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Given their huge legacy of music and influence, it is hard to believe that Cream only existed as a touring band from 29th July 1966 when they played their debut gig at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, to November 26th 1968 when they played the last Albert Hall show, captured in Tony Palmer’s legendary film of the performance.
In those 28 months they played an incredible 405 shows which averages out at about a show every other day. No wonder they got burnt out so quickly.
Their first UK tour in 1966 was 105 dates all over England and Wales, including wee places like Redcar Jazz Club, which was just an upstairs room in the hotel. This was 1966 and there simply was no rock circuit of gigs the way there would be in the 1970s, you played anywhere that would have you. So although they played the legendary Marquee Club in Soho, they also played gigs like St Matthew Baths Hall in Ipswich and Eel Pie Island Hotel in Twickenham.
Notably, they did not play any Scottish gigs on that first outing, the furthest north they got was the Kirklevington Country Club, near Yarm on Teesside. A legendary place local to where I grew up which was stuck out in the countryside and was hard to get to if you didn’t have a car.
As 1967 dawned there was no let up in touring. In that year they played 186 shows! 94 in the UK, 71 in the USA, the rest in Europe. I doubt anyone has done a 94-date UK since. How they found 94 places to play is amazing enough.
They played their first American show on 25th March 1967 at the RKO 58th Street Theater, New York, NY, USA where they were booked to play two and three shows per day for nine days. Talk about working a band, huh! But they didn’t tour the USA at that time, they returned home, but went out again in August for a run of 12 gigs at the Fillmore West, of which many live recordings exist and from there ventured down to LA to play the Whiskey for three dates before flying to the east coast to play the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston, then onto New York and up to Ann Arbour, Chicago and Detroit. The last gig of this outing was in the Grande Ballroom in Detroit in December.
But by February 1968, after 11 college gigs in UK, they booked a bigger more comprehensive tour of the States starting on 23rd at the Santa Monica Auditorium, taking in 6 in Canada and ending in June at the New Jersey Camden Coutry Music Fayre, Cherry Hill.
But they were back once again in October for another month of shows starting at Oakland Coliseum and ending with two shows at Rhode Island Auditorium on 4th November that were to be their last in the USA.
From there it was home to the Royal Albert Hall for the final two shows (supported by Yes & Rory!)
Battered, beaten and broken, they had played 114 shows in 1968 and had quite simply been run into the ground, worked like dogs and it profoundly damaged them. They only ever played a couple of dozen European shows, didn’t go Down Under or the Far East. Their legend was forged on the road in the UK and USA.
The business had milked every last drop of energy and creativity out of them because, along with over 400 shows in 28 months they produced four albums, Wheels of Fire being a double, of course.
The fans loved them but the truth was they were latterly on autopilot a lot of the time. Clapton even stopped playing to see if Bruce and Baker would notice. They didn’t. It was just heads down, power up and get through the show.
Yet when you listen to them on any live recordings now available of those American shows especially, they were a force of nature like none that had come before them. A classic rock n roll shooting star story. They rose quickly and burned brightly before crashing to earth in a destructive explosion. But oh what music they left us with.
Live Cream Volume 1 & 2 are must-haves and along with the live side of Wheels of Fire and the live tracks on Goodbye, form the legacy on which their live reputation was to be founded, long after they had disbanded.