again by the other two, musically he was only too glad to jump ship.
Even though they never got along personally, musically
as a rhythm section Bruce and Baker were a match made in rock ‘n’
roll dreams. Add to that Bruce’s stunning voice and harmonica work,
you have the perfect foil for Eric Clapton’s mercurial guitar histrionics.
When they started out the idea was to be a blues trio to play small clubs
like Buddy Guy with a decent rhythm section.
But in 1966 the whole world was turned on its head with ‘Psychedelic’s, Hendrix’, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s’, etc. Baker, Clapton, and Bruce, calling their trio ‘Cream’ naturally rose to the top. They only actually lasted for twenty eight months from July 1966 until November 1968 when they walked off stage at the Albert Hall for the last of their farewell tour gigs, after which three of them did not share the same room for 35 years. But during those short sweet months they achieved so much.
They had three hit albums: ‘Fresh Cream’ (1966), ‘Disraeli Gears’ (1967) and ‘Wheels Of Fire’ (1968) a double album, half live, half studio, which went number one all over the world. This astonished their record company Atlantic so much (that they had a band that could sell over two million dollars worth of product with one album), they invented the Platinum album as a tribute to them. Their final tour of the United States of America grossed over 540,000 dollars in six weeks, and it is not surprising a lot of company executives cried when they split up. You must put in context how much a million dollars was in 1968 to get a real grip on how huge ‘Cream’ was at the time.
In the three years after the band had finished, Atlantic put out four more albums. The contractually binding ‘Goodbye Cream’ (1969) which included three live tracks and three studio cuts; ‘Badge’ being one studio track co-written between Eric Clapton and George Harrison never played live by the band until this reunion. ‘Badge’ is probably one of the songs ‘Cream’ were later best known for. ‘Best Of Cream’ (1969), which was followed by ‘Live Cream’ (1970) and finally ‘Live Cream Volume Two’ (1972). These were all top ten hit albums worldwide. There have of course been hundreds of compilation and exploitation albums since.
In 2004 Eric Clapton mooted the idea to Baker and Bruce about a possible reunion. Both at first were resistant to the idea, but arms were twisted, and eventually a meeting was arranged. Time had, as is often the case, healed old wounds, and it was decided to hire a rehearsal studio just to see! It went well.
The Albert Hall was booked for four nights in early May 2005 (The tickets sold out in minutes, and swapped hands for thousands on e-bay). The risks were musically staggering, time has moved on so much (we are talking thirty seven years here), would a power trio be able to cut the mustard in today’s age of technology, backing tapes, click tracks, etc? Would Ginger Baker kill Jack Bruce during rehearsals, or vice versa? Could Eric Clapton still put the hammer down on the electric guitar as of days of yore?
Actually, the only problem was an attack of nerves by the normally nerveless Baker who wanted to pull out two days before the first concert, but was talked round by Clapton. To top it all this was a band that was volatility itself, one night the best in the world, but on another day ... Oh dear. What if the first night was not all it should be! Would any of them turn up for the next night?
This DVD is positive proof that nothing like that happened. They saunter on stage for opening number ‘I’m So Glad’ on the first night, and the old magic bounces between the three musicians. All four nights were recorded; afterwards the band watched the tapes and decided which was the best version of each song and put it out as a complete concert in its correct running order. (If they could not make up their minds which night was better, they simply tacked it on as a bonus track to the DVD.) You know which night each song was taken from as a little sign pops up at the beginning of each song to let you know.
All of the great ‘Cream ‘songs are here, including the never before played ‘Badge’ and the wonderful Ginger Baker sung ‘Pressed Rat and Warthog’, both from ‘Goodbye Cream’. There is even a version of Ginger Baker’s drum solo number ‘Toad’, which may have been cut from its seventies length twenty minutes, but at over seven minutes still shows that Ginger Baker is not ready to pass on his greatest jazz/rock drummer title yet.
Jack Bruce’s vocals and Harmonica playing are better than they ever were, whilst his bass playing remains as inspirational as ever. Can Eric Clapton still give every rock guitarist in the world a run for their money? After only one song there is only one answer: a huge big yes. All of the playing is simply better than you could possibly wish for.
The DVD is stocked full of bonuses including interviews
with all three of the band. The concert alone is over two hours long.
Eighth song in ‘Politician’ after the bass introduction, the
rest of the band join in as they slip into that ‘Cream’ groove,
Jack Bruce looks up and smiles at Ginger Baker and Ginger Baker smiles
back - now that never happened the last time they played the Albert Hall.