Two iconic heavyweights of popular music close out BluesFest 2016 in London’s docklands.
Jeff Beck and Van Morrison shared the limelight in the capacious environment of the O2 Arena on Sunday night and basked in the sound of rapturous applause and sight of standing ovations as they did so.
This was the closing act to a three-day festival that for the past couple of years has been held under the O2 canvas and goes by the name of ‘BluesFest’. In reality, this event suffers from a bit of an identity crises and if your idea of the blues begins and ends with three chords and twelve bars, you’re likely to go home disappointed. This year, on Friday, BluesFest hosted Mick Hucknall, Mark Knopfler and Bob Geldof (yes, Bob Geldof) amongst others. On Saturday, Jo Harman, (a singer that having won ‘Best Female Vocals’ at the 2014 British Blues Awards kindly asked not to be considered for inclusion the following year as she didn’t even consider herself to be a blues singer) gave her all; and whilst Beck and Morrison did their stuff on Sunday in the Arena, The Temperance Movement (a blues-rock band that have the ‘blues’ part in such a small font it can’t be read) were to be found next door in the Indigo.
But I digress. I’m here to talk about Beck and Morrison after all, and whilst there’s no denying that this duo are far from purely blues artists, to see both of them performing in sequence made it quite an event. This would explain why the lower half of the enormobowl was rammed; the nosebleed inducing tier that is officially ‘unsuitable for vertigo suffers’ above the hospitality boxes being unavailable to the public and shrouded in blackout curtain.
I’ve been spoilt by über guitarists in the last month. As September closed I was lucky enough to catch David Gilmour during his Royal Albert Hall residency and now get to hear the incredible talent that is Jeff Beck. With a mop of dark hair that made him look like a better life insurance risk version of Ronnie Wood (i.e. a version that doesn’t look like it’s just been through a washing machine spin cycle at 2000rpm), Beck’s control of his instrument was sublime. There were no histrionics when he played – he really did let the instrument do the talking. Beck didn’t say much between numbers either; though: “I have a connection with this song in case you’re wondering why I’m playing it” shortly before launching into a rocked up version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, indicated that the oft told tale about how Motown rushed Wonder’s release of a song that had always been intended as Beck’s might still rankle.
Beck is promoting his summer release ‘Loud Hailer’. Made with the assistance of Rosie Bones and Carmen Vendenberg from London band Bones, he was also flanked by the duo’s arresting presence tonight – Bones’ growling vocal adding weight to songs such as ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ and ‘Scared For The Children’, the latter being delivered from a position prostrate on the floor.
Beck closed with a classy instrumental version of The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’. He lapped up the reception before dropping his guitar to the floor and nonchalantly kicking it to one side.
And so we waited for the second half of the show and the arrival of Sir Van. Morrison, Belfast born in 1945, is famed for being one of the province’s grumpier individuals and he remained fairly austere between numbers tonight. He may not deliver on jokes, but decked out in matching pin-stripe suit and fedora, he certainly delivered vocals of the highest order. As a singer, Morrison has it all: rock, blues, folk, jazz, Celtic, country, gospel; you name it, he sings it. One minute, enough gravel to stop the Thames flowing outside; the next, tones as smooth as you like. He may just be into his seventh decade but on a few songs tonight, we also received proof that the septuagenarian’s tubes can still deliver some fine saxophone too. Morrison played some beautiful harmony sax/trumpet parts with long-time keyboardist, trumpeter and musical director Paul Moran; most notably on a more syncopated version of ‘Have I Told You Lately?’ that came early in the set and on ‘Moondance’ that came nearer the end.
Like Beck, Morrison is also promoting a new album; ‘Keep Me Singing’. We did get a couple of tracks of the new material, but the majority tonight were crowd pleasers from the back catalogue. The instantly recognisable twang of Big Joe Williams’ ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ flushed out some nice blues harp and a few whoops from the crowd. “Why do you like this one so much?” was Sir Van’s retort. There was just time for Beck to return to the stage (with Chris Farlowe) for a cover of T-Bone Walker’s ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ and the band closed out with a fine rendition of ‘Gloria’. Bizarrely, a number of audience members missed one of his most famous tunes as saving five minutes at North Greenwich tube is evidently more important than watching the whole of the show. They missed a trick, it was excellent.
Photo Credit: Colin Hart