“It’s quite hard being the son of somebody famous,” begins Malcolm Bruce, “because there’s always that level of expectation.”
In Bruce’s case, the expectation, presumably, is that he will play psychedelic-tinged blues-rock like his father Jack – best known as the bassist and vocalist in trailblazers Cream.
Which is precisely what he does in Fresh Cream, a tribute to that phenomenally influential late 1960s power trio. Often described as “rock’s first supergroup”, Cream also starred the peerless six-string prowess of Jimi Hendrix’s greatest competition – Eric Clapton. So who did Bruce Junior call on? Clapton’s own nephew Will Johns, who was handed his first guitar by the rock legend.
Johns’s other uncles also include George Harrison and Mick Fleetwood, of Fleetwood Mac. His father is Andy Johns – the legendary rock producer/engineer known for his work with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and, to a lesser extent, Jack Bruce, who was best man at Johns’s wedding.
But while Bruce and Johns knew each other as teenagers through their famous fathers, the pair only began playing together two years ago, following the death of Johns’s father in April 2013. Jack Bruce passed away last October. It’s a fact not lost on either son.
“One embraces the blues and that depth of feeling,” begins Johns. “I’d already lost my mum a couple of years before, it does bring those heavy emotions into view. But it’s the truth.”
“Since [my father] passed away it’s been a more emotional journey,” adds Bruce, who started off playing piano and violin as a young boy, but was given his first guitar by his dad at the age of 10 – a Japanese-made Aria, a company with which Bruce Senior had an endearment deal at the time.
“My first guitar was a freebie, not a £50,000 [Dh 285,638] Fender Stratocaster,” he wryly notes. Now 44, Bruce has been a professional musician ever since, touring and recording extensively in his father’s bands, before being invited to form tribute act Sons of Cream with drummer Ginger Baker’s son Kofi four years ago. That outfit morphed into Fresh Cream two years later when the personnel shifted, adding Johns and session pro Chris Page brought in on drums.
So what did Bruce Sr think of his son’s decision to revisit his heyday work? “He was encouraging, but he always said: ‘It’s a great thing to get you more established in the industry, but make sure you do your own thing,’” says Bruce.
It’s advice he has taken to heart, with a debut solo EP set to launch any minute, and a crowd-funded debut LP, five years in the making, next year. “In a lot of ways I have been in the shadow of my father,” admits Bruce.
Johns’s music career is more established – he first made a name as a member of Glyda alongside Ronnie Wood’s son, Jesse, who was dating Kate Moss at the time. “Very A-list shenanigans,” remembers the guitarist. “We were just flying around from one party to another – a very, very rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, without us actually being stars.”
Johns later released two solo albums in his own name. However, after a period of retirement from music, during which he worked as a tour guide at a sea-life centre, Fresh Cream has him revisiting the early work of the celebrity uncle who started him on guitar.
“Growing up I spent a lot of time ’round [Clapton’s] house, because I didn’t live with my dad,” remembers Johns, aged 42. “There was this drum kit at the bottom of the house. I used to go down very early in the morning with a ZZ Top tape and smash away at the drums – I just liked hitting things.
"I came up from one of these sessions and Eric said: 'Why don't you play a real instrument?', probably just to shut me up, and I thought: 'He's got to mean the guitar'." Johns spent his teenage years practising on prototypes of Fender's trademark Eric Clapton Stratocaster. Later, at the age of 21, his father gave him one of Eddie Van Halen's guitars that he still plays today. "When I was starting out, [Clapton] showed me the opening riff to [Cream's] Crossroads," remembers Johns. "It's quite weird, after showing me how to play it, to come and play it again is full circle really." The pair are still in touch. Has Slowhand ever stopped by to catch a Fresh Cream show? "He let me know that he was going to try to come along to a gig and I probably wouldn't know he was there," says Johns. "He's not overly encouraging, like it's the best idea he's ever heard."
Johns's family ties to Clapton come from his mother Paula Boyd, sister of Pattie – the wife Slowhand, notoriously “stole” from close friend Harrison. Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising Johns saw less of the ex-Beatle growing up, although he does recall one fairy-tale encounter.
“One time we went on a magical boat ride under his house, an underground lake,” he remembers. “There was this big talk of fairies and mystical things – the most mystical experience I’ve ever had – he was very warm and gentle.”
Fleetwood, meanwhile, married Paula’s other sister, Jenny. The night before I interviewed Johns, he’d caught Fleetwood Mac’s recent reunion tour in London.
“I was so proud of my uncle,” he beams. “He’s got to whatever age he is , he plays the drums like there’s no tomorrow – I was so impressed.”
While the reformed Fleetwood Mac are wowing crowds, Clapton recently announced his retirement from touring, shortly before a lacklustre gig at Dubai Media City last year.
“I completely understand,” adds Johns. “It’s like fishing – you have to really want to do it, to put that time in. But I don’t think he’ll ever give up music.”
In Clapton’s absence, Fresh Cream are keeping his very best work alive.
“It’s nice to honour this music,” adds Bruce. “When people say" ‘I saw your Dad in 1966 and you did that song justice’, you feel a very real pride with it.”
• Fresh Cream perform at The Music Room in Dubai tomorrow. Tickets cost Dh100