ROCK / Returning to bass: In the Sixties, Jack Bruce helped Cream to 30 million record sales. Now, the singer and bass player is back with his own band. Giles Smith met him

When Jack Bruce takes the stage at the Clapham Grand tonight, get a look at his bass guitar. Note the tuning pegs thoughtfully angled to suit his fingers. Note the body, sculpted for balance. Note the tiny pilot lights mounted in the neck, so he can find his way up and down it in the dark ('not that easy, after a few beers'). If you're a former member of Cream, you get your instruments tailor-made.

On the way up, though, you take your chances with the factory product, like everyone else. The first bass Bruce owned was called a Top 20, it was made in Japan and, on one memorable evening at the 100 Club, it nearly killed him.

'There was a surge of electricity, the strings burnt right into my hand and I got thrown across the stage, where I lay quivering until finally somebody kicked the plug out. They had to carry me into the dressing- room and I was completely rigid, so they laid me on top of the upright piano in there. And I seem to remember I was high for days after.'

Jack Bruce, who is 49, speaks with a quiet Scots voice and wears somewhat louder Versace shirts. Clapham will be his first London appearance for longer than he cares to remember. His new outfit is a trio, like the band that made him famous. They'll play some blues and some of Bruce's old material and probably go in for a fair bit of spooky improvisation in between. On bass and vocals: Jack Bruce. On drums: the distinguished session player Simon Phillips. On guitar: Blues Saraceno, a New Yorker so young that, by the time he was born, Cream had already split.

'I first took him on three years ago, when he was 17. Bernie Worrell was in the band and he complained, saying, 'I go on the road to get away from my kids.' When he auditioned, he was very rough but you could see the potential in the guy. He walked in with a purple mohawk and a plaid guitar, plugged into his Marshall, went krrung, and it blew up. So I said, OK, you're hired. He only had one knob on his guitar, just loud and quiet, and that impressed me too. I sent him off with a tape of songs to learn and he came back three days later with a bandage on his hand. But he had it down. He just lives for the guitar and it reminds me of myself when I was that age - bass and that was it.'

Like Saraceno, Bruce was 17 when he went for his first audition. Responding to an advertisement in Melody Maker, he slung his double-bass on a train and travelled from Glasgow to Coventry to audition for the Murray Campbell Big Band at the Mecca ballroom. 'They were doing Maynard Ferguson arrangements and Dizzy Gillespie big band transcriptions. The audition piece was 'One Bass Hit', with the Ray Brown bass solo actually transcribed. And I sight-read it, because I'd just come from college and I could do all that stuff, and I got the gig.'

Bruce says he then remained 'a jazz snob' until 1962, when he joined Alexis Korner's Blues Inc. 'Before that, I was down on anything with a back beat.' But then he started to listen to Delta blues and soon he was linked with the drummer Ginger Baker in the Graham Bond Organisation. 'We did something like 320 one- nighters in a year, which is why I tell people that I don't need much practice any more.' And in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, he met Eric Clapton, 'who introduced me to even more esoteric strands of the blues'. By which time, he had traded his double-bass for an electric. 'I was hooked because it was loud: which is useful when you're playing with Ginger Baker, who plays hard. Suddenly I could be heard without sacrificing bits of my fingers.'

Cream only lasted three years (1966-69), but they sold 30 million records in that time. 'Funny to think that, at the time we formed, we hadn't started writing our own tunes and we were relying on Eric's knowledge of other people's stuff. In those days you would form a band and hit the road. I think now people might take a little more time - rehearse, maybe. Anyway, the songs gradually started to come. The first one I wrote was called 'NSU' about a sexually transmitted disease that Eric had. It's like an early punk song and I still play it sometimes.

'Our record label in America was Atlantic, and I must say they weren't too impressed by the music I wrote. I came up with 'Sunshine of Your Love' and 'White Room' and Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic's president) would say, 'You can't do that, you can't have 5:4 time at the beginning of a pop song.' 'Sunshine of Your Love', he said, was psychedelic hogwash. But then it became the label's best-selling single at that point. I think there was a negative feeling about the bass player being the singer. I think they really wanted Eric to be the front-man of the band. But he couldn't really have done it at the time, it wouldn't have worked. I didn't want the job either, but it was like 'You be the singer', 'No, you be the singer', and I lost. At least I didn't have to have the curly hair, though. That was Eric's job.

'Thinking back on that band, it was really a jazz band, there was so much improvising by the time it evolved. We started off playing four- or five- minute tunes, but by the time we got to San Francisco in '67, it had started to stretch out. It became almost like an Ornette Coleman band, with Eric not knowing he was Ornette Coleman, Ginger and me not telling him. But there he was, doing these unaccompanied solos for 20 minutes, incredible stuff.'

Bruce says he sees Clapton 'now and again' and Baker, who was 53 on Wednesday, 'more frequently'. (When Baker played on Bruce's 1989 album, A Question of Time, it was the first time they had recorded together since Cream.) He got the urge to tour in a three-piece again last autumn, during Seville's 'Guitar Legends' festival, at which rock's aristocracy assembled for a jam session. Bruce performed 'Sunshine of Your Love' and played with Bob Dylan on a version of 'All Along the Watchtower'.

'It was great to get to know Dylan a little bit. I got the job of finding out what he wanted to play and communicating with him. Communication is not something he's famous for. He's one of my all-time heroes and I'm funny with that. I had been invited to meet him before, but actually bottled out, because I had a couple of bad experiences with heroes. I remember when Tony Williams introduced me to Charles Mingus at the Village Gate. Mingus is my all-time bloke. I did the terrible thing that people do to me sometimes: I said, rather gushingly, 'Thank you]]' And he said, very sternly, 'What for, boy?' '

The Jack Bruce Band has already toured Japan and Poland, appearing mostly at festivals. ('There's a certain crowd that will always come out for me, particularly in America: garage mechanics, mostly.') In September, they will go to Bill Laswell's studio in Brooklyn and begin recording an album. At all other times, Bruce will be in Suffolk, in the village he moved out to in 1970 when life in London started to swing a little too nauseatingly. 'I lived in Chalk Farm and it just got too much. Everybody knew where my house was and there were tons of people around every night, which I got fed up with. I've never regretted moving away. It probably saved my life.'

He says the neighbours resisted him at first, but no longer. 'I got phone-calls saying, 'We hear you're going to start a Roadhouse.' And I would say, 'No, I came here to live peacefully.' They thought I was going to tear the house apart and fill it with swimming pools. These days, though I hate to think so, you can be a musician and still be respectable. Charlie Watts came down not long ago. I took him into the pub. The village liked that.'

The Jack Bruce Band appears tonight at The Grand, Clapham (Box office: 071-738 9000)

'Jack Bruce: The Collection' is released by Castle Communications, catalogue number CCSCD 326

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil