Firebirds and hair

Whilst ferreting about on YouTube trying to find videos to illustrate yesterday’s post about Glen Campbell, I stumbled across a video clip I’d never seen before and that I’d only heard.

It features Cream guesting on the Glen Campbell Show in 1968 performing ‘Sunshine of your Love’ live and was something I’d only ever heard on the Cream box set retrospective ‘Those Were the Days’.

It’s an interesting piece of footage for several reasons.

Clapton is the hairiest he’s ever been and looks somewhat like this:

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The guy’s a bit like a human chameleon – he’s gone through what seem like dozens of ‘images’ and never seems to look the same for very long.

He’s also toting a Gibson Firebird – as in the photo above.

Here’s a better picture:

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There are lots more photos of a Cream-era Clapton with his Firebird here.

Associated with Les Pauls and SG Les Pauls up until then, Clapton seemed to like his Firebird a lot. He used it extensively in Cream’s last two tours right up until the RAH gigs in London when he used it for the early show, switching to the red ES335 for the late show – which is the one I saw.

It seems pretty obvious that the producer of the Glen Campbell Show told the band to play quietly – or at least turn it down – as Clapton’s tone lacks the distortion which was part of his signature sound at that time. In fact, it’s downright wimpy and takes all the OOOMPH out of the performance which was by the band at its height – after they’d been gigging extensively in the US and before their badly-rehearsed farewell tour when they seemed to be going through the motions.

Anyway, here’s the video in question – a fascinating document that I didn’t know existed, but fascinating for the wrong reasons!

To make up for the rather lacklustre performance, here’s a bit of video someone has cobbled together, featuring some interesting photos and a performance of ‘Sunshine’ that’s very early and very energetic! In fact, the band’s on absolutely blinding form – on fucking fire – with Bruce playing some great bass and Clapton freewheeling all over the top of it.

Stunning!

Battered by the Ornaments

Pete Brown.

Who?

Well, if like me you were around and listening to music in the late 1960s then you might remember him as the lyricist who wrote with various members of Cream.

I hope he got a good royalties deal because, amongst other songs, he wrote ‘I Feel Free’ and ‘White Room’ with  bassist Jack Bruce and ‘Sunshine of your Love’ with banjoist Eric Clapton.

Anyway, perhaps it was writing for a band that inspired the move, who knows, but our Pete formed his own band in 1968.

Pete Brown and the Battered Ornaments comprised Brown on vocals with Pete Bailey (percussion), Charlie Hart (keyboards), Dick Heckstall Smith (sax), George Kahn (sax), Roger Potter (bass), Chris Spedding (guitar) and Rob Tait (drums).

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Quite a line up, and one which actually delivered on their debut album ‘A Meal you can Shake Hands with in the Dark ‘. Although the music is hard to characterise, it’s actually a pretty early stab at British jazz rock – think Hatfield and the North and National Health – with the added humour of Brown’s lyrics and delivery.

Spedding, Hart, Kahn and Heckstall Smith take some great solos whilst the rest of the band provide a rock solid but flexible accompaniment.

For me, there are four stand out tracks which add up to well over half the album so not too bad a ratio of goodies.

The opener, ‘Dark Lady’ has some great slide guitar from Spedding (he plays a lot of slide throughout the album)  with an explosive solo from Heckstall Smith. Hart plays some lovely Hammond on this which is surprising because although he was hired to play keys, he’s not best known as a keyboard player. Brown supplies singing which is both effective and idiosyncratic.

Cream fans will be interested in Brown’s own 12 minute version of ‘Politician’, which has far more verses than the Cream track, and this features a very funny spoken improvised intro from Brown all about the events that lead up to the events in the song itself – the bit about him kissing his butler on the fly still amuses me greatly, even after over 40 years…oh and the mention of a girl’s ‘flowery khyber’…and the ‘politician’s pinstripes vibrating with neon glow’. There then follows a sax solo – no backing – which sounds like someone being very sick but in a good way and then the song itself. No Clapton riff, but instead a very uptempo 12 bar with great saxes and slide guitar. In fact, I prefer this to Cream’s version.

‘Sandcastle’ has a great bass riff with a faintly Eastern melody, wah slide guitar and flute. No laughs here from Brown but the band really carries this track so no matter.

The other stand out track is a 12 minute 12 bar which shows that the Battered Ornaments could have been a blues band to reckon with. Entitled ‘Travelling Blues (Or The New Used Jew’s Dues Blues) it has great solos again and more clowning from Brown who wants to go to the country (man) where ‘the colours of the cows are cool’.

The other tracks are good, don’t get me wrong, but not up to the high standard of the four described above.

So, what happened next?

Well, they recorded a follow up called ‘Mantelpiece’ and then they got booked to support the Stones at the legendary Hyde Park gig.

Things were looking good!

However, in a move that I believe is without precedent in rock, the band sat down, decided Pete had to go and sacked him!

A bizarre move as it was Pete’s band in the first place…

‘Mantelpiece’ had Pete’s vocals wiped and replaced by Chris Spedding’s and the band was renamed – rather predictably – ‘The Battered Ornaments’.

The Ornaments had zero success – despite playing Hyde Park with the Stones – and Pete went on to form Piblokto, which was OK but not up to the Ornaments’ standard.

Surprisingly, Pete Brown’s still.making music and his recent stuff bears investigation. His recent collaborations with Phil Ryan (ex-Man, ex-Piblokto) are a little too serious for my taste but the band is good and Brown sounds as if he’s taken singing lessons.

Anyway, as ever, Spotify is your friend and you can hear ‘Meal’ (and Piblokto and the recent Brown/Ryan stuff) and judge for yourself.

I think it’s a great little album.

Paging Mr Clapton…

Anybody who knows anything about me as a guitarist or has heard me play soon realises that when it comes to my primary influence I wear it pretty much on my sleeve:

Mayall-era Clapton.

As exemplified on the groundbreaking ‘Beano’ album and a handful of odd tracks it was old ‘Slowhand’ who really inspired me to play.

His sound on that album – a Les Paul Standard through a cranked up Marshall combo – is my favourite guitar tone of all time and his playing was equally impressive. Playing with real flair and joie de vivre, Eric plays his way with panache through up tempo and slow blues and shows exactly why ‘Clapton is God’ appeared as graffiti all over London in 1966.

Even when he split with Mayall to form Cream along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker he managed to keep this exuberance and some bootlegs of early Cream reveal someone who still had the ability to stun an audience with his playing. Sure, his sound changed a little – playing through two Marshall stacks will do that – but the vibrato, extremely well-controlled bends and breathtaking invention were still all there.

However, things quickly changed. Playing ever and ever longer versions of numbers from what was a fairly limited repertoire, Clapton started to repeat himself and the Cream of the final tour in 1968 sounded redundant and tired.

Then the real transformation started. Soon abandoning Gibsons and Marshalls for all Fender gear, Clapton tried to reinvent himself and, whilst always staying with the blues, he branched out reaching a trough of mediocrity in 1989 with the ‘Journeyman’ album which saw him totally blanded out on MOR pap.

It was then that he sought to return to more blues-based material, but by then it was too late.

He’d lost it – totally.

Instead of progressing as a blues player he’d just stagnated and marked himself down as maybe rock’s number one underachiever with 4 years of glorious playing and then over 40 more years – with perhaps just the exception of the ‘Layla’ album – of simply treading water.

Why I’ve chosen to write this now is because I’ve just ‘acquired’ a superb bootleg of the Madison Square Garden gig on the 18th of this month (3 days ago! How do they do it?) from his joint tour with Jeff Beck.

Sure, Jeff’s past his best really, but compared to Clapton he sounds inspired, interested and – above all – as if he still enjoys playing and isn’t just going through the motions like old Eric is. When they get together to play a final third set together after a solo set each I’m really quite amazed at how Eric manages to play in the face of such energy from Beck.

Maybe it’s to his credit that he doesn’t just throw down his guitar and walk off, but at least that would be an honest response, because I can only see two alternatives – he wants the dosh or he still thinks he’s got something to ‘say’ on guitar.

Well, the dosh isn’t a problem, so it must be the latter reason and that’s just simple self-delusion…

Give it up Eric, soon, please.