The BBC SESSIONS
RSG rehearsal 4th November 1966
The BBC had a class based structure heavily dominated by Cambridge University graduates. It was devoted to high art but with a strangely radical bent in the area of comedy. This produced such shows as The Goons (created and staring the comic genius Spike Milligan) which started a strand of humour that resulted in Monty Python. By the mid '60's the BBC was under strong attack for its failure to play current "pop" music. It was also being threatened by powerful transmitters from Europe - Radio Luxemburg in particular, which was largely controlled by the big record companies. Pirate radio stations were operating off shore from ships, Radio Caroline being the most famous, and even an old WW2 flak fortress in the Thames estuary.
This alternative sources of pop music was mainly the result of the BBC's conservative culture but also the anachronistic rules it operated under. When radio and playing of recorded music started the musicians union successfully demanded that a large proportion of the music had to be actually performed by the musicians rather then endlessly playing of records. Ironically these union enforced conditions has resulted in a body of recordings that represent alternative studio material from some of rock's most influential bands. The same rules applied for TV where miming was allowed but only to specifically pre-recorded material.
Pop music was being covered in such programs as "Saturday Club", "Top Gear" and "Top of the Pops" (separate radio and TV programs). In 1967 the British government cracked down on the pirate radio stations but also set up a pop music channel "Radio 1". Radio 1 represented an expanded outlet with a voracious requirement for original recorded material. Initially this was quick, and rough, studio recordings but ultimately expanding to special in concert performances.
Unfortunately the culture of BBC has meant that many recordings were simply over recorded to save money - it was only pop music after all. The BBC archives contain huge numbers of "quality music" recordings that no one is now the least bit interested in.
Thankfully many were preserved and are now being digitally tidied up and issued to great critical acclaim. The original selection process was rather arbitrary as a recording may have been broadcast on the "Saturday Club" or "Top Gear" etc but only be preserved because it was selected for replay on the internationally syndicated "Top of the Pops". There is no question though that some of this material is spectacular with the Jimi Hendrix set among his very best recordings and the Led Zepplin set capturing them in their exciting early days plus a powerful live set that lacks the later bombast.
Cream's recordings have yet to be released and thus have attracted a semi-legendary status. They have been extensively bootlegged and these bootlegs do reveal that, unfortunately, the material is somewhat less then stunning. Realistically they represent alternatives to the studio recordings with only a few tracks of significant musical interest. All performances are solid, professional and short.
Cream were not a studio pop band, lacking Hendrix's live feeling studio spontaneity or The Who's mastery of pop song generation. So the BBC was largely an alternate studio session in which they reproduced their recorded material, or as a rehearsal for live performances. Fresh Cream songs dominate the material with a smaller representation from Disraeli Gears. Only "Politician" and "Born under a Bad Sign" represent "Wheels of Fire". By the end of 1967 their sights were locked onto the US, though they did do extensive TV and radio appearances in Europe. Also the BBC 3 minutes just wasn't enough time to say what they wanted to say.
The interviews provide some interesting commentary confirming that "Wrapping Paper" was an attempt to show that they weren't just a blues band, the Disraeli Gears sessions were in May and "Strange Brew" had been recorded in April on their first visit to the USA. By mid '67 they were becoming annoyed about the delayed release of Gears and that they had already recorded "Born Under a bad Sign" for their next album.
* The BBC isn't and never has been "government-owned". It
is an independent corporation, not under any state control - indeed, regardless
of which party is in power at any given time, the Beeb's news and current
affairs coverage invariably manages to raise the hackles of both government and
opposition! The Tories think that Broadcasting House is populated entirely
by dope-smoking anarchists and bearded lefties, while the Labour Party is
convinced that they're all rabid right-wingers! Whatever else she may be,
Auntie Beeb is not The Voice Of Big Brother.
Likewise, its funding by TV licence-fee is beyond the whim of Whitehall. It os protected by act of parliament. Every so many years, the house of commons engages in long and heated debate about how much should be levied - it takes a change in the law to add as much as one penny to the sum. Also, these days the licence fee forms only part of the BBC's income. For the last 20 years, it has gained extra revenues from its marketing wing (selling CDs and tapes of shows etc).
Quote: "in the 1960's it was the only broadcasting operation in Britain" - oh no it wasn't! Their monopoly on television ended in 1955 with the birth of the ITV companies, and in radio, Britain's airwaves were thick with pirate stations, a situation which eventually forced the end of the BBC's radio monopoly in 1972. Today's global pay-per-view multi-channel crap-fest, on the other hand, is heavily monopolised - by such philanthropic champions of human dignity as Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi. Now they really do scare me!
(Courtesy of Ken Cumberlidge)
The BBC recording studios were primitive, initially 2 track (or even 1!) which allowed 1 track for basic and one for overdubs and mixed down to mono. Most bands overdubbed to achieve a close proximity to their studio recordings and Cream were no exception. Some were "live in the studio" but surprisingly these were often not retained. Production quality was poor with the engineers struggling to handle the volume. Complaints about "the volume" were common from other concurrent recording sessions even on different floors. TV sessions were no different except sometimes a camera rehearsal was also carried out. It's notable that when The Who got popular enough they organised their own recording sessions in a quality studio.
Some of the lost performances are available from off-air recordings. Quality of these is not great as they were noisy AM broadcasts and recorded by a mike in front of the radio speaker. The joys of FM were not to be enjoyed in Britain, nor Australia, until the '70's.
The official "BBC Sessions" have now been released (2003). They contain all the "unreleased transcription" material plus "Crossroads" from the 18th November 1966 'Guitar Club' session. It is short but has the core elements of the '68 Winterland recording. Great to hear a masterpiece in development - a long gestation period which shows it was just one of their songs they rolled up in performance when they were in the mood.
Transcription: the tapes were transferred to a a pressing master which then were distributed as records to radio stations all around the world. Many of the master tapes were destroyed.
The Official "BBC Sessions" are identified as OBBCS.
The Complete BBC Radio & TV Sessions
Sleepy Time Time: lost
Rollin' and Tumblin': lost
Interesting to have heard Spoonful from these early days
TV: 4th November 1966, BBC TV, "Ready, Steady, Go". BBC TV Studios Wembley, England. Broadcast 4th November 1966. (Corrected Aug 2001)
Wrapping Paper: lost
Radio: 8 November 1966, BBC Radio 1, "Saturday Club". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 11th November 1966.
Sweet Wine: OBBCS/Bootleg OBBCS
Same as the Fresh Cream arrangement - live in the studio
Clapton interview: OBBCS/Bootleg
Wrapping Paper: OBBCS/Bootleg
Surprisingly effective version with extensive overdubbing - piano and vocals
Rollin' and Tumblin': OBBCS/Bootleg
Live in the studio with no overdubs - originally thought to have been lost
Sleepy Time Time: Lost/Bootleg
Off air - live in the studio with no overdubs (vocals?)
I'm So Glad): Lost/Bootleg
Off air - With guitar and vocals overdubs and includes the Marseillaise quote.
Steppin' Out: OBBCS/Bootleg
Lead Guitar overdub with the basic track laid down on rhythm guitar
Radio: 28th November 1966, BBC Radio 1, "Guitar Club". BBC Studios, London.
Crossroads: OBBCS- The Only worthwhile addition to the boots
Sitting on Top of the World: lost
Radio: 9th December 1966, BBC Radio 1, "Rhythm & Blues World Service". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 9th January 1967.
Cat's Squirrel: OBBCS/Bootleg
Overdubbed harmonica and vocals
Live in the studio - what else is needed?
I'm So Glad: OBBCS/Bootleg.
Overdubbed vocals and the Marseillaise quote again - the best of the BBC versions
Lawdy Mama: Transcription/ Eric Clapton's "CROSSROADS" Box Set +OBBCS
Overdubbed vocals - the Junior Wells arrangement
Radio: 21st December 1966, BBC Radio 1, "Top of the Pops". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 29th December 1966.
I Feel Free: lost
Radio: 10th January 1967, BBC Radio 1, "Saturday Club". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 14th January 1967.
Clapton interview: OBBCS/Bootleg
I Feel Free: OBBCS/Bootleg
Overdubbed vocals, claps, lead guitar, guitar solo.
Overdubbed vocals - a pretty intense, if short, live sounding version
Four Until Late: OBBCS/Bootleg
Overdubbed vocals and harmonica with Jack on Electric bass
Radio: 16th January 1967, BBC Radio 2, "Monday Monday". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 16th January 1967.
Live to air, songs unknown: Lost
TV: 26th January 1967, BBC TV, "Top of the Pops". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 26th January
Live lipsync, song unknown but probably I Feel Free: lost
Radio: 27th March 1967, BBC Radio 2, "Monday Monday". BBC Studios, London.
Live to air, songs unknown: Lost
TV: 22nd May 1967, BBC TV, "Dee Time", Simon Dee Show. BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 22nd May
Strange Brew: Bootleg
Off-air - Jack has tidied up his bass line on this version, with overdubbed lead guitar, vocals
Interview with Eric Clapton in which he makes clear they had just returned from NY after recording their new album and that it was their 2nd trip.
Radio: 30th May 1967, BBC Radio 1, "Saturday Club". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 3rd June 1967.
Strange Brew: OBBCS/Bootleg
The best version of them all, which shows how a few performances can improve things. Overdubbed lead guitar and vocals
Clapton Interview: OBBCS/Bootleg
Tales of Brave Ulysses: OBBCS/Bootleg
BBC gave them valuable rehearsal time to master this number for live performance (Jack still hasn't got the lyrics memorised). Overdubbed vocals and guitar
We're Going Wrong: OBBCS/Bootleg
This is superior to the Gears version - all around more together with very dynamic drumming. Overdubbed vocals and a very fine tight guitar solo
Radio: July 1967, BBC Radio "Joe Loss Show". BBC Studios, London.
Tales of Brave Ulysses: Unreleased Transcription (?)/Bootleg
Off-air - Live in the Studio. Note this has previously been credited to a June "Easy Beat" show but is now thought to be another Joe Loss appearance due to the similar live presentation and sound. Could be from the 14th show but the off-air recordings of these are from different sources.
Radio: 14 July 1967, BBC Radio "Joe Loss Show". BBC Studios, London.
Take it Back: Bootleg
Off-air - Live in the studio, no overdubs. Harmonica-less version and interesting for that alone.
DJ John Peel who hosted
|Radio: 24th October 1967, BBC Radio 1, "Top Gear". BBC
Studios, London. Broadcast date 29th October 1967.
Born Under a Bad Sign: OBBCS/Bootleg
Outside Woman Blues: OBBCS/Bootleg
Take It Back: OBBCS/Bootleg
Overdubbed harmonica, vocals & lead guitar. No advance on the Gears version
Sunshine of Your Love: OBBCS /Bootleg
Note: the most significant part of this session is the greater volume and attack in the recording plus the total confidence of their performance. Tales of Brave Ulysses is also logged as being recorded but it was not broadcast and no transcription exists.
TV: 26th November 1967, BBC TV, "Twice A Fortnight". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast ?.
We're Going Wrong (lipsync to live pre-recorded): incomplete Fresh Live Cream (video)
Another fine version with heavy reverb on the vocals
Radio: 2nd December 1967, BBC Radio 1, "Happening Sunday". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast ?.
Songs unknown: lost but probably a rebroadcast of older material
Radio: 9th January 1968, BBC Radio 1, "Top Gear". BBC Studios, London. Broadcast date 14th January 1968.
Overdubbed vocals & lead guitar - still under development and has different lyrics (Pete provided them over the phone during the session) - very interesting.
Overdubbed vocals & guitar solo
Blue Condition: Lost/Bootleg
Overdubbed vocals and piano. The announcers's closing comments says it all.
Steppin' Out: Transcription /Eric Clapton's "CROSSROADS" Box Set +OBBCS
A lead break from each of them which indicates how it could have evolved live - pity. Notable how Clapton's approach has evolved compared to the '66 version. The bootleg version includes the BBC anouncer's introduction.
Note: "We're Going Wrong" is also logged as being recorded but it was not broadcast and no transcription exists.
TV: 1968,, "All My Loving" music documentary, BBC TV
I'm So Glad (live): (still available?) fragment on Fresh Live Cream (Video)
Toad (live): incomplete (still available?)
Interviews: Farewell Concert (Video)
Note: A considerable amount of film was shot on March 7 at Fillmore and again on March 9 at Winterland, at least! Where is it - Tony Palmer confirms that the BBC disposed of it plus all the left over Albert Hall Farewell Concert.
TV Late 1967 (possibly Denmark)
Conclusion: The available BBC material is now released. [It will require considerable digital enhancement to achieve an acceptable sound and, as this costs money, the record company probably doesn't see it as economic] My original comments are correct - they just did it very cheap. It is horrendous to listen to on headphones - the digital artefacts are excruciating.
Unfortunately Cream's BBC recordings don't set the world on fire with only a small number of tracks really worth the price of admission. However they do represent alternative interpretations of the studio recordings and provide a valuable insight into the creative process.
The best bootleg around provides a reasonable, honest, quality (far less processed and much more listenable on speakers or headphones) and includes several off-air recordings to fill out the material. It has some noise by comparison but at the gain of better musicality. It is better value and of greater musical interest then the pure release from the BBC archives.
© 2003, Graeme Pattingale
Updated June 2003, Aug 2001, original © 2000 Graeme Pattingale