First Season At The Royal Albert Hall Volume 1 (Beano-036)
No other rock star is associated as closely to the Royal Albert Hall as is Eric Clapton. Since making his first appearance there with the Yardbirds on December 7th, 1964, he’s played on that stage many times. In 2009 he played his 150th solo show since 1987, and with ten shows scheduled in May 2011 (six solo and four with Steve Winwood) the association will continue.
The long engagements of solo concerts began in 1987 with six concerts. First Season At The Royal Albert Hall Volume 1 on Beano is an important new release because it documents the first three ’87 concerts with brand new audience recordings. None of these have circulated and, while not perfect, are an improvement over the old tapes that are available. This also marks the first time these three shows have been released.
British rhythm and blues revival act Big Town Playboys are the opening act for each of the nights and Clapton is joined on stage by Mark Knopfler, Nathan East (bass), Greg Phillinganes (keyboards), and Steve Ferrone on drums. Sting and Steve Winwood join the band for the encores for the January 8th show.
The setlist is almost identical for the three. Since this was the first couple of dates of the August tour there were some variations. The two warm up shows at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester included “Take A Chance” and “Run” from the new album, neither of which would be played in the Royal Albert Hall. “Run” would surface later in the year for the Japan dates. “Wanna Make Love To You,” which was played in both Manchester shows also makes an appearance in the January 6th show but was dropped afterwards.
Released simultaneously with Beano is First Season At The Royal Albert Hall Volume 2 (Uxbridge 309), a six CDR set also with new tapes with the other three shows on January 10th, 11th and 12th. Soundboards circulate for those, however, and the definitive releases are still Three Nights (ZigZag) and Romantic Isolation (Mid Valley MVR 243~248) which probably accounts for the new tapes being pressed on CDR. The Mid Valley is still definitive for the second half of the first Royal Albert Hall engagement.
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – January 6th, 1987
Disc 1 (69:28): Opening, Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wanna Make Love To You, Hung Up On Your Love, Wonderful Tonight, Miss You, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart
Disc 2 (49:30): Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, Layla, Money For Nothing, Sunshine Of Your Love
The recording for this show is very good. A slight distance from the stage produces a messy echo and prevents this from being excellent. But it is highly listenable, enjoyable, and captures the atmosphere of the show nicely.
After the synthesizer beginning they start with a stiff and nervous version of “Crossroads.” Clapton greets the audience, saying, “It’s great to be back here again I tell you.” It’s not readily clear which past visit he has in mind. He last played there for the ARMS show in 1983 and before that in 1969 with Delaney and Bonnie and 1968 with Cream’s farewell shows.
“We’re gonna do a couple of really old songs” he continues. “This one’s from the sixties, if you were around then.” Both “White Room” and “I Shot The Sheriff” are much more energetic. “Wanna Make Love To You” follows and is the first new song of the night. It is played for the only time in the Royal Albert Hall shows. It is an outtake from August and would surface the following year in the Crossroads boxset. It would be played again in October in a couple of low key London dates, but would never be a regular part of the set.
After “Miss You” Nathan East asks if everyone is having a good time. “Same Old Blues” is another new song from August and, clocking at almost 20 minutes, the longest piece he would regularly play live. All of the musicians except for drums would take a solo before they would duet by the end, bringing the piece to a close. A short delay after “Tearing Us Apart” prompts Clapton to shout “the equipment’s broken down, it’s all over.”
East says “what do you think of our guitar player, hmmmm? Eric Clapton, the one and only. And our very special guest, Mark Knopfler.” The two songs “Badge” and “Let It Rain” are segued together into a short medley, and the set ends with “Layla.” Knopfler’s “Money For Nothing” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” are the encores.
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – January 7th, 1987
Disc 3 (55:59): Opening, Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Hung Up On Your Love, Wonderful Tonight, Miss You, Same Old Blues
Disc 4 (54:55): Tearing Us Apart, Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, Layla, Money For Nothing, Sunshine Of Your Love
The tape for the January 7th show is incomplete at the beginning. Beano edit the show by using the old tape source for the opening and for “Crossroads” before switching to the new tape. The old source is fair and listenable but not very good. The new tape is very good to almost excellent with a similar quality to the one use for January 6th. There are small cuts after “Miss You” and “Let It Rain,” but no music is missing.
Beginning the synthesizer opening, the set remains similar to the first night. “Crossroads” start off the show and, after Clapton tells the audience “we’ll play a selection of things for you,” refers to “White Room” as “the second thing.” It is followed by the “cross-over reggae” of “I Shot The Sheriff.”
“Wanna Make Love To You” is dropped so the go straight into the new song “Hung Up On Your Love.” The older song “Wonderful Tonight” is played at a quicker tempo than on previous tours. “Same Old Blues” again pushes twenty minutes. The audience respond loudly as he singles out East, Knopfler and Phillinganes.
In fact, it is the keyboardist who comes close to stealing the thunder in the latter half of the show with melodic, funky solos in “Badge,” “Cocaine.” The set finale “Layla” ends with a terrific crash as Clapton wishes his mother a happy birthday. “Money For Nothing” in all these shows sounds like an instant party and are all great fun to hear.
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – January 8th, 1987
Disc 5 (69:28): Opening, Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Hung Up On Your Love, Wonderful Tonight, Miss You, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart, Holy Mother
Disc 6 (43:15): Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, Layla, Money For Nothing, Sunshine Of Your Love
In some ways the January 8th show is the most interesting of the run. Regarding the older tape source, one collector calls is “an awful audience recording. The performance might be fantastic, but this one is simply beyond the limit of what one can reasonably enjoy. Not recommended.”
Beano use a significantly improved sounding recording. The quality is similar to the other two nights, being slightly distant but clear, enjoyable and capturing the atmosphere of the concert beautifully. The fantastic performance and the rare guest appearances by Sting and Steve Winwood make this tape alone almost worth the price of the set.
Someone forgot to turn on Clapton’s microphone at the beginning since the first lines of “Crossroads” are inaudible. But that aside the show starts off on fire and never lets up. He makes the normal self-depreciating joke about the sixties before “White Room” and refers to “I Shot The Sheriff” as one from Jamaica.
But it is the new songs in the first half that sound great. Even “Miss You,” which would be dropped eventually, is an effective live vehicle with this funk groove. “Same Old Blues” pushes twenty minutes in this show. Clapton and Phillinganes even get into some George Bizet in the middle. An emotional rendition of “Holy Mother” is the last of the new songs in the set.
Phillinganes again turns “Badge” into a funk piece and Mark Knopfler has a great solo in “Let It Rain,” reminiscent of his ground breaking solo in the Dire Straits’ first hit “Sultans Of Swing.”
The surprises come in the encores when Nathan East introduces Sting and Steve Winwood. “Money For Nothing” again sounds like a riotous party. This is one of the few times Sting duplicates his part from the studio recording in the live setting (Live Aid in 1985 is perhaps the most well known). Both he and Winwood add their bit of fun to “Sunshine Of Your Love” which closes perhaps the best of the six performanes at the Royal Albert Hall.