All credit to Eric Clapton for still doing what he enjoys best. Now aged 73, the veteran guitarist and sole three-time Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductee is not only suffering from nerve damage that impacts upon his playing, he’s also admitted that he’s going deaf. Which may go some way to explaining this lugubrious headlining set on the third night of the British Summer Time festival in London’s Hyde Park.
Tonight, Clapton plays like a man with nothing else to prove. On the one hand, it’s reasonable to ask, why should he? He did what needing doing with the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream and Derek & The Dominoes but on the other, some of the grit that lies at the heart of those seminal recordings – not to mention the blues itself – wouldn’t go amiss.
Earlier sets in the day prove livelier, if erratic. As evidenced by ‘I’m A Man’, Clapton’s old Blind Faith colleague Steve Winwood still has one of the finest blue-eyed soul voices this county has ever produced, though his tendency for jazz noodling counts against him. Elsewhere, Santana whips up a groove with spirited readings of ‘Black Magic Woman’, ‘Oye Como Va’ and Swamp Dogg’s ‘Total Destruction To Your Mind’.
Clapton, meanwhile, is laid back and ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ and ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ waft by like the fragrant smoke emanating from the bloke in the tie-dye t-shirt. The four-song acoustic section goes on for a little too long. We get that Unplugged is the biggest-selling live album of all time, but does he really need to drag out the acoustic version of ‘Layla’ again?
The set is not without its highlights. ‘Crossroads’ finally sees Clapton shake off the torpor to show is what he’s made of, though ‘Cocaine’ doesn’t give quite the required bump.
Yet Clapton is what Clapton does. He closes his eyes, leans back, lets his slowhand move over the fretboard and gives his audience exactly what they want.