Revisiting Cream’s final ever performance at Royal Albert Hall in 1968
Cream formed on July 16th 1966 and, despite only being together for two years, the prolific trio made up of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce released four records which cemented their legacy as one of the most iconic acts that Britain has ever produced.
The three now-iconic figures all originated from session musician backgrounds with Clapton garnering an immense reputation for his tremendous time playing with The Yardbirds and John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers meanwhile Baker and Bruce had played together in the Graham Bonds Organisation.
Collectively, they had become sick and tired of playing what they were told to play and so decided to start their own band which was completely its own entity. Clapton later recalled how one car journey led to their formation: “I had always liked Ginger,” explained Clapton. “Ginger had come to see me play with the Bluesbreakers. After the gig, he drove me back to London in his Rover. I was very impressed with his car and driving. He was telling me that he wanted to start a band, and I had been thinking about it too.”
Bruce and Baker already had a turbulent relationship in their previous outfit which would eventually lead to the band’s split with the two members not being able to get on the same page with Clapton having to play peacemaker. When they were in the Graham Bonds Organisation, which led to on-stage fights between the duo and came to loggerheads one day after Baker fired Bruce from the band, Bruce continued to arrive for gigs until Bruce left for good after the drumming icon threatened him at knifepoint.
These two starting a new venture didn’t sound like a good idea from the beginning but, despite struggling to get along with each other, they created absolutely magical music together and quickly Cream made a name for themselves as one of the most important rock groups on the planet.
Despite their success, Clapton couldn’t carry on much longer and eventually decided to call it a day in November 1968 with the band taking to the stage for the final time as part of a two-date residency at London’s legendary Royal Albert Hall. The sets saw Cream fly through covers of blues classics such as ‘I’m So Glad’, ‘Sitting on Top of the World’, ‘Cross Roads’ ‘Steppin’ Out’, ‘Spoonful’ as well as their own tracks such as ‘White Room’, ‘Politician’ and ‘Toad’.
Cream were not the same band that they once were by the time these final gigs came around and the band are not exactly proud of their send-off. “It wasn’t a good gig; Cream was better than that,” the late Baker said in the documentary Cream: Classic Artists. “We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off.”
Speaking to Uncut in 2012, Clapton revealed why the band had no option but to split up so early on into their career: “The workload was pretty severe. We were playing six nights a week and I lost weight until I was about nine stone and I looked like death,” he commented. “I was in bad shape. It wasn’t so much self-abuse as self-neglect. I think that all added to the psychology of the situation, which was pretty tricky at the best of times. Ginger and Jack were dynamic characters and pretty overwhelming.”
Adding: “It felt like I was in a confrontational situation 24 hours a day. Half my time was spent trying to keep the peace. And on top of that, you’re trying to be creative and make music. I was calling home to Robert Stigwood, our manager, and saying, “Get me out of here – these guys are crazy. I don’t know what’s going on and I’ve had enough.”
Watch footage from the legendary group’s last ever show before their split from the Royal Albert Hall, below.