But The Rainbow Has A Beard

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When I was 14 I picked up an Eric Clapton compilation called Backtrackin’ that I really liked and my mum outraged me by telling me that she found Clapton really boring apart from the bits when he was with Cream – she actually, seriously preferred all that strange, murky stuff like ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ and ‘Badge’ to ‘Tulsa Time’?! Get outta the road old-timer!  Thirty years later and, eternal teenager that I am, it still hurts me to type ‘she was right’ so I won’t.  She may have been ever so slightly not utterly, totally incorrect though*, on this occasion.

You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever
But you rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun

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So here I sit in 2016 with a near perfect nick original copy of Cream Disraeli Gears that was 49 years old last month, that I genuinely can’t remember buying, but I’ve owned for at least 20 of those years, blasting ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ over and over again.  I just can’t get enough of the fact that the brilliant, poetic lyrics are written by the Australian psychedelic artist Martin Sharp who designed the cover of the record – a perfect creation in its’ own fluorescent right**.  The slightly dead-eyed delivery of those lyrics, the cymballic shimmerings and the descending circling guitar chug all conspire to raise the track up to the 1537 definition of genius perfection; you couldn’t add, or take anything away from ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ to make it any better at all.  I can’t think of a single track that sounds anything like it, then or now.

And you see a girl’s brown body dancing through the turquoise
And her footprints make you follow where the sky loves the sea
And when your fingers find her, she drowns you in her body
Carving deep blue ripples in the tissues of your mind

This video really is the business.

Disraeli Gears is an interesting LP to sit down and listen to again, I’m really torn between lauding the great bits of it and lamenting the stray polyphonic particles that prevent it from quite claiming perfection.  I’m a positive sort of chap.  ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is a really interesting one, listen past that riff (if you can) and hear just how crude and boxy those drums sound – yet at the same time it’s a real testament to the production of Felix Pappalardi and the ever magic Tom Dowd, that the sound is so full for a three-piece, they really fill the whole room.  There’s something sexy, slinky and urgent about ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ that I really react to – possibly because those are the three adjectives that are most commonly applied to me.  True story.

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It has to be said that ‘World Of Pain’ is bollocks though, totally devoid of thrust and grace^^, ‘Dance The Night Away’ is pretty insubstantial too although it is redeemed by some pretty guitar flourishes.  Then along comes ‘Blue Condition’, which gives Ginger baker a chance to Ringo his way through a vocal, I really can’t decide if it’s a flawed, humanizing moment for Cream, or just a sign that everyone concerned needed their bloodstreams emptying.  I’m leaning towards the latter tonight.

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One of my absolute faves on Disraeli Gears is ‘SWLABR’, which as everyone over the age of 7 knows was an acronym for ‘Sweaty Wombats Look A Bit Risqué’.  True story, I read that on the internet.  I really like the energy of this track, it sounds like early Love at their absolute revved-up best.  It’s all very psychedelic, sounding a bit like its own cover art and then suddenly they throw in a lyrical curveball, it’s all a bit odd:

So many fantastic colours, I feel in a wonderland.
Many fantastic colours, makes me feel so good.
You’ve got that pure feel,
Such good responses,
Got that rainbow feel,
But the rainbow has a beard^*

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I’m also very partial to the plaintive ‘We’re Going Wrong’, which is a beautiful limpid pool of a song, illuminated by Jack Bruce’s curiously restful falsetto and borne along on the raft of Baker’s subtle drumming.  A lesser group wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation to explode the song halfway through and get all loud, Cream were far too classy an act for that.  I can’t get excited by ‘Outside Woman Blues’ or ‘Take It Back’, both just seem to hit the same level and sound as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s lesser tracks, all very much of their time and pleasant enough, but …

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Of another time entirely, backwards actually, heard again today ‘Mother’s Lament’ was a far more endearing bit of Bonzo Doggery than I remembered it being to close Disraeli Gears, you can’t beat a bit of an over-enunciated Cockney music hall ditty, I always say.

What I find interesting is the amount of outside influence and collaboration there was on Disraeli Gears, particularly when the three creative gentlemen of Cream have/had such big reputations for stubbornness and ego at times; you could argue it shows an unusual openness for a band.  As well as Martin Sharp, Jack Bruce wrote with lyricist Pete Brown, Felix Pappalardi contributed to ‘Strange Brew’ and ‘World of Pain’ along with his partner and eventual killer, Gail Collins.

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Disraeli Gears suffers a little in the consistency stakes, but when it is great there is very little else that can touch it.  Oh and the fact that in the late 60’s my dad used to get mistaken for Ginger Baker in London, which my mum tells me he loved, probably gives me a genetic predisposition to liking Cream which far outweighs my various issues with their guitarist.  So, hey, mum was right. This time.

And the colours of the sea bind your eyes with trembling mermaids
And you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses
How his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing
For the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips

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672 Down.

PS: Click here if you want to read a proper erudite review of Disraeli Gears, with a visual joke about bike gears that I didn’t spot first time around.


**Sharp, amongst other notable achievements in his later life, being a persistent and loyal champion of Tiny Tim, cover star of Poison Idea Feel The Darkness^. At the time Sharp was living in the same Chelsea building as Eric Clapton (and Germaine Greer, come to that), a building that was the subject of an exceptionally geeky 1537 pilgrimage last year as I went to the Pizza Express restaurant that The Pheasantry has now been converted to.

Cream Disraeli Gears 09a (2)

^and they told me I couldn’t link Poison Idea to Eric Clapton! Foolish mortals!

^^great names for a pair of kittens that, thrust and grace – you can have that one on me.

^*I lied, SWLABR really stands for ‘She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow’ – of course! What else could it possibly be? I deleted my first, rather obscene version.

45 thoughts on “But The Rainbow Has A Beard

  1. Your Mum’s hip, Clapton was never better than with Cream.
    His later “solo” work was uninspired and Pop – and he left The Yardbirds because he thought that they were going the Pop-Route!
    Strange Brew.

    1. She is very hip – Jimmy Reed and Incredible String Band were always her touchstones, oh and Sha Na Na.

      (tries to work pun into comment about ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ and fails)

  2. Jack Bruce’s explanation of SWABLR’s origin:
    – ‘Umm… Drugs?’

    Made my day. As for Clapton’s finests moment: I agree that most of his solo stuff is pedestrian as a Singing Nun (hyaw…), Layla has to top any album he’s ever made. Just brilliant.

    I must admit, though, that I’m a bit indifferent as to the fuzzy psychemadelicalized noodlings of the Cream…

      1. No I improvised with a yard brush, oil-soaked rag and some paint stripper. I haven’t felt like this since I came back from ‘Nam.

  3. Great post, Joe. I love this album loads – probably my favourite slice of Clapton. All psychedelic noodles and doodles, Jack Bruce being all bass nimble and Ginger Baker all awesome and such. I. Must. Listen. Now!

    Anyhoo, Cream’s best. Easily. Definitely, one of the 60’s finest moments. Utterly essential.

    1. Thank you, i appreciate that. The cover makes this a totally worthwhile object in its own right – never mind that there’s actually some music on the thing too.

      1. Can’t believe I didn’t even mention how swell the cover is in that last comment! It’s a really great album to look at. No doubt. Stop. Look. Listen. Look. Listen. Etc.

        *gave it a listen earlier – thanks for that!

      2. It’s one of the very best. Fact. Also, that video is brilliant; I’d never seen that before.

        Have you seen Beware of Mr. Baker?

      3. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It’s brilliant. One of the best music documentaries I’ve seen. He’s a right cantankerous bastard. Utter genius, though. Probably my favourite drummer ever.

        … and there’s some really good coverage of his stint with Fela Kuti.

      4. Does it deal with the fact that, for reasons best known to himself, he used to walk around swinging London looking exactly like my dad?

  4. A very fair assessment of of the most essential albums of my adolescence. So much so that I had the cover painted on the back of a denim jacket that I wore throughout high school (and to my first Clapton concert in 1983). I’m proud to say that I still own the jacket…and it still fits. As for the not-quite-great bits you mentioned, those are what made (and still make) Disraeli Gears so special for me. and I rank it only behind the Derek & The Dominos album in the Clapton discography.

    I’ve also heard that “SWLABR” is an abbreviation for “She WAS Like A Bearded Rainbow,” but I’m not sure which (if either) is correct.

  5. Lovely piece Joe, and beaut photos too (especially that lost one!). Great point about the range of inputs on the album. (And thanks for the shoutout).

    So sometimes, Mother knows best, eh?

    1. Thanks Bruce. I meant to mention it (and forgot) that the dates on the label are interesting as one shows 1966 … the year before the LP came out. Well, interesting to me.

      Occasionally mother may not be totally, incorrect in a wrong way error type of way.

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