Last night I drove my son Sam over to Cranleigh to spend the night at a friend’s house and on the way passed the Windmill, a pub in the Hurtwood forest behind which there is a lane that leads to Eric Clapton’s Spanish villa, Hurtwood Lodge. I strolled down the lane once a year or two ago, only to come up against the sturdy wooden gates that protect Eric from prying fans and nosey buggers like me. It always amazes me that until John’s murder George Harrison permitted fans to wander around the grounds of Friar Park, his estate on the outskirts of Henley, to admire the gardens which he tended so lovingly.
Just before he died my friend Timothy White proposed to me that he should write a book about the intermingling lives of Eric and George for Omnibus Press to publish. It sounded like a great idea and he was obviously the right man for the job. At the time Timothy was the editor of Billboard, America’s foremost music industry trade paper, but he’d cut his teeth as a writer on Rolling Stone. He’d befriended George and was one of the few writers to have been shown around Friar Park. He told me about the underground grotto accessible through a trapdoor in the kitchen, the boat on which you could sail through underground caverns, and the lake with pillars built up from the bed that enabled George to ‘walk on water’. In the event Timothy never wrote the book, but Graeme Thomson’s superb George biography Behind The Locked Door, published late last year by Omnibus, somehow made up for it.
Although I got to know John and Paul during my MM days I only ever met George once, and briefly at that, in the company of Derek Taylor at a small reception at the Carlisle Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York in 1975. I never really got to know Eric Clapton either, although I went on the road with him and his band in July 1974, just before 461 Ocean Boulevard came out. I was standing at the side of the stage at a show at Three Rivers baseball stadium in Pittsburgh when who should arrive on the arm of Eric’s manager Robert Stigwood but Pattie Harrison – much to Eric’s delight. What’s she doing here?, I remember thinking, ignorant as I was to the infatuation that inspired Eric to write ‘Layla’ and the love triangle that existed between her and these two great guitarists.
Actually, Eric was pretty much sloshed every time I encountered him on this tour – for Slowhand read Legless – including on stage but somehow – just – he held it together to play well. In the early seventies he was a very different character from the sober, Armani-suited, philanthropic elder statesman of blues guitar we see today. The Band was also on the bill at this show and back at the hotel I befriended their bass player Rick Danko who a year later would try to put the make on my sister Anne when she visited me in NY – but that’s another story.