Jack Bruce looking forward to Birmingham Town Hall gig
He was one third of one of the biggest bands in the world, has battled drug and health issues and is not too far off celebrating his 70th birthday, yet former Cream bassist and singer Jack Bruce shows no sign of slowing down, writes Ian Harvey.
He was one third of one of the biggest bands in the world, has battled drug and health issues and is not too far off celebrating his 70
birthday, yet former Cream bassist and singer Jack Bruce shows no sign of slowing down,
"It's just what I do. I love playing and if I'm not playing I get very strange, very funny. I'm not one for holidays or anything."
Mind you, when you travel as much as Bruce does there's probably no time for holidays. This year he is touring Europe with his Big Blues Band, America with his jazz fusion combo Spectrum Road and again with the blues project, has a trip to play a festival in Cuba and hopes to squeeze in a recording session for a new album.
First on the agenda is his Big Blues Band tour, which Bruce is excited about bringing to Birmingham.
"The last time I played Town Hall in Birmingham was with the BBC Big Band about four years ago and that was a fabulous gig. I really enjoyed that. So I'm looking forward to playing there again, absolutely. It's a lovely place."
There's clerly a clue in band's name but what can fans expect at the Birmingham gig.
"Well, yes, there will obviously be blues, says Bruce. "But there's a wide variety of music from things that I wrote before Cream, some Cream tunes and a lot of things from my solo albums too, as well as some standard blues material
"There are some songs that you feel you have to play. I remember a couple of times going to see Bob Dylan when he was going through one of his mad periods and not playing anything anybody wanted to hear and ever since then I've realised that you have to, as Ringo always said: "Play your hits!".
So that means White Room, Sunshine of Your Love, I Feel Free?
You could call Jack Bruce a musical magpie as he rarely settles long in one genre, hopping from rock to blues, classical, to Latin, world music to jazz. So is there any form of music he hasn't tried?
"Well, Indian nose flute music," he laughs, before adding: "No, if it comes along I'll try it. I just got back from doing the Celtic Connections Festival In Glasgow and we had a great band there which was a folk trio called Lau, we also had a string quartet and local rock musicians.
"I can't imagine playing in just one band for as long as I've played. It would become boring.
"I definitely don't do it for the money because then it's just a job. For me I find it more appealing to experiment. I'm going to Cuba to play with a big mambo band, with Phil Manzanera. Things like that appeal to me. It's a challenge and it's also fun."
Depending on who you listen top there's a tale about Bruce 's teenage years which says he was kicked out of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where he was studying cello and composition, because his tutors didn't like him playing jazz.
Bruce tells it slightly differently: "They have a rule that you're not allowed to take work while you're studying and I was playing in a dance band to earn money in order for me to live - I didn't come from a rich background.
"They said you either stop playing or you leave the college . . . and I said 'Bye!'
"But now I've got an honorary doctorate from there. It would have been interesting to have stayed but on the other hand the things that happened to me wouldn't have happened."
Bruce's drug and health battles - he had a liver transplant after being diagnosed with cancer in 2003 - have been well chronicled, so does he feel lucky to have survived?
"I feel very lucky to be alive," he says. "A lot of us went through a lot of things like that and not all of us made it through. Along with most of my generation of old rockers we don't do anything anymore. I might push the boat out and have a Horlicks . . . but don't tell anybody!"
So how did he manage to kick his addiction to heroin?
"It's not something I don't like to talk a great deal about because of the romanticisation of it," he says. "But ultimately it's down to yourself. You have to get as much help as you can but it always comes down to the individual.
"If you've got a real problem, it's very, very difficult; it might take many attempts to stop. And you can't give up, that's the thing; never give up giving up.
"Addiction of any kind is a tremendous waste of time and energy."
Regarded as one of the greatest and most innovative bass guitarists of all time, Bruce's playing was famously criticised by drummer Ginger Baker – a fellow member of Cream and The Graham Bond Organisation – for being "too busy".
The pair have had a tempestuous relationship over the years but Bruce shrugs it off: "He says that about everybody!"
"He didn't quite get what I was trying to do. I was trying to play a melodic bassline. I started to play with Ginger just with double bass which was inaudible and then suddenly I was playing the bass guitar and he could hear what I was playing, I guess!"
Even Beethoven isn't immune to Ginger Baker's ire, says Bruce.
"With Beethoven it's not too many notes . . . it's too loud. He always complained that Beethoven was too loud and too dynamic."
Seven years on from the celebrated Cream reunion tour with Baker and Eric Clapton in 2005, Bruce insists the pair have "got over all that"
"A lot was made of it and I'm not denying there were a lot of problems but I think there are problems in almost every band. If you think of The Police, for instance, I think they had more on-stage fights than we did. If you think of the bands that actually broke up on stage, like The Kinks; we didn't break up on stage, we soldiered on to the end and we decided to stop."
Is there any chance of another Cream reunion?
"Well, there was some talk about doing one next year. Whether or not that will actually happen I couldn't say. I'm more in touch with Ginger, occasionally, than Eric. I can't claim to be very close to Eric but I do run into him from time to time, you know . . . down the local unemployment exchange for old rockers!
"Cream was just one band I was in," he adds. "It just happened to be the most commercially successful. And I think as time goes on more and more people know my other work."
And clearly that work just keeps rolling on.
"I wouldn't know what else to do is the reason that I do it and I'll keep going as long as people ask me to and I feel I'm giving something.
"If I wasn't delivering the goods I certainly wouldn't be doing it but I feel my voice is better than it's ever been . I can't believe it and I'm very happy about it."
Jack Bruce & His Big Blues band plays Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday, March 29, 2012. Tickets cost £25 plus booking fees from on 0121 780 3333 or at www.thsh.co.uk/event/jack-bruce-and-his-big-blues-band
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