Five unexpectedly good tracks by Eric Clapton
Yes, we're surprised too: lesser-known gems from the subject of a new documentary feature
It was announced today that Oscar-winning producer Lili Fini Zanuck (Driving Miss Daisy) is to direct a feature-length documentary about guitarist, singer and songwriter Eric Clapton. And the question on most people's lips is probably, 'Why?' Anyone who's ever grappled, for whatever reason, with the recorded oeuvre of Eric Patrick Clapton, possibly the richest blues musician who has ever lived, must sooner or later face the uncomfortable truth that a lot of it is pretty boring.
Of course, Clapton is the kind of musician who exists beyond praise or dispraise. To his fans, he's just the greatest; to another kind of fan, he was good but he wasn't in the same league as Hendrix; to other music lovers, he's what dad played in the car while everyone else was on headphones; or, he's one rich white appropriator of African-American music among many others; or, I donno, some of it's good, some bad; or he's just irrelevant. On a personal note, I listened to a lot of Clapton in my early youth because as a small boy I wanted to learn guitar, and not knowing of any famous guitarists, I asked around in primary school for who was meant to be good: nobody else knowing much either, the answer I got was 'Eric Clapton', so that's who I first listened to as I taught myself the instrument.
As a result, there were a lot of wasted hours trawling through Clapton's 70s and 80s output and looking in vain for something that didn't sound like music to have a hangover to. I feel a complicated mix of emotions about Clapton: admiration for his talent, intermittent excitement about his music; gratitude for what I learned from him about music-making; rage at how sheerly uninspired too much of his music actually is. Entire decades have gone by with Clapton making albums about which the kindest thing you could say was 'tasteful'. He was the moving force behind 2003's George Harrison memorial concert, but if that concert was moving, it was for largely non-musical reasons. The 2005 Cream reunion lit a welcome fire underneath everyone involved, but still, if you wanted to introduce someone to the purpletastic splendour of that band's output, the first thing you'd play them would not be Royal Albert Hall London May 2–3-5–6, 2005.
No, if when we think of Clapton we think of a bespectacled millionaire in a Versace suit mumbling into a mic and stopping every so often to peel off perfectly formed clichés, he's only got himself to blame. Clapton keeps his (many) demons firmly on the leash, and has done so for years, but there was a time when he was raw and hungry and had the urge to say something. The makers of the new film are being granted access to his own archive of performance clips, and it has to be said that they have a fine team: besides Ms Zanuck, producer John Battsek made One Day in September and Searching for Sugar Man, and editor Chris King won a BAFTA for Senna, so perhaps the film will be worth watching in its own right. But here are five reminders of how good Eric Clapton could be before he learned manners.