London’s Royal Albert Hall, despite hosting concerts by the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bob Dylan and others over the previous five years, was in 1968 seen by most people as the UK’s home of classical music. And while there had been rock concerts there before, there was never a rock concert as intense and as significant as the one on 26 November 1968 when Cream officially said farewell as a band.
In their two years of existence, their success had been phenomenal; they conquered America, fell out with one another and redefined what a rock trio with blues sensibilities could achieve. There is not a band that followed Cream with a similar line-up that was not influenced by them. Cream became the template for heavy metal and yet their respect for the blues and Jack Bruce’s huge musical talent for composition always gave them an edge over their rivals.
Prior to playing two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, they had completed a gruelling 19-city tour of America, before the two back-to-back nights on 25 and 26 November. The opening acts for their farewell show were Yes, still 8 months away from releasing their brilliant debut record and using Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Something Coming’ from West Side Story as the highlight of their set, and Taste, Rory Gallagher’s band, who like Cream were a three-piece and one that was also steeped in the blues.
Cream’s set included classic blues covers including, ‘I’m So Glad’ (Skip James), ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ (Mississippi Sheiks), ‘Cross Roads’ (Robert Johnson), ‘Steppin’ Out’ (Memphis Slim) and ‘Spoonful’ (Howlin’ Wolf) along with the band’s compositions, ‘White Room’, ‘Politician’, ‘Toad’, with Ginger’s long drum solo and of course, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, the song that broke Cream in America.
Cream’s farewell concerts were filmed by Tony Palmer, and the following year his insightful documentary was broadcast on the BBC to great critical acclaim. It was originally planned to release the concerts a double album, but eventually, the idea was scrapped and instead Goodbye was issued in February 1969 with some live songs and three songs recorded at IBC Studios in London in October 1968; the live cuts were taken from a show at the LA Forum in October 1968.
While Cream’s Farewell shows were perhaps inevitably not their best, there is no denying the importance, both in the folklore of the band and in rock music in general. How could a band last for a little over two years, be so successful and then break up? In fact, what they were doing was setting a template of another kind. The whole business of supergroups was to prove to be the thing in the Seventies, starting with Blind Faith that Eric and Ginger formed with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech in early 1969.
The Fresh Cream: Deluxe Edition expands the album to include both the mono and stereo mixes, plus alternate takes, early recordings and live performances. Available in both 3CD+Blu-ray and 6LP editions, it offers the fullest picture yet of a stone-cold classic and can be bought here.