On the 24th October 2015, a year after the death of Jack Bruce – widely acknowledged as one of the best electric bass players of all time – a small galaxy of star (admittedly not very folky) musicians gathered for a tribute concert at the Roundhouse in London. Sunshine Of Your Love, released on the 25th October 2019, is a DVD and double CD set recorded at that concert. Among the musicians taking part were Ian Anderson (frontman of Jethro Tull), Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson (Bakerloo, Colosseum, Humble Pie, Jack Bruce and Friends), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music, Quiet Sun), Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord), Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions, Electric Sun), Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), Mark King (Level 42), Joss Stone, members of Jack’s own Big Blues Band, and many more. There is also archive footage of Jack Bruce himself, including an energetic ‘Traintime’ and an emotional ‘Music For An Imaginary Western’. And while Cream bandmate Eric Clapton didn’t perform at the concert, the CD does include as a bonus track his pleasantly understated acoustic guitar piece ‘For Jack’.
Ginger Baker, Jack’s bandmate most famously in Cream (but also in Blues Incorporated and BBM – perhaps we shouldn’t mention the Graham Bond Organization in this context), also appears in the film, famously walking off during the performance of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, though that isn’t as obvious from this film as from a video widely viewed on YouTube. Sad, but perhaps not an altogether inappropriate footnote – not so much in the light of the notoriously difficult relationship between Bruce and Baker, more in that there is a clear difference in approach between Baker and the other drummer (Frank Tontoh? – he isn’t actually credited in the booklet that accompanies the set), who is way too obtrusive for my taste. In sharp contrast, Baker’s playing behind Aruba on ‘We’re Going Wrong’ is an object lesson, surprisingly sensitive for such a difficult man.
Certainly there was much more to Cream than the internal conflicts, and much more to Jack Bruce than that band, influential and well-remembered though it might be. Still, there are quite a few more songs here most associated with Cream, including ‘I Feel Free’, ‘White Room’, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ (of course) and ‘Politician’, as well as some Cream songs that Bruce didn’t co-write (the Skip James classic ‘I’m So Glad’ and ‘Badge’, written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison). While some of Bruce’s best-known songs written with Pete Brown were first recorded with Cream, there are many other songs here from their longstanding writing partnership. In general, the Cream songs follow the original arrangements with augmented arrangements, and in the ‘Sunshine…’ finale, a slightly-extended jam. Liam Bailey does a good job of the lead vocal on several songs. Mark King’s vocals are sometimes uneven, but his love for the songs carries him through. Still, on the whole I rather prefer the re-interpretations from the 2005 Cream reunion, even if they don’t always have the energy of the original recordings.
Standout tracks for me: the jazzy interpretation of ‘Milonga’; Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’, accompanied only by her own cello; ‘Candlelight’, a song written by Bruce and his wife Margrit Bruce Seyffer; Ian Anderson making ‘Tickets To Waterfalls’ sound very much his own; the harmonies between Chloe Fiducia and Julie Iwheta on ‘Ships In The Night’; daughter Aruba Red’s heartfelt ‘Folk Song’; and while I’ve never quite acquired the Joss Stone habit, ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune’ suits her perfectly.
Not so good: Hugh Cornwell’s pitchy vocals on ‘Hear Me Calling Your Name’; while Uli Jon Roth does a good job of recalling the old Clapton solos, his use of the whammy bar sometimes seems a little over-enthusiastic on ‘I Feel Free’. A matter of taste, I suppose: I can’t deny his technique.
There’s a lot to enjoy here. Certainly there’s plenty of technique on display here throughout, from a crop of talented musicians who generally do justice to a much-missed musician (yes, by me too). I’m particularly pleased to have been introduced to some songs I haven’t heard before: clearly, I have some catching up to do.
The 2015 concert apparently raised over £35,000 for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH), for which Jack had frequently raised money, and a percentage of the sales from the box set is promised for donation to the same charity.
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‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ – from the concert: