Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Guitar hero Eric Clapton says hello old friend to our Van the Man

Eric Clapton performing in the Odyssey Arena, Belfast last night

Despite the divine status afforded him by some '60s commentators, Eric Clapton has sometimes been a difficult musician to warm to.

A blues purist, he was deeply suspicious of the pop tendencies of the Yardbirds, jumping ship early on to let a youthful Jimmy Page hog the glory, while the creative tensions which eventually tore Cream apart were legendary.

Add to that a never satisfactorily explained "Send 'em all back... Enoch was right" rant at a Birmingham concert in 1976 and you have a man seemingly at odds with his own musical history.

So for at least one member of the audience last night, Clapton had something to prove.

And with the help of a certain local legend, he more or less did.

Clapton's opening few numbers were as smooth and clean shaven as the man himself.

Hello Old Friend with its Harrison-style slide guitar, the easy reggae of My Father's Eyes, and the heavy axe work was initially handled by a young beatnik sidekick who looked like he'd just walked in from a Cream tribute band.

But as the man began to tear off a few solos in old blues numbers like Black Cat Bone and the souped up wah wah funk of Got To Get There In A Little While you began to see what all the fuss was about.

Then just as the night began to settle into an exhibition of mere professionalism, one George Ivan Morrison appeared to add a shot of electricity and give the show its major five-star moment.

And just when you thought 'that's a damn fine band Van's got himself there', he was gone.

As new album title Old Socks indicates, Clapton perhaps never strays too far from his comfort zone these days, but his career has produced enough transcendent moments, and last night there were also a few, including an acoustic version of Layla to guarantee his continued membership of Valhalla.

He has always had the canny back of knowing how to pace himself.

As he once said: 'I'd love to stop an audience cold with one note, but what would I do for the rest of the evening?"

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