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British Summer Time, Eric Clapton, Santana, Steve Winwood & More – review

Words: Karen Hetherington

Pictures: (C) Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media 

Additional words: Adrian Hextall

Towards the end of last year rumours began to circulate followed by the familiar “Clapton is God” slogan appearing in several locations across London, people were talking, excitement was building and when at last the line up featuring Clapton was confirmed and tickets released it seemed no time was wasted by those eager to see the guitar great as the event was sold out not long after…

[Before Karen arrived on scene, we were treated to sets from, amongst others, Gary Clark Jr and Cockney legends Chas & Dave. 

The Great Oak stage and Gary Clark Jr brought a beautiful touch of the blues to BST and got us all in the mood for an evening of classic rock from classic artists. In his early 30s, Clark shows a level of experience that belies his young age in comparison to the other artists on the bill. Heck, we wasn’t even born when most of the acts playing were at the height of their careers. Yet he fitted like a glove and worked the crowd well with some wonderful guitar work and not the slightest hint of stage nerves given the acts that would follow. 

Over on the far side of the BST arena, down towards Margate, Chas & Dave with a serious number of musicians on stage with them dished up hit after hit to an adoring and receptive crowd. It was good to see the pair of them on stage together following a cancelled appearance at Ramblin’ Man Fair where Chas had suffered a particularly nasty bout of flu. 

Whilst he may look a little like a shadow of his former self, Chas nonetheless sounded great, smiled and joked with Dave and the pair aided by the fantastic band behind them were a perfect act for a sun drenched afternoon. 

It was then back over the Great Oak Stage and Karen to pick up with her review of Steve Winwood.] 

The event staff brought in to cater the first Sunday of British Summer Time 2018 seemed to be struggling to deal with the masses whist the masses were struggling to deal with the heat – forced to queue for longer than usual amidst the onslaught of the current British heat wave. My own visit to British Summer Time this year was rather impromptu to say the least and while gates had been open for some time I didn’t arrive until around 5pm and made straight for the Great Oak Stage where the magnificent Steve Winwood had just commenced his performance.

Noting Winwood and Clapton on the same bill I couldn’t fail to appreciate the significance that the two performed in the same location, albeit in the same band – Blind Faith, nearly 50 years ago. With Carlos Santana thrown into the mix, a guitarist Eric Clapton has jammed with on several occasions, I’d be forgiven for thinking they were cooking up something spectacular.

With a set comprising songs from Traffic and Blind Faith alongside his hit “Higher Love” he concluded with The Spencer Davis Group classic “Gimme Some Lovin’” to rapturous applause from an audience overcome with nostalgia, indeed the performance was so outstanding I could have gone home happy should I not have seen another act.

Up next and long on my wish list was the epic Santana who conjured up the perfect summer party vibe with their melting pot of musical styles. Carlos Santana belted out some well know tunes with veteran virtuosity to a captivated audience, many of whom of were dancing and swaying their way through classics such as “Black Magic Woman” and Smooth”.

Well ahead of Clapton making an appearance I had secured my spot in the sanctity of the Barclaycard Summer Garden; trying to negotiate my way through the crowds for liquid refreshments and the like had become all too daunting and I was determined not to miss anything…

Clapton kicked off his set in fine form with ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ and worked his way through another couples of covers and a Derek and the Dominos track before a mellowed out acoustic interlude. Anyone hoping for the epic all guns blazing version of “Layla” may have been more than slightly disappointed at its inclusion in the melodious hiatus; not so for me however, ever since it featured on Clapton’s MTV unplugged its always been a favourite of mine and it was, for the most part, exceptionally well received. The emotive “Tears in Heaven” followed before the electric was reintroduced and Marcy Levy (also known as Marcella Detroit) was welcomed on stage as ‘the lady who wrote this song’ alongside the opening chords of the instantly recognisable “Lay Down Sally”. Although Levy didn’t contribute vocally she put on a pretty impressive performance on harmonica towards the end of the track and proceeded to wow the crowd with vocal lead on “The Core” which was up next.

A fantastic rendition of “Wonderful Tonight” created an ambient mood as the sun was going down and the temperature cooling to something a little more tolerable. The penultimate track and a personal favourite of mine, “Cocaine” had whipped up the crowd into a frenzy but with a ‘goodnight’ from Eric the stage fell into darkness as the worshipful masses cried out for more.

While a Blind Faith reunion was not forthcoming, Clapton was joined on stage by Carlos Santana for the encore “High Time We Went” featuring vocals by Paul Carrack. The duelling guitar virtuosos tantalised the audience with their finale ensuring a memorable night for those still remaining. It was impossible not to notice that the crowd had thinned out a little, some perhaps pre-empting the speed and difficulty of so many people exiting the venue all at once.

Although not particularly interactive with the crowd, Clapton, 73, who has been inducted an impressive three times into the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame, managed to pack a mighty 15 tracks into his set, all played exquisitely, not that I would have expected anything less.

It was a night of phenomenal entertainment featuring musicians of legendary status in an iconic, open air location renown for hosting musical royalty – not difficult to see what all the hype was about really…

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