Omnibus presents - Rope Ladder to the Moon – A film by Tony Palmer
The UK, and indeed the World had just been dealt the shattering blow that Cream were to split. Shortly before the screening of Rope ladder to the Moon, we had witnessed on UK TV, the Omnibus Cream Farewell concert at the Albert Hall London. I was present at that Concert. It was the first (and the last) time I saw Cream perform. Next up was Rope ladder to the Moon, a sensitive and revealing documentary about Jack Bruce, the former Bassist with Cream. He had just released "Songs for a Tailor", and the episode was described - and rightly so - as a showcase for the album. I have been in contact with Tony Palmer, the Director to inquire if we are ever to see it released on DVD. Tony said that he was in discussions with Jack about the possibility, and told me to "be patient" . . . . I await further news.
Rope ladder to the Moon is a pivotal piece of work and contains filmed performances of most of the tracks on "Songs for a Tailor". Interspersed with these are incidents and recollections from Jack's childhood and his experiences growing up in Glasgow. His dreams and aspirations and early musical experiences are set off against a backdrop of Scottish History, political upheaval and social comment for the times. The program is well narrated by Jack as he tells of the poverty and trauma of growing up in Glasgow at that time and how he used to get on his bicycle and ride as far out into the hills as he could to be amongst nature. There are wonderful scenes scattered throughout the film of the Highland scenery with forests and waterfalls.
As far as possible, much of the material in quotes is spoken by Jack Bruce to the best of my recollection.
The film opens with an archive recording of a British politician asking “What kind of society do we want?” and ends with a quote from The Hymn, Jerusalem – “I will not shrink from mental fight, nor shall the sword sleep in my hand – 'til we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land” - CUT to chorus from “Sunshine of your Love” from the Cream farewell Concert at the Albert Hall. Powerful stuff . . . . Jack details his earliest musical experiences - "a plastic guitar with rubber-band strings given by a relative. My attempts to get a tune out of it came to an end when I accidentally sat on it". "We had a piano which I banged about on a bit." He describes attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where he studied Cello, and mentions a string quartet that he once wrote, taking it proudly to his teacher who "wrote all over it" - only pointing out the faults. It had a profound effect on Jack and he left after being told he could not compose, and should concentrate on the Cello - perhaps becoming good enough to achieve 4th desk in the Sottish National Orchestra . . . .
Jack goes on the review his time with Cream - the arguments and fights and the fact that the money he made had enabled him to "buy all the records, all the cars. all the houses I could ever want" and how "if I never worked again I'd still be well off".
Jack describes his musical influences, ranging from Indian music, The Organ Music of Olivier Messian to J.S. Bach – who he describes as “the greatest Bass player of all time” and advises that bassists can learn a great deal by listening to Bach's bass lines. There is a notable sequence of Jack playing some Messian on the Organ of the Royal Albert Hall (Or was it the Royal Festival Hall? - I forget.)
One of Jack's dreams is realised around the time of the shooting of the film. He buys an Island off the Mull of Kintyre from a farmer, who he describes as “a grand old farmer and his three sons, who can't wait to get to the mainland and “start living”.”.
At this point in the film are some wonderful shots of waterfalls set against the “Tickets to Waterfalls” track from Songs for a Tailor. Jack remarks that the waterfalls are not actually on the Island, but that it is still very beautiful . . . . He muses “perhaps I'll build a studio – have some friends over for the weekend . . . . “ The Music performances of various tracks from Songs for a Tailor are gems in themselves, with Jack in great form, ably assisted by John Hiseman on Drums, The late great Dick Heckstall-Smith on Tenor and Soprano Saxophones, and Chris Spedding on guitar. There is one track performed on film that is NOT on Songs for a Tailor. “Things we like” with Jack on upright Bass is on the Album of the same name, released before “Harmony Row” which was Jack's 3rd solo album – if memory serves.
The closing sequence of the film features “Clearout” together with Jack's anecdote concerning the original idea to feature a mock battle between Jack – as Rob Roy, and Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker as redcoats. It was decided NOT to do this, as it was suggested that “if someone gave Ginger a real sword, he might actually try to kill me”.
The film closes with a shot of Jack sitting on a hillside amongst the heather, tuning an acoustic guitar and remarking “Are you still filming me?”
Chris N Miller 29/08/08