The Music of Cream
The Music of Cream

Malcolm Bruce talks The Music of Cream & More

The Music Of Cream – 50th Anniversary World Tour features Ginger Baker’s son Kofi, Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm and Eric Clapton’s nephew Will Johns playing as part of a multimedia experience that continues the legacy of the world’s original super group. Ahead of their UK tour, Malcolm Bruce took time out to answer a Q & A interview for general release. So, without further ado, RAMzine invites you to read on, and hear what the man has to say…

RAMzine: What’s the best gig that you’ve been to, or has inspired you the most?

Malcolm Bruce: There have been so many. I don’t tend to go to concerts all the time, as I’m generally so busy with my own work, so when I do it’s usually something I’m very much attracted to. But I do remember some fantastic and inspiring shows that my Dad had from when I was a child, from his own bands as well as collaborations. There was a show at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park in London, with John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham; that stands out in my mind. Also, in my teens I got see Prince during his Love Sexy tour at Wembley Arena, and Stevie Wonder perform for three hours, also at Wembley. It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of popular music.

I’ve also been inspired by orchestral concerts as well as musical theatre over the years. The Proms in London are usually full of inspirational new music. I went to school near Aldeburgh, the site of Ben Britten’s festival that continues to be of the highest quality. I saw Oliver Knussen there conduct a number of times as a teenager (Ollie sadly passed away last month), including performances of Shostakovich and others.

Having said all that, I can get inspiration from anywhere. I’ve seen singer songwriters at places like The Troubadour in London (where I’ve performed a number of times) that have been incredible. Sometimes the feeling of an intimate space like that can unlock something in a performance that you just cannot find in a larger venue.

RAMzine: What is your favourite part of touring and what is your least favourite part of it?

Malcolm Bruce: More and more these days, to organise a proper tour takes so much work, from booking shows with the agent to promoting to making it all work from a financial perspective. There are so many challenges on the path to making a tour successful. So that can be at once challenging and frustrating as well as rewarding. So, getting onto the stage and finally performing and sharing that wonderful experience with the audience is definitely the best part of it all! At that point everyone can relax and enjoy what that whole process was about. Music!

RAMzine: What’s your favourite UK venue so far, and why do you like it so much?

Malcolm Bruce: I’ve performed at quite a few venues in the UK, so it is difficult to make a definitive choice. If it had to be one, it would be O2 Shepherds Bush Empire. I’ve performed there two times in the last few years, both shows have much meaning to me.

The first was opening for Colosseum on their final show ever. Bandleader and drummer Jon Hiseman recently passed away quite unexpectedly and he was always very kind and gracious towards me, having a shared history with my Dad from their early days (Graham Bond Organisation and other bands). In fact, we were chatting on the phone a year or so ago about the possibility of releasing a set of demos that he had recorded with my Dad and guitarist Allan Holdsworth in the late 70s. That demo is something quite special and I would love it to see the light of day at some point, especially now that all three of them are not with us anymore.

The second show was the tribute to my Dad that myself and Cream lyricist Pete Brown co-curated at the end of 2016 with Ian Richards from AMG promoting. That was a very special night that took nine months of organising to put together. We had many artists there that night who loved my Dad and worked with him, people like Lulu and Mick Taylor, Gary Husband, Dennis Chambers, Steve Hackett and the list goes on.

So, both those shows have a special meaning to me, and coupled with the fact that Shepherds Bush can be a special room in terms of sound and its incredible history over the years as a venue, it’s definitely one of my favourites in the UK. Incidentally I saw Gary Clark Jr there a few years ago through the generosity of his management and that was another revelation. What a wonderful musician Gary is.

RAMzine: Do you have a pre-show ritual? If so what is it?

Malcolm Bruce: Ah. Well, I’ve been fairly committed to a yogic lifestyle for a while now. So, I like to whenever possible do a little round of yoga and meditate to still my mind. There isn’t always the opportunity due to the crazy schedule on the road, but if at all possible that is the preferable preparation. Very rock and roll!

RAMzine: How do like to relax on a day off during a tour?

Malcolm Bruce: I’m usually working! So much to do. But seriously, depending on where we are, I like to go out and see something. When we were in Sydney last year we took a walk down to the opera house. That was fun as I had never been there before. My experience is also that it’s usually quite tiring to travel on the road, so a day off can be quite a big deal. Laundry, extra rest and hunting and gathering for decent (for me vegan) food. It really is essential to work on keeping yourself healthy, well-nourished and get enough sleep.

RAMzine: What would your advice to young aspiring rock artists be?

Malcolm Bruce: That’s a difficult question to answer for me. For myself personally, I am drawn to innovation, whatever I do seems always to come out sounding like me, for better or worse. That means that in  certain situations I’m probably not a good fit. It depends so much on what someone is looking to achieve.

There’s a spectrum within music that runs from conformity and consolidation to being radical and innovative. There are incredible musicians out there who consolidate what has gone before, and there are some who sound like nothing else, and every combination between those polar opposites.

So, I think it can be essential to really understand the history of music and what is possible otherwise one could be limited. Having said that, we can also define ourselves via our limitations. It’s all so subjective, especially so when you aspire to be or are a true artist, someone who really has a voice and something to say.

Having said that, I think Jimi Hendrix is a good example. He spent years learning his craft or paying his dues as it were. Playing the blues, playing R & B in backing bands and touring incessantly around the USA before he miraculously found his way to success through meeting Chas (Chandler) (via Linda Keith who went to school with my Mum, small world). And through learning his craft (not in the same way that a classical musician would, or even a jazz musician) he found his way to an incredibly unique voice, most prominently in his writing in my opinion. And then of course you have his guitar playing which is completely full of innovation, completely unique to him, but still informed and supported by that whole tradition he went through (and of course the developing musical technology and instruments of the time). And the timbre and phrasing of his voice. He was the whole package of innovative qualities. But again, it is so hard to know how that all comes together.

So, my advice would be to reflect on that perspective. The last thing the music world needs is another clone of someone who has already done something. That’s one of the downsides of free market capitalism!  Of course, the same problems emerge in socialistic societies as well. Find yourself within the process, respect tradition, don’t respect tradition, be brutal with the (your) truth, work hard and don’t be complacent. Never think you know everything or perhaps anything, always be open to growth and change, be simultaneously cocky and humble. Easy right?

RAMzine: You have toured The Music of Cream across Australia and New Zealand already, tell us what it was like to tour in Australia and New Zealand and why you are bringing it to the UK now.

Malcolm Bruce: It was a great experience for me. I’d never been to either Australia or New Zealand before, so it was an eye opener to play almost every major city. The people that came to the shows were very enthusiastic, we met some real hardcore fans of Cream and that whole era, so it was very encouraging for us to consider carrying the project on and bringing it, we very much hope, around the world. We already have two extensive tours booked for the USA, 40 shows in September to November this year, right before the four shows in the UK, and then in the spring 2019 another 30 – 40 shows in the USA. I think we will look at a much more extensive full UK tour for next year as well. So that experience down under really has had an impact on garnering industry support for the project and putting some wind in our sails to keep it going.

RAMzine: What was the idea behind The Music of Cream?

Malcolm Bruce: I’ve known Kofi since I was a teenager and also Will for almost as long. There have been a number of times, through various managers and labels etc. where there has been an attempt to get us together and capitalise on the relationship and lineage. So, I think when we were approached this time by the promoters in New Zealand, we decided to explore, it wasn’t something that was somehow unexpected for us. I think when it comes down to it, aside from how it makes sense from a business perspective, especially in the current market, there is a connection creatively and personally that gives us something unique. We all had similar experiences growing up around this extended group of musicians that more or less invented the popular music industry, whether Cream, The Stones and so on.

With more and more distance from their inception, it can be seen that this small collection of musicians who emerged from the post war baby boomer generation in the early to mid-60s in the UK, created something that still has relevance and continues to this day.

Have we really had any movement that has superseded that phenomenon, has there really been the opportunity? I’m not talking great pop here which essentially stays the same – I mean there are some A list artists who are actually incredibly gifted and original songwriters who more and more these days sound like they are following a kind of generic approach to success. It’s a real shame when that happens but it is all too common. Successful artists have an incredible opportunity to evolve and express something and spearhead change but can become prisoners of their own success, and it takes a certain kind of courage to go against the pressure to conform to that particular kind of ideology. Having said that I do love great pop music!

So, I think if there is something specific in terms of an idea behind the Music of Cream project, it is that music does not have to conform in that kind of way. There is so much improvisation within Cream‘s music, and that we hope can inspire others to think a little outside the box. That is what seemed to happen with the original band, more or less spontaneously. There is a naivety about how things happened in the 60s, to a greater or lesser extent, and more and more these days, with the financial pressures within the industry, there is less and less room for exploration, unless you pigeonhole yourself as an ‘experimental’ artist, which is ultimately another form of limitation.

I do think to some degree an artist has a responsibility to express analogues or templates of new possibilities, of new vistas of feeling, to have a vision, whether concrete or not, and to be willing to take a risk in terms of stepping outside what is currently considered the correct approach. Otherwise the whole process starts to feel incredibly cynical. I’ve been involved with those kinds of projects where you start to feel that the music is some how secondary to some greater agenda. You are standing there thinking that this isn’t really music anymore. I do think we tend sometimes to sell audiences short and dumb things down. And the larger implications within that approach are self-evident with our current cultural issues on a global scale, especially in our late capitalist western world, the increasing divide between high art and consumerism etc. It’s a deep and poignant topic for me, and one that we might all benefit from exploring.

RAMzine: The tour is being hailed as multi-media concert experience. What can we expect and what was the idea behind making it a multi-media concert experience?

Malcolm Bruce: We’ve been searching for and collating quite a lot of material over the last period of time and are putting together some video footage as well as photos and a little bit of onstage storytelling, regaling some of our formative experiences growing up with our respective parents and relations. It’s a delicate balance to represent and respect these aspects of our heritage.

We only have a certain amount to work with, as there is the inevitable resistance from some quarters who are in possession of said materials, wives, ex-wives, girlfriends etc.; but boxes are being rifled through, memories reached into. With something like this, although of course the music is the primary reason we are doing this, it is almost like an historical document of sorts. It’s a cathartic process for us all and we want to honour the whole thing.

I think with all three of us in the band, it hasn’t been the easiest journey through our lives so far, there are inevitably many pros and cons to being the child of someone so iconic, and the guys in Cream are and were certainly unique themselves in terms of their experience and how that experience made and makes them behave.

We have the support of the wonderful Tony Palmer who filmed and directed the famous Cream Farewell Concert in 1968, so we will also be interjecting some footage of the original band as a mark of respect. I think the whole idea around this is to show the connection between us all; that we in certain ways are a natural extension and progression of the history that in some respects informs us and our own musical personalities. We want everyone to have a positive, wonderful shared experience at the shows, and making it to some degree a visual experience just adds to that enjoyment for everyone concerned. We certainly feel a great affinity with the music!

RAMzine: How have you been influenced by your dad’s music and growing up in the thick of rock royalty?

Malcolm Bruce: Yes, it’s been inevitable that I have been influenced by him. But I think the most important aspects of that influence have been more about an openness to explore myself as an artist. My Dad in many ways transcended genre, although he did work predominantly within the rock idiom. So, I think it’s that explorative spirit that I learnt from him. Also, the incredible power of keeping things simple. ‘Simplify and Exaggerate’ is a good motto for rock and roll. So ultimately, I think the influence has been within my writing, finding my own voice, which has been a challenge having such an illustrious musician as my Dad! I feel like I am now beginning to truly find my voice. Having said all that, there are resonances within my bass playing and singing, but I wouldn’t dream of claiming that I can do what he could. He was a one off. At his best, timeless and transcendent. I’m still a work in progress.

RAMzine: Last year, you released your debut album. Are you planning to release more solo music?

Malcolm Bruce: Yes, very much so. I’m writing for my next album which I will be recording later this year and looking to release sometime next year and get on the road in support. Salvation, which is the album that I released last year via Pledge Music, was a trial by fire kind of process, I learnt so much by doing it. I think I went through three relationships during that time, the loss of my Dad in 2014, and so much change, certainly in an overt experiential sense. So, the next one will be a completely different process. I think I invested myself in some ways in the last one that were perhaps too deep, too much to sustain emotionally, if that makes sense. I think the next one will be a little more objective!

RAMzine: Tell us more about your first opera King You’s Folly.

Malcolm Bruce: I’m very excited to be beginning work on my first opera project. It’s based on a semi historical/semi mythological ancient Chinese story from the late Western Zhou period around 800 BC. It’s sort of a precursor to the fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf (I believe Aesop’s story came out a couple of hundred years after the time of King You). The Chinese culture, history and also music, is such a rich tapestry, and surprisingly still so little understood in the West. We talk so much of globalism, but I think in some ways we are still not a global culture, which may be a good thing. It’s inevitably changing rapidly though.

We are talking about co-producing the opera with China, and we’re looking to stage this in London in 2020. It’s a massive undertaking. I want to avoid a kind of pastiche approach to the music, like I’m somehow copying the trappings of some awful form of Orientalism as it were. So, there is a delicate balance in terms of the research, respecting the great Chinese culture from an historical perspective and at the same time writing the music I want to, without dumbing it down or Chinese-ing it up, which would be ridiculous and disrespectful and pointless, although of course I am looking at the confluence of certain materials.

There is already an amazing body of work within the traditions of Chinese opera, so it’s not about merely emulating what is endemic to another culture, but there will be connections of course, but from my personal perspective. I am completely fascinated by the story, and all the aspects that we currently know about those times, how people lived, the culture and attendant rites and rituals. It’s almost like it was created for that kind of grand opera of the past, a big arc of a story containing all the appropriate elements like sex, desire, greed, honour, justice etc. We are currently starting to talk with Chinese classically trained opera singers for the cast and I’m work-shopping some sketches with a set / costume designer and lighting director in the very near future. I feel there is so much potential in the story, we are looking at producing the show at Sadler’s Wells, not the most obvious choice for an opera, although, having said that, Sadler’s Wells is where Britten produced Peter Grimes in 1945, which changed the face of British opera at that time. We are all excited, but the writing must come first and it has to be right. It has to be organic to the story with the many elements involved. We are off to a good start though!

RAMzine: What is it like to be on tour with you, Kofi and Will?

Malcolm Bruce: Well it’s been ok so far. We are all a little different in our approach to life. Kofi, aside from being a fantastic and original drummer, likes to work out in the gym and sticks to a regime as well as a disciplined approach to nutrition. He also likes to stay up late playing his drums. Will is a family man with a lovely new baby boy. He’s also a fisherman type who has a little boat off the coast of the UK. I’m just doing music and yoga and meditation most days and have a daughter Maya who I’m very proud of. She’s developing as an artist in her own right, having spent two years at the prestigious Brit School studying Musical Theatre and then a degree at Mountview Performing Arts School in London. She is just wonderful, more wonderful than I think she realises. So maybe there will be granddaughters of Cream at some point!

Ultimately, it is always a challenge to live on a bus with a bunch of testosterone generators, even if it’s testosterone from your brothers from another mother! But I love Kofi and Will like brothers, and I think we make a great team for this project.

About Paul H Birch

RAMzine Senior Writer - Writer of fiction, faction and fact, has edited several newsstand magazines. He declares himself a hack for hire but refuses to compromise on the subject of music.

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