STEPPING OUT AT THE REDCAR JAZZ CLUB PT 2
by Chris Scott Wilson
The Jazz Club's records read like The 60s Hall of Fame. As the popularity of trad jazz faded (the club's original recipe in the late 50s and early 60s), R&B, Blues and then Rock took over. Who could imagine a small out-of-the-way seaside town could present Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker or John Lee Hooker and then move on to offer Freddie King, Deep Purple, Rory Gallagher, The Who, Thin Lizzy, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Derek & The Dominos, Robert Plant's Band Of Joy, Humble Pie, The James Gang, Spooky Tooth and Traffic among many others. Bands often remarked in the national press how much they enjoyed playing the club, and the club's M.C. Roger Barker was sometimes consulted when name bands were seeking replacements. One such recommendation led to a big break for local Scarborough singer Robert Palmer of the Mandrakes, who joined The Alan Bown Set when Jess Roden departed to form Bronco. Robert's subsequent multi-platinum solo career is common knowledge. Another example was Roger's insistence David Coverdale apply to replace Ian Gillan in Deep Purple, and even accompanied him to the audition at London's Scorpio Studios. His faith has been justified by David's continuing success with Whitesnake, twenty-five years later still releasing albums and touring the world to packed houses.
Not only were the Jazz Club's concerts both musically enlightening and enjoyable to the spotty Northern youths who scraped their pennies together in order to make the weekly pilgrimage to the Coatham Hotel, they showed a side to big-name artists rarely seen today. Often the headliners would wander about among the audience or sit down and drink at one of the tables during the support band's set, or stand at the bar to order their own drinks - no personal roadies, guitar techs or security men then. I remember John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, including Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie drinking in the ballroom and only leaving their table a few minutes before they were due on stage. And nobody bothered them at all.
The second time I saw Cream at Redcar they had were just heading for the States, the next day in fact. Their experiences over the last year at "Murray the K" and through Europe had given them far greater confidence. Their stage presence had developed, each wearing an almost visible aura - now they looked like stars - and a showmanship which matched the exuberance of their startling music. The fee was up too - £285. Clapton was sporting what the Press called his "Greek God" hairdo, permed into a white approximation of Hendrix's afro, a satin shirt that shimmered in the lights and the first pair of white bell-bottoms I ever saw, and so tight he struggled to climb onto the stage with dignity. His Les Paul had been left at home and instead he coaxed the famous "woman tone" and controlled feedback from a psychedelic custom-painted Gibson SG Special. Like Jack, he had begun using two Marshall stacks and a split lead, and he was taking no prisoners. While his fingering remained delicate, he had taken to sawing across the strings with his right hand in grand gestures as he pumped out power chords, and instead of standing immobile during his solos, guitar at a seemingly precise 45 degree angle, now he was hunching and pushing back against his Marshalls, face contorted while behind him a roadie strained to keep the cabinets upright.
Ginger, wearing a multi-coloured silk-lined cape had abandoned his skull badge fur hat, hair flying wild, grinning manically as he pounded his tom-toms, flourishing flams and triplets with almost casual flicks of the wrist, dropping beats and switching rhythms to goad his partners into fresh explorations. Jack? He turned in his usual flamboyant performance, defying belief that he could howl such vocals while playing contradictory bass lines. Each of the three pulled stuff out of the hat, and took so many risks that to any other musician was almost unthinkable. Clapton even broke his top E string, but without a spare guitar, still ripped into a tour-de-force version of Stepping Out played on five strings that almost left you breathless with his speed and daring.
But the cracks were already beginning to show. Clapton would announce the next song only to sigh as he was contradicted by Jack who would start something else. Then Ginger, annoyed, would pull sticks from his bass drum hoop and fire them like darts at Jack's back, only to have Jack retaliate by swinging round to kick the nearest bass drum skin, provoking a cackle from Ginger. After a startling, thrilling set that took them out to the edge, held them teetering over the drop before hauling them back to the roots where they had begun, Jack collapsed at the end of the last song and Eric and Ginger walked off, leaving their bass player prostrate over his feeding-back instrument.
But Cream weren't the only thing that was changing. As the 60s died the logistics changed. It became impossible to play every gig offered and still drive home the same night only to face another 200 mile drive the next day. There was suddenly so much more to organize; more equipment, huge P.A. systems and then lighting rigs, all of which took longer to set up, break down and move. In turn, bigger vehicles and more road crew were necessary and unable to travel home between gigs meant hotel bills for all. As the finances had to honed, tours really became tours then, not just a series of one-night stands, but planned precisely, organized to cover as much ground as possible in the shortest time.
And bands had grown sick of spending every day on the road, arrive at the gig, soundcheck (and hopefully fit in some rehearsal to write and try out new songs), a quick meal, perform, back out on the road, and if they were lucky in bed by 6 a.m. And with pressure to deliver fresh material to the record companies, trying to squeeze in recording time, a day here and a day there, in whichever country they happened to be at the time. Management began to rethink the traditional rock music "take the money and run" tactics, which were shortening what could actually prove to be long-term, lucrative careers instead of worrying that if bands were out of the limelight for a couple of months the fans would shift their affections elsewhere. Too many bands had been burnt out on the road: Hendrix, The Small Faces, Yardbirds, even the Beatles and Cream themselves were casualties of non-stop work. Those left standing began to formulate new strategies. Now that albums had become big business, shifting emphasis from the singles' market, bands could take time off to write new tunes, block-book recording sessions to reduce disorientation and maintain focus, then release an album and tour to promote it, the tours suddenly acquiring names, often just that of the newest album (although tour names have grown a little more elaborate since).
Rainbow's 1976 Right Stage Setup. The PA was about 1500W a side.
The foldback shown here has more power than Cream's full setup.
But by then the average listener had upgraded his home stereo from a mono Dansette player to a proper two-speaker set up and was used to clearer sound, so expectations were higher. Rapid advances in stage equipment and mixing facilities were all necessary to replicate studio-quality sound, and so limited bands to playing those venues where access and stage areas could handle growing mountains of equipment. The up-side was the bands sounded better and the fans saw a better concert, but the down-side was the added expense had to be passed on to the customer. All of which cut the throats of those venues where the bands had cut their teeth and performed within an arm's reach of the audience that had nurtured them and bought the records and elevated them to the status they now enjoyed. Those small venues just couldn't pack in enough punters to raise the cash necessary to meet skyrocketing fees.
One such venue was The Redcar Jazz Club in the Coatham Hotel. By the early 70s the heady days had gone forever, but the names still drift on the wind . . . John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Free, Blodwyn Pig, Lindisfarne, Uriah Heep, Yes, Flash and of course the band that contained the man whose name had become legend, scrawled on London's subway walls - Clapton is God.
And to an eighteen year old northern kid, on both occasions I saw him at The Jazz Club with Cream, he very nearly was.
- THE END -
** For those further interested in the club, the book Redcar Jazz Club published by Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council ©1996 is available from The Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum, Redcar, Cleveland, United Kingdom at £7.95. tel: 01642-479500 fax: 01642-474199
© Chris Scott Wilson, 1999