Recording “The Lady In The Balcony” At Cowdray House


Eric Clapton’s “The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” features 17 selections from the guitarist’s extensive repertoire including “Layla,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” and “Tears In Heaven” along with the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac tracks “Black Magic Woman” and “Man of the World.” But, “The Lady In The Balcony” isn’t simply a sequence of greatest hits and cover songs. Eric’s most beloved songs are performed with different arrangements and he puts his unique stamp on other’s compositions making them his own. The result is one of the most intimate and authentic performances of his entire career.

Eric’s new project was initiated as the result of the forced cancellation of his May 2021 concerts at the Royal Albert Hall due to the continued disruption caused by the pandemic. Looking for a viable alternative, he reconvened with his band at the Cowdray House in the English countryside and staged a concert in the presence of only the band and crew while letting the cameras roll. The only outside observer was Eric’s wife, Melia, who inspired the title.

Even the filming style for the show was dictated by the unique setting. Movement was banned to make sure there was no sound interference with the acoustic set. Even moving cameras could not be used. Buck Hall – the grand room inside the main house where the performance took place – had a warm, rich sound which has been retained in the recording.

Where’s Eric! Editor, Tony Edser, spoke with Event Producer, Hannah Charlesworth, and Event Production Manager, David Maxwell, in an exclusive interview about how the event unfolded and recording in a 16th century stately home during a global pandemic.

HC: Knowing that we weren’t going to be able to do anything with a mass audience, made Eric think that he wanted to do something…anything! Could we perhaps get the band from America to sync with the band in England? We looked at lots of options and finally came to the conclusion by looking at the TV and film world, which were carrying on as normal by creating “bubbles.” So, we started to look at places that could be shut down from the outer world – large aircraft hangers, conference centres – where we could take the whole space, then we could control who came in and ensure that they were tested.

If we couldn’t have an audience, we had to think how’s it going to look on a film. We were actually offered the Albert Hall, spacing some seated areas around the arena for a small audience, but we had to cross the bridge of where to rehearse, as you don’t want to rehearse in the Albert Hall.

So that’s when we started to look at these massive stately homes because we needed everyone to live together, as hotels at the time were a little bit iffy. Towards the end of 2020, I was able to go down and have a look at Cowdray, and we decided we could absolutely make this work for a couple of weeks rehearsals and then drive in to the Albert Hall for the show.

Then the news got worse, COVID came back with a vengeance, both in the US and the UK and we were really back to square one – even minimal numbers wouldn’t be allowed into the Albert Hall.

DM:  Each location we looked at presented their own set of challenges in the COVID world but all of a sudden, Cowdray in the countryside, the middle of nowhere, nobody would know we were there, became ideal. We could manage it in such a way that people can live with each other for a period of time, come down and do this unique performance. It could be perfect.

HC:   We already knew that we could accommodate 22 people in the bedrooms in the house, the estate had lots of cottages within walking distance and we’d already identified that there was rehearsal space. We hadn’t really thought about Buck Hall (the grand room inside the main house) at the time, but when we realized we had to do the show here as well, Eric came down and said, “why don’t we just use the Hall?”

DM:  We hadn’t considered it because we thought it would be all loud and echoey but perhaps we could eat there, maybe do some practice, then go down to the other facility.

HC:  But it turned out to be perfect if you wanted to do acoustic because you can hear everything. Eric got a good vibe from it and decided it would just be the 4-piece band anyway.

TE:  Presumably there were enforced COVID precautions from local authorities and even the Government?

HC:  We brought the Americans over a couple of weeks earlier so they could quarantine, which they did in the house, with me and the caterers. We were tested every other day and created “Bubble Number One.” Once we’d got through that quarantining, and thankfully all clear, then we introduced the Brits, who were tested a week before they came to the house and again the day before; then that became the bigger bubble, “Bubble 2”, including the Director, David Barnard and his cameraman Dave Tree. We were only allowed to stay in the grounds of the house, not go out for a coffee or anything, not interact with anybody on the outside. At any point of any one day, if someone had come down sick, that would have been the end of it.

TE:   Did you have special arrangements for security and to maintain the secrecy of the event?

DM:  The Estate has their own security guards and they secured the park anyway but The Walled Garden, where we did 3 days of rehearsals, is a little bit more open to the public. There’s a walkway where people walk their dogs, so people with prying eyes could have looked in but back at the main house, there’s not much traffic there.

HC: We weren’t particularly clandestine and it’s not in the business model of the Estate for them to chat about who’s staying there.

Available everywhere November 12th.

“The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” will be released in the United States on:
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. In addition, a CD-only version will be available exclusively at Target.
Pre-Order Here

“The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” will be released in all other global territories on:
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.
Pre-Order Here

Track Listing:
01. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
02. Golden Ring
03. Black Magic Woman
04. Man of the World
05. Kerry
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
13. Layla
14. Tears in Heaven
15. Long Distance Call
16. Bad Boy
17. Got My Mojo Working

Where’s Eric!
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