Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Flashback: Remembering when Cream played in Coventry

Flashback: Remembering when Cream played in Coventry

Pete Clemons recalls when the iconic musicians performed in our city


When Jack Bruce passed away during October 2014 I suddenly found myself reminiscing about those timely Cream reunions of 2005 at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert programme for those gigs contained a known ‘gigography’ and I noticed that Coventry had not been included in the listing. People only know what they know I guess, and it is difficult to trace events from 50 years ago, but I was certain in my mind that Cream had played the city. And so that set me on a quest.

To be fair, it was not too difficult a task. Over the years I had heard people mention a Cream gig in Coventry that they had attended. So it was just a case of following up on that really.

But settling on finding some evidence for a gig in the city by this wonderful trio, I knew, would not fully satisfy me. If I was going to write a few words about it then it needed to be a bit more interesting. After all, Cream, who left us with an incredible legacy are 50 years old come July 2016.

I was aware that Jack Bruce had been a member of Graham Bonds early bands. So I wanted to delve deeper into Jack’s illustrious and eventful career and how, if at all, that had touched Coventry. I would not be disappointed at what I dug up. Graham Bond was a leading figure in the British R ‘n’ B explosion of the 1960s. If Bond’s career had had greater longevity then he would have had as much claim to the title of ‘Father of British Blues’ as John Mayall has now.

Bond was at the beginning of it all and his various bands became instrumental in nurturing the early careers of many great musicians. And, in a sense, it could be argued that Bond was crucial in the formation of later bands like Cream and Colosseum.

Graham Bond’s first band, which came together in 1963, was formed as a splinter group to the Alexis Korner Blues Incorporated. Initially a trio it included Bond himself on keyboards, Ginger Baker on drums, and bass player Jack Bruce who back then was playing upright double bass. Quickly realising that this band had real potential he added guitarist John McLaughlin.

And it was with this incredible line up that I discovered had performed upstairs at the Wine Lodge (also remembered as the Tally Ho but now known as the Tudor Rose) as the Graham Bond Quartet during 1963.

By the early part of 1964 John McLaughlin had moved on. Saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith had been drafted in and the band was now known as the Graham Bond Organisation. By now, Jack Bruce has switched to the electric bass. This line up of the band remained stable till toward the end of 1965. And it was this line up that made several visits to The Mercers Arms Pub which stood close to the old Highfield Road football ground.

A fierce rivalry between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, which dated back to the early days of the Graham Bond bands, was still simmering under the surface throughout this rhythm sections existence. Things had got so bad between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker that this led to Jack leaving the band towards the end of 1965. Early 1966 saw the Organisation perform at The Walsgrave pub with the line-up that did not include Jack Bruce.

After the briefest of stays with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Jack Bruce would team up with Manfred Mann and, ironically, this would lead to Jack’s first real commercial success as he appeared on their number 1 hit Pretty Flamingo.

It seems that the seeds of Cream were sown when Eric Clapton would turn up to gigs and even jam with Graham Bond’s band.

Ginger Baker and Eric seemed to get on really well. Ginger even went to watch Eric perform with his then band, the Bluesbreakers. However, with both starting to grow tired of their respective bands, the pair turned their thoughts towards putting a new band together themselves.

Eric Clapton had got to know Jack Bruce through Jacks brief stay with the Bluesbreakers. And Eric really wanted Jack to be a part of this new venture. Eric was, at that time, unaware of Jack and Gingers previous bad blood. However, for the good of the new band Ginger put Jack’s prowess before any personal differences and Jack agreed to join. In fact, in a recent interview, Eric Clapton, admitted how he had been in a confrontational situation twenty four hours a day during Cream’s few years together.

Cream was formed during July 1966 and played their first gig at the end of that month. It was toward the end of 1966 when Cream played in Coventry. They performed at the incredibly forward thinking Leofric Hotel Jazz Club. Incredibly, a few weeks later, they returned to play Coventry Polytechnic (now the university). A few weeks before Cream’s first visit the Leofric Hotel Jazz Club had put on the latest line-up of the Graham Bond Organisation which by then included drummer Jon Hiseman and bass player as replacements for Baker and Bruce.

Cream, in the main, was blues influenced. As a band they had two main facets. First they had their commercial and more song based material which was aimed at the singles charts. But as they progressed they added more and more improvisation to their live performance. This was quite an innovative thing to do at that time and this format soon spread and influenced other bands. Cream also established Jack Bruce and poet/lyricist Pete Brown as a writing team.

By late 1968, just two and a half years after they had formed, and after the release of their Wheels of Fire album Cream had gone their separate ways. Apparently they had just had enough of it all. They did however agree to complete one final album called ‘Goodbye’ which was released early 1969 and which contained the classic ‘Badge’

That’s not quite the end of this story though as there were several more visits to the city by the Graham Bond Organisation between 1967 and 1969 albeit with a variety of differing line-ups.

October 1969 also saw Jack Bruce perform at the Lanch (Coventry University) as part of the Mike Gibbs Jazz Orchestra. He was accompanied by other notables such as John Marshall, Henry Lowther and Chris Spedding.

The Lanchester Arts Festival of January 1970 saw Jack Bruce and Friends, Larry Coryell, Mike Mandel and Mitch Mitchell perform two shows.

Finally, November 1970 saw Jack Bruce perform with Tony Williams’s band, ‘Lifetime’, with Larry Young and John McLaughlin at the Chesford Grange Hotel.

And to celebrate the fact that Cream are 50 years old I noticed, in our now relocated HMV shop, that a box set that comprises all the bands classic albums is now available at a very reasonable price.

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