First Spoonful: Cream’s Live Debut, In The Home Of Northern Soul

The band’s first performance was not, as often reported, at the National Jazz & Blues Festival in Windsor, but two days earlier in a famous north of England club.

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Cream - Photo: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns
Cream - Photo: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

History records the official live debut of Cream in 1966 taking place at the sixth annual National Jazz & Blues Festival in Windsor. But the trio’s actual first live performance was a last-minute, low-key affair two days earlier, in a club that became synonymous with Northern Soul music.

On the night of Friday, July 29, 1966, England was in the grip of expectation, nervously awaiting the biggest domestic soccer fixture the country had ever known, as the nation’s footballers prepared to take on West Germany in the World Cup Final the following afternoon.

Scotsman Jack Bruce would have been excused a certain lack of interest in that event. But after soul star Joe Tex pulled out of his engagement at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker suddenly found themselves being driven up north that Friday, in a black Austin Westminster driven by Clapton’s friend, keyboard player Ben Palmer.

‘It wasn’t advertised’

“It was just called Cream. It wasn’t advertised,” Bruce later remembered. “Somebody had pulled out of the gig and we just took the gig up as a practice the day before doing the Windsor Jazz Festival. That was our first official concert.”

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The Twisted Wheel had previously been a rhythm and blues venue in Brazennose Street, where the Small Faces made their live debut and the Hollies played a residency. John Lee Hooker played there, as did the Cyril Davies All-Stars in 1964, just after Davies’ death and with a young Rod Stewart in tow.

Cream head for Whitworth Street

After a closing night at Brazennose Street with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the club relocated to Whitworth Street in 1965, with an opening concert by the Spencer Davis Group. That summer of 1966, the Twisted Wheel became the setting for the first appearance of a new trio who had officially formed only a couple of weeks before.

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All three members of the band had played the Twisted Wheel before, Bruce and Clapton both with Mayall, Bruce also with Manfred Mann, and Baker with the Graham Bond Organisation. Cream soon had a deal with Robert Stigwood’s RSO and by October, were releasing their first single “Wrapping Paper,” ahead of the Fresh Cream album debut in December.

But it all began in that sweaty Northern Soul setting, for a crowd that wasn’t quite sure who Cream (or “The” Cream as they were first billed) were. They played “Crossroads,” “I’m So Glad,” and “Spoonful,” as well as the instrumental “Toad” and Bruce’s “Traintime.”

‘I went off to the nearest pub’

Palmer later recalled: “I parked the car at the back of the club and Eric, Jack and Ginger went in. I went off to the nearest pub. I thought I’d give them an hour and pop back to see how they sounded. I went back an hour later and all the amplifiers were still in the car.

“Ginger said: ‘You’ve been gone a long time. Is it all ready?’ I asked him what he was on about. I said I’d not been long, just for a drink. ‘But you’re the bloody roadie,’ screamed Ginger. ‘You’re supposed to set up our gear!’ I told him I hadn’t a clue how to do it. I expected a fiver in my pocket for driving them, and ‘see you next week.’”

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  1. Brian Smith

    August 2, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I enjoyed reading the piece on the debut of THE Cream (as they were first billed…!!) Could I ask for due credit to be posted on there, please, to BILL ARMSTRONG who took these historic photos? i took photos at the OLD Wheel, but was just there that night just for the gig (originally for Joe Tex, but he’d pulled out). Bill was there too and we were reminiscing about it just a few years back, when he casually revealed the photos HE’D taken were still in a drawer at home!! Just these 3 snapshots, but they are the ONLY KNOWN PICS OF THEIR FIRST GIG!!!! I’ve tried to see that they get suitably used for posterity (for instance, in Cream’s reunion Concert brochure & the recent Rock Atlas), but have always been at pains to get proper recognition for Bill. Could you oblige, please?? Thanks.


    Brian Smith (Photographer)
    PS: For those who recall the old Wheel in Brazennose St, keep an eye on:

  2. Stevie Silver

    July 29, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    Wow! What a great story. I hadn’t heard this one before. The pictures are great albeit a bit small. Wish there was a recording of the show. Thanks for posting.

  3. martin

    July 29, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    why is Jack playing what seems to be a six-string Fender?

  4. Randy Cowan

    July 29, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Jack played a Fender Bass VI in the beginning.

  5. CARLO

    July 31, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Is this the gig where ” TAKE IT BACK” was recorded ??? If so, I want a recording of this GIG !!!

  6. Ellwood Von Seibold

    August 2, 2017 at 8:23 am

    I was unaware of this important piece of Cream history. I cannot remember the date,but in 1966 was paying in a support band called ” Three ways of doing it” at Oxford town hall. Main act was John Mayall. I was at the bar after our set, and the keyboard player rushed in and said ” you’v got to listen to this guitarist” I had never heard anything like it- of course it was Eric Clapton.Halfway through their set, Eric announced that a friend of his was to sit in on drums for a number- Ginger Baker.History tells us the two met after the gig, and decided to form Cream. In any event I was at a historic gig.Sadly no photos- we did not take them in those days.

    • kossoff1963

      January 8, 2018 at 8:00 am

      is he a drummer of the cult Diabolus group?

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