Dave Bainbridge on Jack Bruce: Why I Love

Dave Bainbridge is both well known and highly respected in the field that encompasses Progressive / Celtic / atmospheric Rock. Perhaps best known for his work with the wonderful Iona, he’s trodden a varied path in a career that’s seen him adding countless high-profile names to his musical CV. We had the pleasure of hearing his recent solo album, To The Far Away, which pulls together all those influences into a widescreen and personal vision.

Dave joins us with his tale of why the Cream bassman was such an important influence.

Jack Bruce

I was 9 years old when the original ‘supergroup’ Cream played their legendary farewell concerts at The Royal Albert Hall. My older sister Maureen, a great singer, had introduced me to the music of all the top rock and blues artists of the day from a very early age, including Eric Clapton and his incendiary playing with Cream. I was so excited to see this concert when it finally aired on TV a few years later that I taped the sound on my mam’s ancient Grundig reel to reel tape recorder, holding the microphone as close to the TV speaker as I could. Over subsequent months I absorbed and studied the recording, feeling the incredible energy and synergy between the musicians, playing at a level I could only dream of at the time. I’ve always felt that Clapton has never sounded better than he did in those brief years with Cream, and a massive contributing factor to that was the powerful backdrop created by Ginger Baker and of course Jack Bruce.

I loved Jack’s passionate vocal delivery and strong, wandering bass lines that were never content to stick just to the chord root notes. For a good while, Jack was involved in much of the music that most made an impression on me in my formative years. After Cream, it was West, Bruce and Laing, Tony Williams Lifetime, Jack Bruce and Friends (with David Sancious and Billy Cobham) and his vocal contributions to Allan Holdsworth’s Road Games album. I first heard Jack’s beautiful song, Theme From An Imaginary Western, when it was played by one of my other favourite bands, Mountain. It wasn’t until later that I heard the more evocative original version and was introduced to Jack the piano player.

Fast forward to 1987 and by now I was playing keyboards with the Norman Beaker Band. Norman and Jack were good friends from way back and Norman asked if I’d like to do some gigs with him and Jack. It was a difficult period for Jack, trying to kick his drug habit and without a major record deal. Norman set up some club gigs and it was thrilling for me to be playing keys with one of my musical heroes.

One time we rehearsed at Jack’s house and after we’d finished, Jack stayed in his music room for about another 2 hours, improvising on the piano. It sounded amazing and I was blown away by his musicianship. One of the first gigs we did was in front of about 10,000 people at a festival in Scotland, where Jack was still regarded as rock royalty. He was at his peak vocally and playing-wise and it was thrilling. I did see his famed volatility on occasions, for example, directed at a rude and arrogant stage manager who was threatening to cancel our soundcheck because we were late (not our fault – we’d been waiting for ages for the festival transport to pick us up). I saw him in anguish after one gig, trying to cope with his addiction, but I also saw his extremely generous and caring side.

Jack Bruce & his band, live in Poynton (nr Stockport) in the late 80s.
(L toR), Dave Bainbridge (keys), Dick Heckstall Smith (saxes), Jack (bass/vocals), Tim Franks (drums), Norman Beaker (guitar/vocals)

I learned passion from Jack, which was etched in every note he played, even when his fingers were bleeding from the sheer force of his playing. The loudest gig I ever did was with Jack, my keys set up next to his blisteringly loud Marshall stack, more suited to the stage of the Albert Hall than the small venue in Stoke On Trent that we were playing in! Jack graciously introduced me to another of my heroes, Alvin Lee, at breakfast after a festival appearance in Italy.

The last time I played with him was at an Alexis Korner memorial concert at Buxton Opera House in 1994, in front of a sell out audience, with Jack on fine form. Sadly after that, I had the very difficult decision to turn down some gigs with him in order to tour with my upcoming band Iona.

The day in 2014 that I heard of his death I was in The Netherlands at a friend’s studio, having been working on a recording for a Dutch singer. After we’d finished for the day, I spent a couple of hours on my own (as Jack had done all those years before), improvising on the piano. Out of that late night session came The Collendoorn Suite, which I later released on my solo piano album ‘The Remembering’. Part 5 had a slight Scottish feel and it seemed only fitting to subtitle it Song For Jack in memory of this Scottish giant of a musician who had influenced me and many others so much.

NB – During our little exchanges, Dave happened to mention – “The spare room I stayed in at Jack’s had a Cream album cover on the wall above it with a personal message to Jack written by Jimi Hendrix! ” How cool is that? There’s another story about a Page & Plant encounter at Buxton opera House – perhaps we should get Dave’s reminiscences as a regular feature!! Or check out Dave and Neal Morse on Musicians having coffee and talking about stuff

Our thanks to Dave for being so generous with his time and for his fascinating insights into a musician who was clearly a huge influence.

Dave Bainbridge online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter

You can read more from our extensive archive of Why I Love pieces from a wide array of artists on an even wider array of subjects, here.

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1 reply »

  1. I loved Jack. He was dear friend and just had a heart of gold. Dan Armstrong and I were roommates for years, which made it easier to give Jack a reason to come over. Last time we spoke, he told Godfrey Townsend that I was just an excellent player. Even if he didn’t mean it, I’ll go to my grave knowing that he said. He, his daughter, and I talked about trying to find the tracks that I cut I cut with Jack from 1969-70 for release. (Godfrey Townsend was in Jack Bruce’s band, and is one of the most incredible guitar players I have ever seen and heard.) I don’t know if this is TMI, but Jack told me he absolutely loved Ginger, even when they were fighting, maybe more, because it showed how they felt emotional about the music and said it “upset” that Eric didn’t seem to give a shit. He told me it pissed him off when Ginger was not doing well at all but Eric auctioned off a bunch of instruments to help drug addicts in the Caribbean or something. Jack had one of the biggest hearts of anybody I’ve ever met in my life. And now for something completely different, in the 60’s, it was really hard to understand him through that Scottish accent. One of us got better, maybe both. Jack had a way of bringing out the best in you.

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