14 Nov 21
In February 2021, Eric Clapton’s live shows at The Royal Albert Hall were cancelled due to the global pandemic. Determined to play, he brought his band together at Cowdray House in the English countryside to film and record. “The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” is the result. Released on November 12, Eric’s new project is available in a wide variety of physical and digital formats.
Where’s Eric! Editor Tony Edser analyzes “The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” track by track:
Birds twittering, a beautiful sunrise over a scenic landscape, aerial shots of a magnificent country estate, Eric Clapton driving along a country road, the road crew unloading equipment, all accompanied by a new, pared back, version of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.
So begins one of the most ambitious, yet logistically challenging, projects of Eric’s whole career. His trimmed-down band of Nathan East, Steve Gadd and Chris Stainton, his production crew and a film crew, all bunkered down for a full month in Cowdray House, in the Sussex countryside, to produce a semi-acoustic filmed recording of “new” old songs, and more familiar songs with vastly different arrangements.
Moving on from that lovely beginning to the film, with Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out playing in the background, we see the band set up in a beautiful oak-paneled hall, a huge carpeted mural on the wall, long draped curtains, soft lighting, Eric’s familiar Persian rug, the musicians, Eric, Steve, Chris and Nathan in an appropriately distanced semi-circle, and the music begins:
Golden Ring: from the Backless album, chosen by Eric as his “favorite Clapton song” during a 1999 interview and, we believe, only previously played live at the Club Juventud de Badalona, Barcelona on 6 November 1978. Eric’s on the 12-string, Nathan playing the impressive stand-up bass and singing harmony, Chris with a lovely accordion sound from his Yamaha Motif XS-6, and Steve gently holding it together with a brush in one hand and rim-shots with the other.
Black Magic Woman: Fleetwood Mac song made more famous by Santana but part of the tribute section to Mac’s Peter Green, who died in July 2020, Eric prefacing the song with “this one’s for Peter”. It’s initially a soft shuffle arrangement, Steve using just his hands to tap the snare drum, before a boogie-woogie instrumental ending, Eric taking his first solo on the 12-string.
Man of the World: Another Peter Green classic originally performed by Fleetwood Mac, starts with drone footage of Eric strolling in the grounds. Steve plays just the cymbal, again with his hands, prompting Eric to remark; “I love that ride cymbal man, it’s such a great sound”.
Kerry: an instrumental tribute to Kerry Lewis, Eric’s long-standing monitor mixer, who sadly passed in January this year.
After Midnight: JJ Cale song recorded by Eric on his first solo album in 1970. A well disguised intro with Nathan playing a gentle funky melody, Steve picks up on brushes, this is a complete rearrangement, with Eric taking a seemingly effortless, but so effective, solo on the 6-string Martin.
Bell Bottom Blues: Eric and Bobby Whitlock song from the Layla album; a false start and smiles all round, Nathan on the acoustic 5-string bass skillfully takes the high melody on the chorus. Eric delivers an incredibly fluid and melodic solo on his Martin; pure magic. Even Eric comments “Wow!” at the end.
Key to the Highway: blues standard, also from the Layla album, there have been so many different arrangements of this song over the years but here it is performed as a barrelhouse piano shuffle, with Chris driving it along and adding neat licks throughout. He and Eric trade solos “That was alright,” remarks Eric at the conclusion.
River of Tears: Eric and Simon Climie composition from the Pilgrim album. I defy anyone not to be moved by the emotion coming out of this version, which benefits hugely from the smaller band arrangement. You can really appreciate the demanding bass motif with Nathan barre-ing the fret board throughout. Eric’s vocal is passionate and he throws his head back as he injects lovely guitar runs and fills in-between his singing. “Really nice” says Nathan at the end – and it is!
Rock Me Baby: blues standard made famous by Muddy Waters and BB King, recorded by Eric with BB on the Deuces Wild album. Eric’s into the song before realizing Nathan is switching instruments and adjusting his mic stand. “Do you need more time?” he laughs. Eric takes a couple of solos, the second high up the fret board.
Believe in Life: Eric’s song from the Reptile album, about his wife, Melia. During the Cowdray House recording, Melia is seen over-looking proceedings from the minstrel’s gallery of the main hall, prompting Eric to announce “this one’s for the lady in the balcony”. It’s a complex chord sequence but Eric sails through it, adding a smooth solo over the outro. Melia applauds from the balcony at the song’s conclusion.
Goin’ Down Slow: Jimmy Oden song originally recorded by Eric during The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, then again on Pilgrim. Steve reverses his brush to use the metal hook on its end as percussion, and again uses his hands. Eric solos to the end. “Nice”.
Layla: alternative arrangement of the acoustic Unplugged version. Chris achieves some spacey-like tones from his keyboard, whilst Eric’s solo includes the electric signature lick from the original Layla which Chris notices with a broad smile on his face.
Tears in Heaven: alternative arrangement of the acoustic Unplugged version. It’s a fairly “standard” arrangement with Chris impressing with string like sounds on the keyboard. There’s real emotion in Eric’s voice and he has his hand on his heart as he and Nathan exchange “Thank you’s” at the end.
Long Distance Call: Muddy Waters song featured by Eric during many of the 90’s all blues shows and recorded on the Hubert Sumlin record, About Them Shoes. Eric is seen twiddling with a tiny Fender amp before the start of the song, which he plays on a beautiful blonde Gibson Byrdland, delivering an economical finger picked solo. Steve uses actual drumsticks for the first time!
Bad Boy: 12 bar blues, Charlie Musselwhite song, not the song of the same title from Eric’s 1st solo album, performed mid-tempo in A. Eric again switches guitar, this time to a Gibson 335. “Yeah, that feels great, like that”.
Got My Mojo Working: blues standard made famous by Muddy Waters, first recorded by Eric on Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds in 1964 and a regular in concert over the years. Eric’s most aggressive playing and a real treat to see Steve and Chris joining Nathan on singing the chorus!
This was a unique but marvelous performance, with Eric referencing it as “Not Plugged in Again”. It does have a nod to Unplugged (close to the 30th anniversary of that first MTV recording and a couple of references in the choice of songs), but it’s not trying to compete with it. Throughout, Eric is dressed casually and appears in no apparent discomfort. He fingerpicks the entire show, even whilst soloing, and seems genuinely happy to be playing again. The empathy and respect among the musicians is awe-inspiring.
“The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” is out now in the following physical formats:
In the United States:
DVD+CD, Blu-ray+CD, 4K UHD+Blu-ray, 2 LPs pressed on yellow vinyl, and a Deluxe Edition containing the DVD, Blu-ray & CD packaged in a 40 page 12” x 12” hardback photo book, digital video & digital audio. A CD-only version is also available exclusively at Target.
Buy It Now
In all other global territories:
DVD, Blu-ray, CD, DVD+CD, Blu-ray+CD, 4K UHD+Blu-ray, 180-gram 2LP, limited edition 2LP pressed on 180-gram yellow vinyl, and a Deluxe Edition containing the DVD, Blu-ray & CD packaged in a 40 page 12” x 12” hardback photo book, digital video & digital audio.
Buy It Now
Digital editions are also available.
The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions Track Listing
01. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
02. Golden Ring
03. Black Magic Woman
04. Man of the World
06. After Midnight
07. Bell Bottom Blues
08. Key to the Highway
09. River of Tears
10. Rock Me Baby
11. Believe in Life
12. Going Down Slow
14. Tears in Heaven
15. Long Distance Call
16. Bad Boy
17. Got My Mojo Working