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From Blues to Psychedelia

Fresh Cream's release in December 1966 effectively marks the end of the 'Renovating the Blues' period. The next few months were going to be a period of transition as they rode the currents of musical change. Ultimately Cream were to generate their own current that still flows.

Cream continued to play in the Fresh Cream rock/blues mode through the 1st quarter of '67 as evidenced by the BBC recordings and the bootlegs from Konserthursert (March) and the Ricky Tick (April). The BBC recordings are really studio alternates to the 'Fresh Cream' recordings. Some were recorded in parallel to the album sessions and provided valuable rehearsal time. After December they were used to promote the album. Overall, they are solid and uninspired - 2-3 minutes was already too restrictive for their virtuosity.

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Fresh Cream was reasonably successful and it allowed for increased performance fees.   Cream had started at £45 a gig steadily moved to £75 by end '66 and in 1967 £100+. Their popularity was outgrowing the audience capacity of the venues but the fans were paying the increased entry fees.  Live they were going from strength to strength but a new musical force had begun to challenge their position. The release of "Hey Joe" in December followed by a triumphant appearance at the Saville Theatre in London on 29th January 1967, had established Hendrix's star in the ascendancy.

After seeing that incendiary performance (where he even upstaged The Who), Baker, Bruce and Clapton agreed that they had to find a new direction if they were not to be outgunned. Eric changed image with a perm, Jack started an intense period of song writing and Ginger put pressure on Stigwood for a US tour/release. One thing they could do immediately was out power The JHE as Cream were cash flow positive. They now adopted The Who's dual stacks: Eric plugged into two Marshall 100W Superleads with both ON. Jack used a pre-production 200W Marshall Major through his stacks and Ginger took to rudimentary miking of the drums through the vocals PA (that was probably upgraded to 2 x 200W Marshall P.A. amps and 4 Column speakers). The volume level in those small English venues must have been incredible.

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Touring continued, including very successful visits to Germany (after a another promo stopover in Paris) and Scandinavia. A concert at Stockholm's Konserthusert on 7th March was recorded  and a 25-minute excerpt (this, at least, still exists) broadcast. They are playing the Fresh Cream material with great energy and starting to stretch the time with nothing under 4 minutes. The sequencing of Stepping Out/Traintime/Toad/I'm So Glad presages what was to happen in August.  While the sound is weighted to the bass, the drums are clear but guitar strangely thin.  It was the way it was  recorded - the volume would have stressed the mikes, without doubt.

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Konserthusert Photos Courtesy Kjell Åshede  
EC is playing Les Paul through a Marshall Stack - I was wrong, once again

On return to the UK, their minds turned to the upcoming gig in New York and the Atlantic Records' contract. The current repertoire was 6 months old in style, if not completely in content and needed refreshing. On March 15 they returned to the Mayfair studios of Spot Productions to rehearse and record some demo's for the next album.

The songs were Bruce/Brown compositions except for Baker's bare outline of what was to become "Blue Condition". This plus "SWLABR", "Take it Back" and "We're Going Wrong" appeared on 'Disraeli Gears'. "Weird of Hermiston and "The Clearout" ultimately appeared on Jack's 1969 solo album 'Songs for a Tailor'. Another song included on that album, "Theme for an Imaginary Western" was also available for a demo but it is unclear whether it was recorded. The reappearance of this demo tape in 1986 also led to the rediscovery of "Hey Now Princess" which was revamped and included on Jack's 1989 "Question of Time" album - "I don't like to waste anything."

The session is fascinating as they are all working with high energy and experimenting (Princess).  The material is clearly only roughly rehearsed but the issued recordings on TWTD are surprisingly together.  They are stunning demo's of quite advanced material (Hermiston & Clearout) or proto versions of songs that were to become far more sophisticated (SWLABR, Wrong).  These recordings show they really were at the cutting edge of the Pop to Rock Revolution, but the record moguls did not have a clue about what was going on.  Cream certainly did but it was going to be another 9 months before the world heard it.

It is clear from this session that Jack and Pete had nearly an album's worth of quality material. They had moved from clever pop songs to complex and musically/lyrically sophisticated songs. More and better was yet to come. Unfortunately their creative productivity was a source of some tension in the band which was to impact on the 'Disreali Gears' album.  These tapes were ultimately  'lost' by management as the music was too experimental and Stigwood had sold a blues band to Atlantic.

Atlantic Studios

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In the booking agent's office, Bruton Place, Mayfair just prior to their Feb-March European Tour
(Jan Olofsson)

Copyright ©2001 Graeme Pattingale