Jack Bruce is without a doubt one of the most influential electric bass players who ever lived, whose style and unique approach would inspire a whole generation of bassists who were yet to come; Sting and jazz fusion pioneer Jaco Pastorius being just two examples. And when Cream imploded in late 1968, it was almost as if Jack had been let off the leash, free to indulge in whatever project took his fancy, without all the personality clashes between his former band mates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.
However in the months before their final show held at London’s Royal Albert Hall in November 1968, Bruce had accumulated a number of unused songs originally intended for Cream, which he decided would form the basis of his first solo album. Gathered around him were a surprising menagerie of musicians, including Felix Pappalardi, of Mountain fame (and who was also brought in as producer), guitarist Chris Spedding, drummer John Marshall (of Soft Machine), and George Harrison (credited on the album as L’Angelo Misterioso), to name but a few. And while recorded over April and May 1969, it was not until August of that year when Songs for a Tailor was finally released.
First song “Never Tell Your Mother That She’s Out of Tune” is a strange opener I must say, but makes sense considering Bruce’s penchant for jazz and eclectic arrangements in general. Harrison plays guitar, but it’s the trumpets and saxophones which dominate, over what remains an eccentric albeit catchy number all the same. “Theme from an Imaginary Western” is perhaps Bruce’s most well known composition off this album, thanks mainly to Mountain’s highly charged and emotional interpretation at the Woodstock festival. It’s a pearl of a song to be sure, with lyrics by Pete Brown. If not the finest song, it’s certainly the most memorable.
“Tickets to Waterfalls” is another quality composition, with lots of busy bass by Bruce himself, and lovely guitar by Chris Spedding, whose brief interludes add a nice introspective touch in between the almost hyperactive arrangements happening throughout. “Weird of Hermiston” begins with a wonderful plaintive piano and guitar interplay, before launching off into a somewhat idiosyncratic display of musical virtuosity, with Bruce singing “I’m going to a wedding dressed in black/I’m going to a party, won’t be back”. “Rope Ladder to the Moon” is another excellent piece, on which Bruce plays Cellos, guitar, piano and bass. The Cellos are especially delirious, and add just the right amount of gravitas.
The mysteriously titled “Ministry of Bag” launches side two with some marching-like drums and upbeat Trumpets and saxophones, where Bruce offers us the rather cryptic line “The soda has no fountain/The coal gets in the dew”, and later, “It’s all swamp and no mosquitoes/Along the stripes of pin/The boots have all the vetoes/And the bags to put them in”. Whatever it all means I’m the last person you should ask, perhaps Pete Brown might illuminate us one of these days. And speaking of Brown, on “He the Richmond” the first line Bruce sings “There comes an affair in the tides of men”, is clearly a Byron reference, or was that Shakespeare, to quote Brutus? It doesn’t matter. These chaps are English and they have a right to exploit their heritage, literary or otherwise. As for the rest of the lyrics, I haven’t a clue, except to say that it’s a pleasant albeit brief little ride down the psychedelic river of whimsical observation.
“Boston Ball Game 1967” is all jazzy brass and trumpets held by deep trombone. Brief and to the point. “To Isengard” is a thoughtful, pastoral jaunt, until about the three minute mark when we take off with some spirited bass playing and acid guitar by Spedding. Had of Cream remained together, this is just the sort of song I can imagine Eric Clapton completely transforming into a blues-rock workout of universal proportions. Still, no slight on Spedding, who offers an element of inventiveness all his own, and is good enough as far as I’m concerned, managing to take the listener on a tiny journey of his own through the stars. Last track “The Clearout” has Bruce literally clearing out the burrows of his fertile imagination in two minutes and thirty-six seconds.
Whether “Songs for a Tailor” was Jack Bruce’s best album is perhaps ultimately irrelevant. Because this was his statement, a chance to reveal what other talents lay beyond one of rock’s most formidable and powerful trios. Because Bruce was an explorer, a musician’s musician, as the cliché goes, however humble and open, never a victim of self importance and ego. A rare quality indeed, and one which many of today’s rock musicians would do well to learn from. The man will be sorely missed.