By 1968, London’s Royal Albert Hall was seen by most people as the UK’s home of classical music. Despite hosting concerts by the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others over the previous five years, And while there had been rock concerts there before, there was never a rock concert as intense and as significant as the one on November 26, 1968 when Cream officially said farewell as a band.
In their two years of existence, the trio’s 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 no band that followed Cream with a similar make-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.
Come Taste the support act
Prior to playing two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, Cream had completed a gruelling 19-city tour of America, before the two back-to-back nights on November 25 and 26. The opening acts for their farewell show were Yes, still eight 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 such as “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). These were complemented by the band’s own compositions, “White Room,” “Politician,” “Toad,” with Ginger Baker’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 as a double album. But eventually, the idea was scrapped and instead Goodbye was issued in February 1969 with some live songs and three recorded at IBC Studios in London in October 1968. The live tracks 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 their 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 70s, starting with Blind Faith, which Eric Clapton and Baker 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.