Woking Leisure Centre
DJ Gaz Mayall
New Year is a culturally challenging time for non-drinkers. Eric Clapton, like many in recovery, commits considerable time and effort supporting others. I know more about Crossroads in Antigua than I do about his music. Cream and the Yardbirds were a little before my time. Like many others who have taken the pledge, I have no objection to alcohol, and a blues masterclass, an interesting DJ coupled with a good covers band, which turned out to be excellent appeals. I’m not sure if Clapton’s sober social views bear any relation to his inebriated ones but I’d prefer to keep politics out of music; although the sports washing at the World Cup creates new angles. To table the dead cat, one might cancel Gary Glitter but surely not the exquisite Rock and Roll Part 2.
The evening was billed in part as a tribute to Gary Brooker. I’m young enough to have missed the blues heyday but still listen to Exotic Birds and Fruit and Grand Hotel. Procul Harem was so much more than the pretty song at the end of the disco when you finally kissed. With Brooker’s family taking a table, and the room granting rock-aristocrat Roger Waters truly British space, alongside Clapton’s easy charm, Woking Leisure Centre warmed the spirits. Please insert your own pun.
It seemed appropriate and presumably intentional, that the audience would join in with Tumbling Dice on one of Waters’ most acclaimed songs, the ode to Syd Barrett Wish You Were Here, evoking the evening’s theme, the tribute to Booke, which was then echoed by Eric Clapton and The Promises’ Whiter Shade Of Pale.
While one wouldn’t normally think of Clapton fronting a blues-based covers band, Clapton himself appeared to embrace the role, exuding modesty, almost embarrassed by his own Byronic aura. The evening was that perennial advertisement for live music, that whatever one’s taste, a live show will always throw new light on an unfamiliar genre.
The blues can leave one thanking goodness for punk, but this was a blues masterclass, the doop de doop de doop de doobidy doop motives enhanced by both aural and visual weaving. The educational element was underscored by epiphanies as the evening progressed. It was good value too, with the multi-genre influencing Knock on Wood opening at nine pm and closing with a gloriously Prog-infused Little Queenie, or if the purest in Clapton might be offended by Prog how about flamboyant exposition of the Blues in a masterclass from one of the greatest guitarists whatever your taste.
A word for all the musicians present, including DJ Gaz Mayall, the technical proficiency was well worth an evening recognizing Gary Brooker and the sobriety Clapton does so much to promote. Eric Clapton’s band was never upstaged by its A-list frontman. Researching Eric Clapton and the Promises is made difficult by the band being named after a well-known song. The respect given to his fellow musicians was highlighted by the sharing of excellent lead vocals and in particular the interplay with his fellow lead-guitarist, whose name I have spent hours trawling the internet for unsuccessfully. Without being overly political that research threw up considerable negative comment, which had passed me by, and maybe Clapton doesn’t need this music hack as an apologist, but the promotion of sobriety to an audience where a substantial section feels the need to be reminded one day at a time suggests that this icon’s recovery should be reason enough to allow for his demons to rest.
Where does that leave the Blues? I’ll have another go at the “woke this morning, woman’s left me for my dad” thing. As someone nurtured by Reed, Pop and Bowie and people influenced by them next time the Blues cross my path I’ll be offering thanks for a night with Clapton, which came about through a real A-lister host in his sobriety wishing to celebrate mine.
© Douglas James