A quick look at the song writing credits on any of Cream’s albums will of course show that they covered some blues classics, but it will also highlight the song writing talent of John Symon Asher Bruce – Jack to all of us. His credits included, ‘N.S.U’, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, ‘SWALBR’, ‘Politician’ and of course, ‘White Room’, a song he wrote with Pete Brown (of Battered Ornaments fame)
The song writing credits of Jack’s 1969 debut solo album, Songs For A Tailor reveals all the songs are written by Bruce and Brown…quality assured. Released on 29 August 1968, the album was Jack’s first solo release, following the demise of Cream, although he had recorded an acoustic free jazz album in 1968 with John McLaughlin, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman that would become Bruce’s second solo album in 1970.
Songs For A Tailor promised much, and delivered too, but it’s only with the passing of time that people have come to realise what a very good album it is. When it first came out many were baffled, where were those Cream-like songs?
Fact is that Jack, steeped in the Blues and Jazz, was not your average power-rock trio member, his sensibilities were way more subtle and so is this record. From the opening track, ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune’, with it’s time changes and jazz-brass stings it’s clear that this will be a very different record. With saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and and drummer Jon Hiseman, the playing is typically clever, and when saxophonist Art Theman, Harry Beckett and Henry Lowther on trumpets are added, you have some of the finest young British jazz musicians of their generation.
But then, Creamaholics were satisfied, temporarily with the superb, ‘Theme From An Imaginary Western’, it’s shades of ‘White Room’, featuring Jack’s trademark soaring vocals; it’s a song that would be covered so effectively by Cream acolytes, Mountain on their debut album.
‘Tickets To Water Falls’ is another brilliantly meandering track of complexity and passion that leads onto ‘Weird of Hermiston’ that is for many one of the standout tracks; Jack’s voice on this play on words of the 19th century Weir of Hermiston, an unfinished novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, is brilliant.
‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’ is one of the best known numbers on the record, having been covered Hiseman’s band Colosseum; Jack’s cello on the track is so unexpected and so perfect, ‘The Ministry of Bag’ is redolent of Jack’s days with the Graham Bond Organization, British blues rock at its best.
‘He The Richmond’ drenched in acoustic guitars could be something that Cat Stevens might have done, only this is a much darker, with its Shakespearian references, Like ‘Richmond’, ‘Boston Ball Game, 1967’ is another blues belter.
‘To Isengard’, Tolkien’s fictional fortress in Middle-Earth is nothing like anything else on the record, beautiful and sensitive and shows Jack’s gift for great melody, under Brown’s poetic lyrics. The aptly named, ‘Clearout’ ends the record and is back to the kind of thing Cream may have done…but differently.
What makes this record so interesting is that Jack was not content to capitalize on his days with Cream. As an artist he wanted to grow. As a result it perhaps sold less well than it should have done, although it did peak at No.6 in the UK album charts in the last week of October 1969, the same week as it charted in America, where it peaked at No.55 Don’t let chart placings put you off, this is a classic British album from the closing year of the 1960s, a time when anything was possible.