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Wonderful last night

REVIEW: Classic Clapton – Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, Wednesday, December 8.

THE music world is full of artists who perform their own material, interpret the creations of others, or do a bit of both.

Without any shadow of doubt, it takes no small amount of courage to walk on to a stage with a guitar and play to a crowd. Anyone who’s ever done that will know what I mean.

But let me tell you something else. It takes even more guts to be a tribute player, because the chances are that an audience will be completely unforgiving if the sound doesn’t hit the right spot with total accuracy.

That’s why I take my hat off to Classic Clapton front man Mike Hall, a canny lad from Newcastle-on-Tyne who has got old Slowhand off to a tee.

Oh yes. He plays like him, actually looks a lot like him, and if you shut your eyes for just a moment, it could so easily be the man himself, coasting through all his greatest recordings.

I met up with Mike just before the concert and it would seem that life on the road for a gigging musician hasn’t changed all that much down the decades.

That very day there had been a mix-up over the band’s van availability, and the consequence was that the guys had not been able to leave Northumberland until late morning.

Think about it. Worcester’s quite some way from the ‘coalie Tyne’ is it not? This meant that there had to be snatched bites to eat, full-on pressure to set up the gear, do the sound check, tune the instruments, plus all the other things that musicians must do before they go live.

Yet despite a couple of false starts to numbers, this gig – the band’s first for months because of Covid – was a triumph from beginning to end, a musical kick up the backside of the virus that has blighted the lives of so many, especially those involved in the world of entertainment.

Robert Johnson’s Crossroads opened the proceedings, Mike using one of three jet black Fender Stratocasters that would magnificently preside over the evening.

And it wasn’t long before Mike’s axes were doing all the right chops, hitting the spot time and again. Delving deep into Eric Clapton’s back catalogue, I particularly liked the band’s take on the Freddie King classic Hide Away, originally recorded back in 1961, and showcased by Clapton on the groundbreaking John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers album that came out four years later.

I hinted earlier that audiences will watch a tribute act like hawks. Well, you can’t fault this band at all, because Mike’s adherence to the original sound is total, literally pressing the correct foot pedal at precisely the right moment.

I was extremely flattered that he dedicated the Cream standard I Feel Free to yours truly by way of thanking me for publicising this gig on Showtime! with John Phillpott.

Here again, that soaring, slightly overdriven lead guitar break brilliantly conjured up the exact feeling that I had when hearing this track for the first time, back in 1967.

And the numbers kept on coming. I Shot the Sheriff with its reggae stagger… Before You Accuse Me and its lurching Bo Diddley blues shuffle rhythm… and no one could mistake the barre chord tsunami of Sunshine of Your Love, could they?

The Strats were granted some respite during the unplugged session, with Mike shouldering an extremely tasty Martin acoustic with which he delivered a particularly poignant tribute to fellow Geordie and Tina Turner band ace guitarist John Miles, who has just died aged 72. Yes, Tears in Heaven – and every word was said with feeling.

Then came a tend

er rendition of Layla, destined later to be reprised with the full Monty electric version and its rafters raising top-of-the-neck triplets. This is one time you certainly don’t want to snap one of those slinky gauge strings!

Lay Down Sally, Wonderful Tonight and White Room were dusted off, coated with fresh polish, and given new life… and even the Yardbirds’ For Your Love sounded as crisp as it did all those years ago in 1965.

Classic Clapton is the world’s number one tribute band to one of the most important musical figures in rock history. And as long as there’s an appetite for classic rock music, then this will undoubtedly remain the case.

Pictured: Classic Clapton… simply the best.

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