You don’t have to look hard to see masses of club events sprouting from every pore across Liverpool nowadays, so when it comes to considering the successes of Cream – which, tonight, is celebrating its 25th anniversary in outrageous style – it is in many ways hard to comprehend the journey they have been on. From a small weekly start-up, to becoming known the world over as ‘that club from Liverpool’ (plus a bit more), the events company are now being granted The Freedom of Liverpool, the highest civic award within our city. The achievements of founder James Barton and the Cream family cannot be overstated, with Barton receiving special praise from the Lord Mayor Roz Gladden, who says that “his work put Liverpool on the global map for dance music,” as she presents him with the scrolls prior to the opening night of this special performance. It is in no doubt that their work helped the rebirth of the city in the 90s.
From Moscow’s Red Square and millennium celebrations in Buenos Aires, to the dizzy heights of local cult legend Ricky Tomlinson gracing their dancefloor, Cream are no strangers to putting on one hell of a show. Their colossal Steel Yard structure, which debuted at Creamfields in 2016, helped them pick up the Best Major Festival gong at the UK Festival Awards, and has since been exported to events across the UK due to unprecedented demand. But there’s a special resonance attached to tonight’s CREAM CLASSICAL event, which sees them embracing the grandeur of the Anglican Cathedral to create yet another jaw-dropping Cream ‘moment’.
On a night that won’t fade away anytime soon, 1600 fans old and new pack into the towering Cathedral in pursuit of their own musical ecstasy, joined by the stately gravitas of the 60-strong Philharmonic Orchestra. Cream stalwarts K-Klass have encyclopaedic knowledge of what constitutes a Cream classic, and their selections tonight of old school and modern favourites take on a majestic feel with the ethereal orchestral underscore.
The opening gambit is a knowing one-two, with a nod to Cream’s storied heritage. Last Rhythm predates Cream itself, but was a popular tune at the club’s early events as they laid down the blueprint for their style, and when it segues into CeCe Peniston’s dancefloor smash Finally, the night really kicks into life. Arms reach skywards, eyes close, and the congregation lose themselves in their new place of beat worship.
And the hits keep on coming, with rhythm again high on the agenda. Derrick May’s Strings Of Life seems tailor made for a show like this, with the string parts sat perfectly within the dramatically rising melody, leading you inexorably towards the euphoric drop. And, in a moment of lung-bursting pride for our masters of ceremony, K-Klass’ own Rhythm Is A Mystery nearly brings the house down. The sweeping lasers make it hard to see the DJs on their altar-side perch, but their smiles must be as wide as the cathedral’s nave as the crowd loses it to their signature tune.
Shimmering in neon greens and purples, the cathedral falls under the gaze of a light show that doesn’t shy away from completely flooding the 100m-high walls and 150m-long hall with epic lasers. Walls and nooks are kitted with sky scanners and piercing beams that make walking into the place enough to take the breath away, always drawing your eyes skywards to the ominous Cream logo projected high above. It’s no surprise that the mega dancefloor hits Children (Robert Miles) and Insomnia (Faithless) come off so well in such a setting – but it’s the more sweeping, cinematic pieces that swell the most when backed by the venue and orchestra. Jakatta’s American Dream (the one that samples Thomas Newman’s score from American Beauty) allows the string section to flex their muscles for the first time; but, it’s the soaring, mesmerising Adagio For Strings that marks the evening’s high point. Familiar to clubbers because of Tiësto and William Orbit’s hugely popular remix – and to film buffs as the soundtrack to the emotional ending to Platoon – the piece is left entirely in the hands of the orchestra tonight, as they are joined by a choir-laden balcony for a stunning crescendo.
Orbital’s transcendent Belfast and Eric Prydz’s dance classic Pjanoo ensure that the joyous night closes out on an epic high – even though, at 90 minutes, it feels as though it’s only just getting going. The special atmosphere inside the Cathedral endures as we float outside on the ebbing tide of that high.
With an estimated 1.5 million hands in the air at Cream events over the last 25 years, and over 5 million albums sold, their success cannot be downplayed. On the surface, the context of the night is a strange hybrid of several strands of Liverpool culture, of old and grand meeting contemporary and hedonistic – not only in musical terms, but in the location and the clientele. The Anglican Cathedral has played its part in this perfect celebration of the success of a Liverpool-born institution, as have the crowds who have partied at Cream events across the world for the past quarter decade. But there’s a reason why things always come back to the place they started – that emotional resonance that can be felt nowhere else. Or, more succinctly put by James Barton when receiving his freedom of the city, “There’s no better city in the world – thank you Liverpool.”
Christopher Torpey / @CATorp