Thirteen Piece Nights (Beano-035)
Eric Clapton’s prolonged engagements at the Royal Albert Hall began in 1987 as a way to play as many shows in England as possible. By 1990 it was stretched to eighteen shows over three weeks and the shows were played in four formats. The first were the four piece blues band, Clapton and the backing band who would accompany him the rest of the year.
The second were the thirteen piece band with the addition of female backing singers and a horn section. The third were with the six piece nights, which were the four piece augmented by Robert Cray and Buddy Guy on guitar. And finally the those where he was joined by The National Philharmonic Orchestra with Michael Kamen as conductor.
Thirteen Piece Nights on Beano presents uncirculated tapes for three of the 13 piece nights, on January 30th, January 31st and February 1st. None of these shows have ever been pressed before making this their debut. Clapton’s basic backing band at this time was Nathan East, Greg Phillinganes and Steve Ferrone. In these three he’s joined by Phil Palmer, Alan Clark, Ray Cooper, Tessa Niles, Katie Kisson, and the horn section of Ronnie Cuber, Lou Marini, Alan Rubin and Randy Brecker.
The setlist for these shows remains the same as used by the four piece band and would be utilized for the Journeyman tours in 1990. The only difference is the addition of horns into the arrangements. Beano use the master cassettes on these discs and they are in general very good sounding.
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – January 30th, 1990
Disc 1 (67:04): Opening, Pretending, Running On Faith, Breaking Point, I Shot The Sheriff, White Room, Can’t Find My Way Home, Bad Love, Before You Accuse Me, Old Love
Disc 2 (74:28): No Alibis, Tearing Us Apart, Wonderful Tonight, member introduction, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Crossroads, Sunshine Of Your Love
The recording is distant but clear. While there is no distortion or loud audience noise, the distance blurs the music and makes it a bit hard to hear Clapton’s stage announcements between numbers. It’s good enough to appreciate the performance and is superior to the older tape that circulated for this date, but it is a middling audience recording.
January 30th is the fourth show with the thirteen piece band. The setlist remained very similar throughout these shows. The only significant variation was “Lay Down Sally” being dropped. The songs favor the recently released Journeyman LP. The show opens with the piano warm up leading into “Pretending.” Clapton tells the audience afterwards that “We’re gonna have a good time tonight” and that they’ll play a lot of new songs.
None of the arrangements are altered much to accommodate the horn section. Rather, they tend to punctuate the points made by the guitar throughout the evening. The lend an air of excitement, especially in “Breaking Point” and “I Shot The Sheriff.” The Bob Marley cover has an exciting and seamless segue into “White Room.” Nathan East is notable for singing the chorus in this high pitched tenor.
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – January 31st, 1990
Disc 3 (67:20): Opening, Pretending, Running On Faith, Breaking Point, I Shot The Sheriff, White Room, Can’t Find My Way Home, Bad Love, Before You Accuse Me, Old Love
Disc 4 (72:44): No Alibis, Tearing Us Apart, Wonderful Tonight, member introduction, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Crossroads, Sunshine Of Your Love
The sound quality for January 31st is very similar to the previous evening. The taper seems to be situated in the same section, producing the same clear but distant recording.
Keeping the setlist the same, the first three Journeyman numbers are all very good. “I Shot The Sheriff” is notable for a flute in the melody. It is louder in this show than others and gives the song a different kind of feel. This segues into “White Room” as usual. But afterwards there is a sizable part of the crowd shouting “we love you.” It’s thought to be for Clapton, but Clapton responds to the shouts, saying: “I hear cries of ‘I love Nathan’ Here he is. Nathan East.”
There is a loud response when East both sings “Can’t Find My Way Home” and plays his short bass solo in that number. He also duets at points with Kisson.
“Before You Accuse Me” is the strongest 12-bar blues played in the first half and quickens the audience before the epic ten-minute workout in “Old Love.” Afterwards Clapton introduces Jerry Lynn Williams. Williams wrote half of the songs on Journeyman including “No Alibis,” which he sings.
“A Remark You Made” is remarkable this evening as it leads into “Layla.” The two encores are the standard “Crossroads” and a very long “Sunshine Of Your Love.” Both Ferrone and Cooper take turns playing a solo. Ferrone’s is a more standard drum solo while Cooper plays his call-and-response games on the bongos and other percussive instruments, creating all sorts of havoc.
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – February 1st, 1990
Disc 5 (65:15): Opening, Pretending, Running On Faith, Breaking Point, I Shot The Sheriff, White Room, Can’t Find My Way Home, Bad Love, Before You Accuse Me, Old Love
Disc 6 (75:05): No Alibis, Tearing Us Apart, Wonderful Tonight, member introduction, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Crossroads, Sunshine Of Your Love
Discs five and six contain the sixth and final night of the thirteen piece band. The following night would be the first of the “blues nights” with the two guitarists added and a radically different setlist filled with blues covers. The recording for this night is very good and louder than the other two. The vocals are still buried in the mix, but the definition of the instruments is very powerful and captures the excitement of the performance.
The first third of the show is very good, but the energy builds significantly in the long jamming of “Old Love.” And like the previous night, Jerry Williams joins them again for “No Alibis.” The horn arrangement in “Tearing Us Apart” sounds magnificent in the recording and enhances the only mid-eighties song to survive in the setlist.
The final songs of the night also reach epic proportions with long jamming in “Layla,” “Crossroads” and a fifteen mintue version of “Sunshine Of Your Love.”
Thirteen Piece Nights is packaged in a six disc fatboy jewel case, something with Beano and Tricone do very well. Their catalogue contains several sets just like this. The virtue of these titles is that they cover periods and shows that don’t otherwise have documentation. All three nights in this set are making their silver pressed debut. The sound quality for the tapes aren’t the greatest, but are good enough to appreciate the fun in these concerts and is worth having.