Sunday, February 08, 2009

Blind Faith: Under My Thumb

It was 40 years ago today, this website suggests, that rock's first supergroup was formed. Certainly, Marmalade Skies says that Blind Faith were formed in February 1969. Hence this week's music video.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood go back a long way. As I wrote a year ago:
Alan Clayson's biography of Winwood has a photograph of the pair of them on stage together with Sonny Boy Williamson at a concert at Birmingham Town Hall on 28 February 1964. Which means that Clapton was 18 and Winwood only 15.
I have since discovered that there is a recording of that occasion on Youtube. In view of the inflated claims made in the information there, it is worth recording what that photograph shows. Chris Dreja and Eric Clapton are on guitar, Paul Samwell-Smith is on bass, Keith Relf on tambourine, Jim McCarty is on drums and Art Themen is on sax. The singers are Williamson, Winwood and Long John Baldry, with Spencer Davis watching rather than singing.

In 1968 Winwood and Clapton were hanging out together at Clapton's newly acquired mansion, just enjoying playing and spending time together. Word got out that they had some project in mind and Clapton's old bandmate from Cream, Ginger Baker, turned up on the doorstep. As Clapton tells it in his biography, he was full of foreboding but Winwood's eyes lit up and the idea of a new group was formed. It was completed by Rick Grech from the Leicester band Family.

Blind Faith made there first appearance at a free concert in Hyde Park and today's video, a cover of the Rolling Stones song, is taken from that event. It is an interestingly subdued version when compared with the original - and markedly superior to the cover by The Who.

An LP was released - it contained what are now regarded as some great songs but was padded out with a long drum solo from Baker. Blind Faith set off on a US tour, but they were short of material and, in any case, the American audiences wanted to hear more of Cream's powerful rock and not Winwood and Clapton trading phrases on acoustic guitars.

Eric Clapton soon decamped to the traditional blues group Delaney and Bonnie, and Blind Faith were no more.

One of the reasons I have got so into Steve Winwood is seeing the video of him and Clapton playing Blind Faith's songs at the Crossroads guitar festival a couple of years ago. Compare the 1969 and 2007 versions of "Can't Find my Way Home" and you will see that they had still got it 38 years after that Hyde Park concert. (And that Winwood has moved effortlessly from organ to guitar.)

Finally, here is Dylan Jones writing about the occasion:
I watched the concert – London Hyde Park 1969 – on Sky Arts about six weeks ago and so far I must have watched it seven or eight times. Because it is awesome. To read reviews of the concert you'd think that it was little more than a soundcheck, and even Clapton has been disparaging about the event (claiming their sound system wasn't big enough), but watching the film now, the concert seems almost magical, and has a timeless quality, as though it happened in a vacuum, or some sort of parallel universe. 
Winwood is something of a revelation, and watching him sitting behind his electric piano in the mid-afternoon sun, in his purple ranch-style shirt and his red hipster trousers, with his impossibly boyish face, his mouth wrapping itself around the expertly crafted blue-eyed soul, he looks like nothing but a genuine pop icon. 
Forget Elvis, forget Hendrix, forget Jim Morrison – for one day, 40 years ago, in the summer of 1969, Steve Winwood was the coolest man on God's earth.


The Knitter said...

Great essay. What a time!

The English Painter said...

I spent the evening before the concert running around Hyde Park with a bunch of school friends literally hanging around in trees and remember waking up, in a deck chair, absolutely freezing…no jacket of course!
It was a dream gig…