Eric Clapton and others, Royal Albert Hall, London
Thursday 18 March 2004
Charity musical events often result in the music suffering because of the demands of showbiz. After all, we're supposed to suspend all normal modes of behaviour and enter gladly into the pact of helping the charity in question. We all play our part, whether it's by providing entertainment, applause, money or publicity to the nominated cause.
This particular Albert Hall spectacular was marshalled by (and in aid of) The Lord's Taverners' Charitable Works and featured a host of rock'n'rollers at various stages of the ageing process, but the presence of Eric Clapton's name at the top of the bill at least gave attendees hope that the music served up for the occasion would have integrity. While Jools Holland is equally adept at boogie piano and doing the showbiz glad hand, other older stagers such as Bill Wyman, Peter Green, Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Roger Chapman (later additions to the bill included Bob Geldof and Gary Brooker) suggested that the hope would bear fruit.
First on stage were Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, featuring Georgie Fame. Their good-natured take on R&B was marred only by the Albert Hall's renowned ability to dissipate a tight groove in its upper architecture. A four-song set by Paul Carrack came and went with nothing remarkable happening, before Roger Chapman appeared, to inject a little spirit into the proceedings. Sticking mostly to early Sixties R&B, Chapman clearly enjoyed himself and got everyone else rocking. Last up before the break were The Zombies. Featuring Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, the group fired off three numbers, climaxing in "She's Not There", extended on stage to include a screeching guitar solo.
After the break, the entertaining acoustic set by Geno Washington overran. The following acoustic set by Jools Holland and Sam Brown was mercifully short. An unanswered question hung over the two pieces Peter Green completed with the Rhythm Kings before wandering off stage; Eric Clapton looked on silently from the wings. He was, in fact, next on stage and delivered three impeccably judged and executed blues numbers, his multicoloured Stratocaster brimming with fire and fluency. Clapton proved to be at the top of his game and was the thrill of the night.
No such event is complete without a surprise guest. Ours was Geldof. Sir Bob came on to wild cheering and ran through two quick numbers with Wyman's group, "Route 66" taking us back to Rolling Stones territory. Last act before the all-in finale was Gary Brooker, who finished up with a sepulchral "Whiter Shade of Pale".
The audience - an odd mixture of fans, charity grandees and ordinary folk - swept up by the energy on stage, were now well beyond merely rattling the jewellery. The stomping and cheering showed that they had real enthusiasm for the cause. Proof positive, then, that a good cause can aid in the process of a good time being had by all, including the beneficiaries. It was an event demanding charitable behaviour from all present, including the critics.
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