Eric Clapton – First Orchestra Night (Beano-033)

 First Orchestra Night (Beano-033)
Royal Albert Hall, London, UK – February 8, 1990

Disc1. Layla Introduction – Opening – Crossroads – Bell Bottom Blues – Lay Down Sally – Holy Mother – I Shot The Sheriff – Hard Times – Can’t Find My Way Home – Edge Of Darkness – Old Love – Wonderful Tonight.
Disc2. White Room – Concerto For Electric Guitar 1  – Concerto For Electric Guitar 2 – A Remark You Made – Layla – Sunshine Of Your Love.

The National Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by Michael Kamen
Eric Clapton: Guitar & Vocals
Phil Palmer: Guitar
Nathan East: Bass
Greg Phillinganes: Keyboards
Steve Ferrone: Drums
Ray Cooper: Percussion
Katie Kissoon & Tessa Niles: Backing Vocals

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about this release because having listened to quite a few subpar recordings from the early 90’s at the RAH over the years, I was afraid this could be one of those…. But it is not.

Beano used a very fine, complete tape that let us enjoy the very first show that EC ever performed along with the National Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by Michael Kamen. Two further shows would be performed on Feb 9&10 that year. Film footage in pro-shot quality of the former show can be found on Beano’s 2-DVD set “Stay Gold” while the latter has been silver pressed numerous times, my favourite being “Orchestra Night” on the MidValley label. These three orchestral nights were a huge success and it’s no surprise there were six of them the year after.

The show begins with the Layla coda played by the Orchestra. After that, you can easily identify the moment that EC walks on stage as the crowd gives him a very warm ovation. The intro to Crossroads is great, but the song itself, with the wonderful help from the Orchestra, is even greater.

The best things about Bell Bottom Blues are EC’s solo and Katie Kissoon’s vocal work but the last minute of the song is quite repetitive in my opinion. I could live without Lay Down Sally: it is out of place in this orchestral setting and is absolutely dispensable for me. Holy Mother and I Shot The Sheriff are whole different stories. Both remain as all-time favourites  – both feature spectacular outros and the Orchestra adds an edgy feel tonight.

There’s a cut right after Sheriff but no music is lost and we’re back in time to listen EC’s introduction to a fine version of Hard Times, the Ray Charles cover from the Journeyman album.The guitar is missing on  the much orchestrated Can’t Find My Way Home. It features Nathan East on vocals, and he is introduced by EC this way: “…and now we’ll bring a young gentleman to the front of the stage who hasn’t been in the business very long … this is his big spot now … Mr Nathan East!“. Next comes a highlight: a terrific rendition of Edge Of Darkness, an instrumental piece of music that Michael Kamen and EC scored for the eponymous British TV series back in 1985.

Old Love has got be another highlight seeing a powerful guitar solo on its first half and then a more relaxed one on the outro. With a 2-minute intro it’s no surprise Wonderful Tonight is 9 minutes long. Quite boring for me, this segment is somewhat saved by Katie Kissoon’s great vocal abilities. With a stunning guitar outro, White Room is nothing but a true show stealer.

Next we get two of the three movements of the Concerto for Electric Guitar that EC commissioned to Michael Kamen. As far as I am concerned, EC never played the third one live and the only way of listening to that piece is on the Japan-only “Guitar Concerto” 1CD set by Kamen/Hotei. Not being able to read music, learning this Concerto must have been tough for EC. My command of the English language won’t let me explain what these two movements are all about better than it is reflected in the review of “19th Nervous Breakdown” as EC would play them again in 1991. All I will say is that both movements are beautiful.  I don’t really have a favourite. both are different, both are great. The show from Feb 10 was one of the first shows in my collection and I remember playing these two movements to death in my stereo! “First Orchestra Night” captures the very first time EC played them live  – listening to them you won’t be able to tell, by the way! – and that is what makes this release special. You will hear some people talking while the Concerto is playing but that won’t detract from your enjoyment.

A Remark You Made which segues into an outstanding Layla closes the show. The encore consists of Sunshine Of Your Love only. Stretched up to 16 minutes, it features a very forgettable 7-minute percussion solo from Ray Cooper that used to have the crowd wondering where EC was.

“First Orchestra Night” sees the debut of EC’s first orchestral night ever in silver media. Vocals are a bit distant but the power of all instruments and the Orchestra do make up for it, making it an enjoyable tape. Claimed to be taken from the master tapes, this will be the definitive recording of this show until the soundboard tapes that exist surface. Recommended.

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  1. Beano has another great title to add to its catalogue. The tape was a bit distant from the stage but it has fantastic atmosphere.


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