I cannot for a minute begin to pretend that I knew Jack Bruce well, but I knew his music pretty well, firstly as a fan of Cream and then through playing with him a few years ago.
In 2008 I had the huge honour of appearing with him when he performed a selection of his tunes live in concert with the BBC Big-band at Birmingham Town Hall. It was then that I was introduced to some of his (post-cream) solo writing and in particular the pieces released on his best know solo album Songs For A Tailor.
That night in Birmingham made a really big impression on me. Sure, I was a big Cream fan in my teens so on one level it was a dream gig (pretending to be Eric Clapton for a night) but it was more than that.
Since my late teens I had been listening to less and less rock music, with jazz taking it's place. This was the direction I was traveling throughout my 20's and despite a pretty varied music collection I still saw myself broadly speaking as a "jazz guitarist" albeit with interests in other genres.
All this changed with a single gig.
White Room, Sunshine of Your Love, Spoonful, Songs from an Imaginary Western, Rope Ladder to The Moon…. The arrangements had been expanded for big-band by Jorg Achim Keller who conducted the concert but the guitar parts were pretty much as the originals so with Gary Husband on drums & Nick Ramm on Hammond we were more or less left to get on with it.
Looking back, it was hilarious. We sound checked in the afternoon at the town hall and in a routine that I can only imagine Jack had perfected over many years he rolled-back the volume control on his bass to about 50% turned the amp up and proceeded to tell the FOH sound guy that this was the volume which he would play for the gig… (Ha!) Come showtime he walked onstage with an electrifying energy and a shirt to match, totally unlike anything we'd seen in rehearsal, he turned the bass up full and how shall I put it?… let's just say, had I been wearing bell-bottoms you'd have been able to see them flapping from the back row.
I had left my ear-plugs in the band room due to the very moderate volumes of the soundcheck and spent the next 90 minutes in an electrifying vortex of sound. Gary Husband was set-up directly behind me and he was matching Jack's energy (and volume) every step of the way. In a brief moment of panic at the intense volume of Gary's cymbals I resolved that if I was going to be deaf tomorrow I might as well embrace it and go out in style… So I turned up the amp and genuinely had the most fun playing guitar since I'd been 18.
After years of jazz gigs where I felt that my playing was being dissected by a panel of my peers, the idea that I was allowed to crank it up and play some blues was just amazing.
Playing with Jack Bruce somehow gave me permission to be myself… to produce music that was honest, and as simple or as complicated as required.
Jack's partnership with lyricist Pete Brown and his association with the best british musicians around, from Clapton & Baker to Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith & John Mclaughlin continues to be a an inspiration to me.
He left us an amazing legacy of music…
Since 2008 I've been chasing that feeling of exuberance I felt onstage with Jack. It lead me directly to forming The Wealden with vocalist Tim Dickinson featuring the incredible musicianship of Brad Webb on Drums.. I can't really believe it's taken this long but our first EP will be available very soon, (in a week or two) so watch this space...
(or take a sneak peak here: www.thewealdenband.com/audio)
bootleg clips from the gig with Jack can be found here: