The Music Of Cream
Sunday 25th November
O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London
Following their successful inaugural tour across Australia and New Zealand in 2017, Ginger Baker’s son Kofi (drums), Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm (bass, vocals) and Eric Clapton’s nephew Will Johns (guitar, vocals) came together at London's O2 Forum in Kentish Town last Sunday night to pay homage to the band's extraordinary legacy with The Music Of Cream – 50th Anniversary World Tour. Celebrating 50 years since the original line-up's farewell UK concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 26th November 1968, we heard personal stories and songs such as 'Sunshine of Your Love', 'Crossroads', 'Spoonful' and 'White Room' performed across a comprehensive set, which also saw the guys interplay with footage of their fathers and mentors on the big screen, along with never-before-seen footage and photos.
With a Pathe News clip of their '68 RAH gig projected on the Forum backdrop, the second generation of this Cream family made their way onto a sparsely populated stage which matched the sparsity of the late arriving audience. The titfer matching pair of Johns and Bruce were no match for their forefathers fashion statements similtaneously projected behind them, but musically their obvious chemistry as they jammed on 'NSU' drew appreciative applause from the ever growing Cream appreciation society. Similarly, Johns vocal and his guitar sparring with Bruce on 'Outside Woman Blues' was on the money, before they launched into one of my all time favourites - the quirky time signature of 'Politician', with Mal matching the cool, suited and booted, Will's previous vocal, which not only saw a Johns solo but also a drum solo from Kofi, partly hidden behind his impressive Kofi Baker III kit. From one big hitter to another and 'Badge', the vocals now duly see-sawing back to Will, Johns understandably not being able to resist bouncing up and down as he played his distorted guitar on this classic.
As well as the brilliant music, we were also there for those stories. "Great to be home guys" as Mal movingly pointed out that it was an honour to have his Mum Janet in his home town audience. Believe it or not, Janet had actually written the words to Cream's very first song - 'Sleepy Time Time' - cue both Bruce's vocal and John's intense, but applauded guitar solo, executing this slow Blues burner with the respect Mal's Mum deserved. The vocal baton was passed back to Will on The Who sounding 'Deserted Cities', as he and the thumping bass of Bruce gathered and jammed around the rolling drums of Baker, before the projected 1967 Beat Club backdrop footage of a curly haired, cravatte wearing Eric Clapton on 'Disraeli Gears' 'Strange Brew' momentarily took our minds of off the joint vocal dexterity of Bruce and Johns.
Probably the best story of the night was Kofi's revelation that Lewisham's finest wrote 'Pressed Rat and Warthog' whilst on acid. Anyway Kofi's thusly spoken vocals did Ginger proud, not only complemented by Will's neat bit of wah pedal and Mal's bass solo, but also the projection of some sentimental Baker family photos plus one of the loveable, but manic, gap-toothed Ginger with three fags sticking out of his gob. Very funny. To round off a mesmerising first set, the guys extended the Cream family even further to Mal's daughter Maya on vocals, who dispatched 'SWLABR' (She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow) with natural verve.
The twenty minute interval included a Cream documentary, but by definition most of the Cream faithful were grateful for that comfort break! Johns returned without his fedora and jacket for the second half, that didn't detract from another glorious guitar solo on 'I'm So Glad' - the song title etched on both Mal and Will's smiling faces as they sparred vocals. Perfect. We had now reached the 'Crossroads' and time for Will's "a long long time ago" Uncle Eric story. Finding his nephew smashing the shit out of his drum kit to ZZ Top one morning, Clapton gave the life changing advice that "you need to learn a proper instrument!" Cue a spontaneous guitar lesson learning the aforementioned 'Crossroads' and the rest is history. Uncle Eric's tutorial obviously did the business as the synchronised black and white footage of Slowhand did not distract us from an accomplished guitar solo and vocal from the former student.
Time for another classic, and the slow Blues of 'Born Under a Bad Sign', Mal's atmospheric vocal matched by Will's wah pedal once again going into overdive on another guitar solo before ending with another tasty jam. Well over a couple of years ago we saw Malcolm Bruce play London's iconic Troubadour with the "fourth member of Cream", lyricist Pete Brown. Cue special guest Pete to warm applause. "Thanks for that outbreak of clap" said poet Pete - "I hope that you all get cured soon!" On a serious note, Brown added that he was proud to be on stage with three great musicians. Given Pete's pedigree this was praise indeed. Brown hinted that he was very grateful that without the next song, he would be living in a bedsit with three cats, a dog and his wife. Not sure about that order Pete, but he consequently put his heart and soul into his vocal on 'White Room', rocking back and forth on his mic stand, whilst Johns dispatched his Uncle's iconic guitar solo with aplomb, accompanied by Pete shaking his tambourine for dear life. Mal duly thanked "Uncle Pete" as he left the stage by warmly putting his arm around his shoulder.
The Blues of 1926's 'Sitting On Top Of The World' saw a superb Bruce vocal, despite the constant chatter of this guy behind me. STFU! Although in contrast, the cry of yeah! from the audience in reaction to John's guitar solo was only fitting, their fixation deservedly on Will as opposed to the complementary background black and white film footage. The stories continued as Bruce pointed out that Pete Brown wrote most of Cream's songs but surprise, surprise, Mum Janet had helped write the next one, 'Sweet Wine', which saw a sweet jam and vocal from both Mal and Will.
There were many highlights during the evening, and although we were promised a "tadpole", we actually got the complete 'Toad' on an exceptional crisp drum solo by Kofi, as we got two for the price of one with a synchronised Ginger solo projected behind his son, before Johns, who had been milking what appeared to be one of Uncle Eric's old hand me down speakers, and Bruce joined Baker, finishing with a poignant photo of both Kofi and Ginger in the background. Nice touch.
Mal's father Jack, wrote both the lyrics and music for 'We’re Going Wrong' and Bruce's trippy bass solo with accompaniment from Johns was complemented by a psychedelic backdrop that changed movingly to an old picture of the family Bruce. I suppose it was a bit of irony as I asked the pr*ck behind me whether he was at the gig to listen or talk, that it was time for the penultimate track of the set, and yet another classic, 'Sunshine Of Your Love'! Pete Brown returned to the stage and jousted vocals with Will Johns, the latter a photographer's dream as he stared menacingly down her lens as Brown bashed his tambourine. The encore was the funky and arse kicking 'Spoonful' featuring a superb vocal from Mal.
And that was that, as the footage stopped rolling and the music stopped. The truth is though that based on this performance, with their undoubted passion and enthusiasm, the Music Of Cream will never end. The good news is that the Cream legacy baton has been passed on - and thankfully it is indeed in safe hands. I certainly won't be around in another fifty years but I'm sure there music will be.
AJ (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)