Any Lengths (Beano-039)
Woking Leisure Center, Woking, Surrey, England – December 31st, 2009
Disc 1 (47:59): Opening, Knock On Wood, Reconsider Baby, You Can’t Judge A Book, Unchain My Heart, Route 66, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Let The Good Times Roll, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Five Long Years, Shake Rattle ‘N Roll
Disc 2 (61:44): New Year’s Eve countdown, In The Midnight Hour, Hoochie Coochie Man, Blueberry Hill, Stagger Lee, Got Love If You Want It, Gin House, Willie And The Hand Jive, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Cocaine, Old Black Joe
One of Eric Clapton’s more meaningful traditions has been the annual New Year’s Eve Dances at the Woking Leisure Center. Created in 1992, about the same time he began organizing the Crossroads Centre Antigua, it is an alcohol-free private event played every year (except for 1998 and 2003). Each year the band bill themselves under an unusual name. In 2009 they called themselves Any Lengths.
Any Lengths on Beano presents amazingly clear and detailed stereo DAT recording of the event. It’s as good as a professional recording in picking up the nuances and details in the music and stage production. The first disc contains the forty-five minutes before midnight, and the second disc the midnight hour portion of the show.
The intimate setting creates a laid back and loose performance and the holiday insures a celebratory spirit. Instead of playing the expected hits from the Clapton/Derek/Cream back catalogue, he instead focuses upon rarely played blues, R&B and gospel covers. The rarity of some of these performances makes these tapes valuable.
The Any Lengths show stands out because of the scarcity of Clapton material. In past years he would play several songs including “Layla,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Wonderful Tonight,” but this show has only three covers that were commonly played (“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Willie And The Hand Jive” and “Cocaine”) and no originals whatsoever.
In 2009 the Any Lengths band has the usual cast of Clapton musicians: Andy Fairweather Low, Gary Brooker, Chris Stainton, Dave Bronze on bass, Henry Spinetti, and Sharon White and Michelle John on backing vocals.
Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” can be heard blaring through the PA before the band come onstage for “Knock On Wood.” The Eddie Floyd cover has been a constant in the Woking shows, appearing in more shows than not. “Reconsider Baby” is another constant, oftentimes serving as the set opener.
But the first surprise in the show comes with the Ray Charles tune “Unchain My Heart.” Clapton tells the assembly that “we haven’t played this one before.” Brooker handles the vocals, giving a somewhat convincing Charles impersonation. After a scorching “Route 66,” they play a haunting version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is played in the reggae arrangement, but the tempo is slowed down, enabling the band to smash the chords all over the stage. It has to rank as one of the most aggressive versions on tape. “Shake, Rattle And Roll” closes the first half of the show.
The new year’s countdown opens the second half with very loud explosions and pealing bells and a cover of “In The Midnight Hour.” (Clapton’s arrangement of “After Midnight” is another good choice and was played in other years).
“Willie And The Hand Jive” is played in the same arrangement as it was on the 1974 except without the segue into “Get Ready.” Brooker again takes the spotlight afterwards. He sings snippets of “When A Man Loves A Woman” and Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” before starting a gorgeous version of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.”
The Steven Foster tune “Old Black Joe” closes the show. Clapton played the song before when he joined Brooker’s band No Stiletto Shoes December 21st, 2007 at the Ex-Servicemen’s Club in Chiddingfold. Clapton sings the first line, “Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,” and interjects, “well…not really gay.” The continue, switching to a boogie arrangement of the song, but sing only the first verse and the chorus two times, omitting the other two.
Any Lengths is a very good release, worth having.