Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall

Eric Clapton

Words Paul Watson

I remember literally wearing out my cassette copy or The Cream of Eric Clapton a good couple of decades ago and some, along with several Betamax video recordings of old Slowhand doing his thing with Mark Knopfler and co. at the now legendary Nelson Mandela concert.

I also remember the first time I saw Eric in concert. It was the mid '90s, at the Royal Albert Hall, but sadly, I was watching from the gods. More disappointing still, it was during his From the Cradle period rather than Unplugged, the latter of which I was really into at the time. But, it was Clapton, and he was in the same room as me, a then 17-year-old guitarist whose band at the time still desperately tried to replicate that long, laboured version of Wonderful Tonight, with limited success.

Skip forwards 20 years and I'm back again... And this time, it's going to blow me away. What's obvious about Clapton to even the least educated music fan is his extraordinary guitar playing, and that's always a given, but what I realised during this performance was just how good this man's voice is. From the opening syllables, he was dynamic, pitch perfect, and most of all, believable. And that's no easy feat when you're singing the blues.

His recent tribute to BB King on Twitter confirmed his love of that all-important musical genre, and the set inevitably began with a few blues classics, all of which were complemented by stonking guitar solos, and backed up by musicianship to die for, courtesy of an all-star backing band including Paul Carrack and Steve Gadd, and support act, former Amen Corner frontman, Andy Fairweather Low, who joined his long-time buddy on stage for the encore, armed with a custom black Les Paul.

Highlights for me, aside from the extremely entertaining chat I had with Clapton's sound man of 26 years, Rob Collins, included Cocaine, Layla (albeit acoustic), a haunting rendition of the beautiful Tears in Heaven, a thumping version of Crossroads, and a tribute to Joe Cocker from Paul Carrack, who delivered a poignant version of the late, great artist's melodic masterpiece, You Are So Beautiful.

“It's all in the fingers, Rob,” Clapton has always insisted, when it comes to his tone. I concur. All he had on that stage was a wah pedal and his amp. No special effects, no delays or harmonisers in sight, so ultimately, nothing to hide behind. This was Clapton at his purest, and his rawest, and that's why he remains one of the most phenomenal artists of the last 50 years.