A thunder of Afro-Jazz drums roared across the stage during the climactic highlight of a remarkable all-star show, dedicated to the memory of the late Jack Bruce. Former Cream team mate Peter 'Ginger' Baker provided the unique drumming tribute and his presence was all the more welcome, given the circumstances.
Just moments before I was due to announce Ginger's arrival, in my role as guest M.C. Malcolm Bruce, Jack's son who had organised the event with tireless devotion, confided that the legendary drummer was recovering from a recent heart operation. It was touch and go if he could perform. But Baker was determined to please the cheering crowds at the packed-out charity concert. He went on stage to explain his health issues and promised to play a solo, even if he couldn't join in with the vast array of fellow musicians, assembled to play Jack's most memorable songs.
He was accompanied on congas by Ghanaian friend Abass DoDoo and together they unleashed a jubilant barrage of polyrhythms. Ginger fiercely attacked his snare drum and tom toms with the same kind of passion seen for the first time playing with a blues band at the 1962 Richmond Jazz Festival. There had been hours of rehearsal both at the Empire during the afternoon and at John Henry's studios the day before. So, there was tension in the air when guitarists and bass players desperately sought extra leads and microphones and singers patiently waited hours (in some cases) for their turn to sing their one number. Malcolm, who also played bass and keyboards, was kept busy dealing with panic demands, trying to keep the star guests happy and organise the lengthy set list.
The show was full of surprises, like Pete Brown, Jack's erstwhile co-composer, singing 'Politician' with unexpected power and range. The rhythm section was variously beefed up by the indefatigable Gary ('I feel like I've played two shows already!) Husband, the blistering Dennis Chambers and cheery ex-Mountain sticksman Corky Laing. On bass guitars were Jeff Berlin, Mo Foster, Neil Murray and Trevor Horn, the latter on 'Out Into The Fields' and 'Without A Word'. Clem Clempson, a tower of strength on lead guitar, was supplemented by Steve Hackett who played the kind of blues never heard on 'Supper's Ready.' It was also a delight to welcome Micky Moody, Chris Spedding and Mick Taylor on guitars, Mick soloing on an explosive 'White Room' with Terry Reid taking the lead vocals, Malcolm followed in father's footsteps to play bass on Cream favourite 'Spoonful' joined by Judd Lander on harmonica, Steve Hackett and dynamite singer Nathan James, whose stunning performance encouraged Pete Brown to gasp 'Eat your heart out Robert Plant!'
Amid all this mayhem were hard working brass and string players including the dreadlocked Callum Ingram on cello, who drew applause for his vigorous playing, even during the rehearsal. Many fine female vocalists joined the fray notably singer song writer, Eddi Reader, Maggie Reilly and Jack's granddaughter Maya Sage. Biggest shock though was Lulu's appearance in trilby hat and dark glasses, giving a splendid version of 'Sunshine of Your Love' with Clem on guitar and Chambers hammering out the famed Baker-esque tom tom rhythm. Even so, it was Mr. Baker's own appearance that brought the most emotional moments. If Jack Bruce had been looking down, I'm sure he'd have grinned and said 'Ginger...you're playing too loud!'
– Chris Welch