“This project is a wonderful opportunity to pay respect to my father and his achievements. As an individual, I’m focused on my own work and developing as an artist myself – I guess this is part of the fabric of that journey.”
Ginger Baker. Jack Bruce. Eric Clapton. Cream was a chemical explosion like no other, the blueprint for every supergroup to follow and the heavy blues precursor to Hendrix, Zeppelin and so much more. Fifty years since their earth-shaking debut album, the bloodlines of that hallowed trilogy come together to pay tribute to Cream’s legendary four-album reign over the psychedelic frontier of the late 1960s. Kofi Baker (son of Ginger) and Malcolm Bruce (son of Jack) unite with Will Johns (Eric’s nephew by marriage) to unleash the sound that roused a generation. As Music of Cream, Baker, Johns and Bruce bring the band’s legacy back to life, in an immersive multi-media experience show of electrifying live music, interplayed with archive footage of the original band. From High Barnet, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and son of Jack, Malcolm Bruce, tells Sam Bennett more.
Your childhood must have been unlike most.
Yes, probably. I had a chat with Sean Lennon on Skype just a year ago and it made me think: there are levels to this thing, where you grow up around famous people. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like being John Lennon’s son. For me it was a little bit more mixed. Yes, I was around a lot of famous people, but I also went to bed at night, got up and went to school, ate good food and had a relatively normal life. My dad had his issues like all three guys in Cream; they went through their addictions and problems and came out the other side. You grow up around what you know, you accept it, and at some point you objectify it and realise ‘oh, that is a little bit different.’ Being the son of someone famous is a great blessing and a curse. I think my whole life will be about exploring and moving through that, and finding myself within that process.
You played music with your father.
Lots. I worked with him on a number of his albums over the years. I did quite a lot of arranging, transcribing, I worked with him on pre-production and in the studio playing on his records, and I did a little bit of touring with him. We would just improvise at home; improvisation was such an important aspect to my father’s musical makeup. Just having that at the core of what we do; the pure expression of music rather than the composed expression, just being in the moment. That was something we absolutely shared throughout our whole relationship.
Your father was classically trained. How integral was that to the sound of Cream?
Looking at Cream and my dad’s subsequent solo career, you can see a massive influence from classical music. Cream was certainly blues-based music, but my dad was pushing the boundaries in terms of form and composition. Later on in Cream, as he wanted to explore more and more novel forms rather than stick to a conventional format, there was a lot of resistance in the band. Through that, he made a jazz record with Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith and John McLaughlin called Things We Like, right at the end of Cream. Then he made his first solo album and I think there were a number of songs on that album that he pitched for Cream, that they didn’t want to do, because it was just a little too further out. Eric was a ‘blues purist’ at that time, I’m not sure that as a collective they felt comfortable with some of those things.
You’re touring with Music of Cream this year – how did the group come about?
I’ve known Kofi since I was 14 and got to know Will not long after that. It’s been suggested over the years that we do something. About two or three years ago some promoters in New Zealand approached us and suggested we do a tour, so we did a seven-day tour of Australia and New Zealand. At the time they felt we needed ringers – they weren’t quite sure we could pull in the crowds. The actual entity of Cream and us [being] the kids of it was enough to promote it properly. At that point this present project came together: now we’ve done two tours in the US and we’re going to do a full 18-date UK tour in October.
As Music of Cream play on stage, there’s footage behind you of the original band. What does that add to the show?
When onstage, I’m facing the audience with a huge screen behind us, so don’t actually get to see what’s going on – although I have a general idea. But when I’m offstage, and Kofi does his 16-minute drum solo, ‘Toad’, I get a chance to see his crazy dad bashing away at the drums above Kofi. That’s a really beautiful thing, a father-son thing, and I think there are elements where they’re doing that with me and my father. Everyone loves it, the audience is very enthused by the whole experience.
How do you differ in sound to the original Cream?
What the three of us decided – or what naturally has happened – is that we’re not a tribute band. There are probably bands out there playing Cream or Led Zeppelin, that wear the same clothes, play it note-for-note, copy absolutely everything on the record or from a specific live performance. We’re not like that. We grew up around those guys and we inherited improvisation and that’s the magic within this music. Every night is different, it’s not mimicking them, that takes the pressure off to some degree. We’re not aping, we’re interpreting the music, and I think it works best that way.
What have surviving members of Cream said about what you’re doing?
Will has his personal relationship with Eric and I think Eric has privately given it his thumbs-up, which is lovely. My father passed away a few years ago but he was always encouraging and he was a realist in the sense that he understood intimately how the business works. If he was here now he would say ‘look, cool, if you have to do this to get a footing in the industry, and to get recognised and get your name out there, go for it.’ And he probably would have said after that, ‘but you've got to get me up for the finale.’ With Ginger, I have no idea – he’s an enigma wrapped in something else. I don’t think Kofi had a very positive relationship with his father which is a terrible shame for both of them. I wish that would change somehow, but it’s a complicated story. So, I don’t think there’s been anything from that camp. But overall it’s very positive, we haven’t been sued yet – let’s put it like that.
What else are you working on currently?
I’m working on three projects for my own music at the moment. I’m working on my first opera that’s going to be at Sadler’s Wells in the next couple of years, my next solo album, and a jazz project – I had a really nice dinner meeting with Chester Thompson in Nashville earlier this year and I’m hoping he will agree to do a record later this year. We’ve been recording with Music of Cream too, original stuff as well as some of the Cream music, we’d love to release something – we will find out over time what happens.