Magazine article The Spectator

Friends Reunited

Magazine article The Spectator

Friends Reunited

Article excerpt

Now all the youth of England are on fire, declares the Chorus in Henry V. It wasn't quite like that at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday night when Cream played their first concert for almost 37 years. We were on fire all right, but we were the Middle-Aged of England, pot-bellied, balding, nervously wondering whether we could get through a two-hour show without a wee break.

I need hardly say that the audience was overwhelmingly male, just like King Henry's army. A few chaps had brought their wives along, though Mrs Spencer wasn't among their number. When I told her I was going to see Cream and had paid £125 for a ticket, her eyes flashed in that singularly dangerous way of theirs, the kind of look I used to get when I opened the third bottle of wine.

So I told her what Cream meant to me. How I'd bought their great psychedelic album Disraeli Gears at the age of 12 in 1967. How Eric Clapton was once widely believed to be God. How the band, Britain's first supergroup, had split up in bitter acrimony in 1968 at the height of their fame, with the prospect of a reunion seeming less likely than Tony Blair abandoning Cherie for a red-hot affair with Ann Widdccombe. Yet, somehow, here they were, back together again, and I was damned if I was going to miss it.

Mrs Spencer gazed at me as if I were mad, but finally gave me if not her blessing then at least a resigned peck on the cheek as I trekked off to the Albert Hall, the scene of their farewell concerts back in November 1968.

Despite the fact that tickets for the four concerts this week have been selling on eBay for more than £2,000 a pop, the reunion could have proved a fiasco. Though Clapton remains a superstar guitar-hero, and one who has pluckily conquered his addiction first to heroin, then to alcohol, and finally even to tobacco, damn him, Jack Bruce (bass) and Ginger Baker (drums) have fared far less well since their glory days with Cream. What's more, neither is in the best of health, with Baker suffering from osteoarthritis, and Bruce the recent recipient of a liver transplant. Were these concerts anything more than a philanthropic exercise on Clapton's part to ensure them both a decent pension fund?

Yet within minutes of their arrival on stage, it was clear that this was going to be something very special. The audience gave them a standing ovation before they had played a note, and when they launched into the opening number, Skip James's Tm So Glad', it was clear that they were indeed glad to be back together. …

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