Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall
Bob Smeaton, the documentarian behind such historically significant rock ‘n’ roll chronicles as Hendrix: Band of Gypsys, and the titanic, all-encompassing The Beatles Anthology, turns his attention to Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Californian band, propelled by the outstanding songwriting and powerfully raw vocals (justly described in the film as comparable to Van Morrison in terms of distinction) of band leader John Fogerty, despite their relatively rapid burnout, were one of the few acts of their epoch to bridge the gap between the flower-power optimism of the late 1960s and the apocalyptic anxiety adopted by the arts as a new, darker decade approached.
Travelin’ Band uses previously unseen and subsequently restored footage of the band’s momentous 1970 performance at the Royal Albert Hall as its grand centrepiece. It is footage which exhibits the band at their triumphant best, basking in commercial and artistic opulence that was practically unmatched as an automatic consequence of the breakup of The Beatles just a few days prior. It is also, however, footage which shows an audience tainted by suspicion of this American import. As Smeaton says of the show’s audience during a brief Q&A after the film’s screening in Soho, “normally, the crowd are up on their feet dancing. (This crowd) are sitting there going ‘okay, Hendrix has played here, The Beatles have played here, The Stones have played here. Impress us’”. It is almost as interesting observing the belligerence of such a typically British disposition as the crowd attempts to resist the energy wafting towards them from the sacred stage, as it is watching the source of the energy itself.
Preceding the titular concert footage in a shuffled timeline of events (never let the truth get in the way of a good cinematic timeline) is exhumed film of the band experiencing the European continent for the first time, presented alongside a history of the band leading up to the tour. The group wanders aimlessly through a different culture between shows, a culture where you can have long hair and still get a job, a sentiment wryly echoed by bassist Stu Cook. They enjoy the novelty of big red buses, and give interviews on their hopes for the future of the band, a future which fans will know, with the benefit of hindsight, is an ill-fated one, but one which does not taint this documentary’s picturesque nostalgia.
It is all very quaint, cosy and unremarkable, if of historical interest. This is perhaps the inherent dramatic problem with documenting this particular band, especially when held up against other entries into a genre often dealing with the scandal and decadence of badly behaved, but very talented men. There is, however, something disarmingly sweet about John Fogerty’s response to the question of how satisfied he is by the girls in Paris; “I don’t know, I’ve just been in my hotel room”. Smeaton himself raises the rhetorical question he posed while researching the band’s history: “Where is the scandal? Where’s the drug bust?”. Against orthodoxy, Smeaton answers his own rhetoric: “With Creedence, that didn’t exist. All it was, was a great band who played great songs”.
Originally intended by Smeaton as a talking heads-style account of the band’s history, the pandemic forced Travelin’ Band to work with the on-record accounts that were already available. To fill in the gaps of the story, as Smeaton puts it, a voiceover was required. Cue Jeff Bridges, an actor whose love for Creedence rivals that of his most beloved character. A blessing in disguise if there ever was one, Bridges lends the documentary not just a fuzzy familiarity, but a heightened sense of legitimacy which will only bring more people into the world of Creedence, and that can only be a good thing.
Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall is released in select cinemas and Netflix on 16th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall here: