Bluesfest London 2016, October 2016, O2 Arena, Greenwich, London, United Kingdom

Bluesfest London 

Friday 28th October 2016 – Sunday 30th October 2016

O2 Arena, Greenwich, London, United Kingdom

John Bull/Rockrpix Photography

So for the second year, the festival continues its tenure at the 02, which can be a balmy place on a good day and a windswept netherworld in poor weather. We are somewhere in the middle this weekend as regards climate. The 02 out at Greenwich and on the Thames is really a shopping mall with eateries galore and several performance halls.

Getting in to the main Arena is a slow process, with necessary but laborious safety and security checks. Because of this we missed Steve Rodgers show on one night, so apologies to him. He is a lovely guy and singer but circumstances stiffed us, amigo.

Overall we are well looked after by our main PR contact and managed to see most of the acts we wanted to see. Of course, a lot of the time two or more attractive events are going on at the same time, so we have to choose and/or split up to cover what we can. There is a good merchandise stall but overall we found the prices somewhat steep, a tour T shirt at £25 or more is hardly fan-friendly in our opinion. At a lower price we will purchase them, though I had to get Sargeant Jnr a Bad Company one.

The people that attend this festival and the C2C one for country fans for that matter buy shirts, bandanas, mugs, albums, hats and so on. They drink quite a lot and consume a lot of food. They cause no trouble. Our photographers have a great variety of acts to capture and some of the performers cannot – certainly by purists – be termed BLUES.

One Arena evening features a double bill of urban queen Mary J Blige and soul maestro Maxwell. During his set I was over at dear Bill Wyman’s 80th Birthday beano but raced back in the break to catch the start of Maxwell’s set. His band were pure electricity, vicious guitar tones, fat subterranean bass, clattering drums and spiky horns riffing away as the singer prowled the stage, at times probably the bluesiest sound of the weekend and certainly the most powerful. His records are mostly bedroom classics but set this bloke on a stage and he tears it up, in his own way like Howlin’ Wolf in his movements and spirited delivery.

A good half of Blige’s audience look and dress exactly like her, in various stages of her career! She leaves her following breathless with excitement and involvement. This is a pairing that worked for the audience.

It being the week of Bill Wyman’s 80th Birthday, in the Indigo hall his Rhythm Kings assembled to celebrate, joined by a genuinely star-studded ensemble of guests. The backscreen had various historical images and items of interest and when the show got under way, its theme of classic influential 45’s and Eps had graphic representation in a cavalcade of record labels and sleeve art which really added something to the whole experience.

Bill himself is his usual laidback self, happy to help introduce his band and guests and also undertake bass guitar duties along with the great Dave Bronze of Trower and Clapton lineups. The Stones are in the US, but the list of singers and musicians here on the night makes for great entertainment, variety but above all, warmth and affection.

Bill hasn’t lasted in this business by being up himself or haughty. He is a really great conversationalist or meal companion as I can attest and very funny, with ace recall and stories galore if steered that way.

So after a cool illustrated slideshow of Stones and Wyman history in the Indigo room – thankfully seated – Bill and the Rhythm Kings personnel and many others take us on a trip through mostly r&b classic recordings performed tonight in bustling jukebox style. Every guest looks happy to be there, every guest steers away from doing their own hit songs to make the sonic voyage work. And what guests!

Joe Brown and Henry Gross take the stage, Joe handling mandolin for a lively Ruby Tuesday, then Mollie Marriott slips on for Tulsa Time. A true rockabilly Summertime Blues follows. Mark Knopfler wields a black Danelectro for Donegan’s Gone, playing slide, then switches to a Les Paul. Andy Fairweather Low puts his Strat to use on a rhumba’d Holy Smoke.

Van Morrison strides on to the stage, blows sax on Ray Charles’ I Believe To My Soul and nods as a cool trumpet solo floats over the cruising horns. Little Walter’s Mean Old World benefits from Frank Mead’s rasping harp figures and Van sings it for real. Wyman’s bass drives Harlem Shuffle featuring the lovely Beverly Skeete who is fulsome in her praise of Bull for giving her a break way back when.

A ‘bit of gospel’ is delivered on I Shall Not Be Moved, Mead’s soprano break aches. Bill uses an old fairground expression, informing us that it is ‘his turn in the barrel’ and steps up to sing lead on Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell.

After the break, Martin Taylor plays fluid Brazilian-tinged guitar to a warm reception. Hollie Stephenson the teenage soulster is upfront for Beast of Burden, in a short silver dress and showing some nerves with this stellar crew. Bill is kindness itself, of course and Time Is On My Side follows. Bob Geldof plays harp and sings on Little Red Rooster and Route 66.

Steve Van Zandt burns on his Strat. Then a bit of a treat, the never-played-live Wyman chart hit Je Suis Un Rock Star, pumped along by Dave Bronze on the bass. One of Bill’s daughters sings along ! Mick Hucknall plays sharp harp on King Bee, getting a real Excello label sound from the band. Glorious Hammond permeates his take on Reconsider Baby, the Lowell Fulsom song.

The horns blare out Pickett’s 634-5789. Skeete is back for an incendiary It’s A Man’s World. Tapping piano and a pleading vocal chills the room. Mike Sanchez sings well on Movin’ On Down The Line which takes in Boom Boom and Boogie Chillun. A dark-haired Imelda May lights up Let The Good Times Roll before torching I’m Crying, the old Animals hit.

Then Robert Plant appears to belt out Chuck Willis’ Feel So Bad, evoking Elvis’ version at times, he then does Let The Boogie Woogie Roll, enough to make writer Clyde himself smile. It reminds me of that r&b EP by The Honeydrippers. In the middle of all these riches, a humbled Wyman thanks all his friends. As warm a session as you could ever experience.

The various afternoon performances on Saturday and Sunday came together pretty late in the day but once we knew there would be some afternoon shows we made an effort to catch some, these being in need of attention and indeed deserving the same. Lisa Mills has a Tedeschi-style approach and uses gentle guitar to put over Sending Me Angels. Jack Hutchinson belts out Boom with rattling slide and a mid-range voice.

Paddy Milner tinkles the ivories with his customary New Orleans tinge. Kaz Hawkins aims as usual at connecting with her audience and her gypsy-flavoured torch blues is well-received. Giles Robson shows his mastery of the harp with no showboating, kindly writing out his setlist for me when we spoke after his set. His band display a steady Fab T’s vibe with edgy guitar runs but the superb harp playing is the trump card eg on Sarah Lee, Shady Heart and Bound For The Border.

A fine and cohesive band sound. Mark Harrison of Turpentine album fame played lively guitar and threw in pithy remarks on songs worthy of sponsorship by Sarson’s.

I find myself suddenly at a Meet And Greet with the lively Temperance Movement, chatting to their Scottish singer about touring and personnel. Later they appear before Walter Trout and put over a show crammed with pacy songs, deft guitar interplay, solid drumming and roaming, steady bass. They land somewhere between AC/DC, the Hoax and Frankie Miller a lot of the time and notch a high score for attack. Trout tore into a Howling Wolf song and poured out squealing guitar runs for song after song, accompanied by his keys, bass and drums outfit. His newish bass player is fitting in well.

Bad Company lose no time in grabbing the audience when they hit the stage in the Arena. I first saw Mick Ralphs playing in The Year Dot with Mott The Hoople at the time of their first Island album, on a bill with Status Quo at The Castle, Tooting, for half a pound.

But I have never seen him play better than tonight, he is magnificent and sharp, bouncing off Rodgers’ pal from Heart Howard Leese on the other guitar. Paul’s best moments come when he pounds the piano perched next to the drumkit. The hits are delivered with the cream of album cuts, a winsome Seagull in the closing part of the show having tenderness and punch in equal measure. Absolutely no surprises or anything adventurous but truly a crowd-pleasing set, especially for those who had never seen Bad Company.

Earlier, Bon Jovi axe man Richie Sambora brought on a band including his glamorous guitar partner Oriathi – one for the photogs, no beards and grimacing – plus at one point Miami Steve Van Zandt. He had read the brief and included some blues songs, but the shot at I Got You Babe cannot be dropped soon enough. Sambora has personality, good humour and musical chops and did bring in some new fans to the festival. The guest harp player was a good touch, for the day.

Clashes of timings meant we could not take in the fabulous Marcus King Band or the double bill of Van Morrison and Jeff Beck. A Brooklyn Bowl session starred Jo Harman, Hollie Stephenson and Lauren Housley, reportedly all singing up a storm. I really wish I had been able to take in The Strypes as their gig at The Garage was one of the most powerful shows of this year, they strode on and blasted out Rebel, Rebel. The Bay Rays sounded terrific at their soundcheck. Steve Van Zandt’s own gig started at 11 pm..great if you live in Greenwich but otherwise an awkward timing.

For the most part well-run, this Festival has its quirks but does provide a chance to see some world-class acts and many building their reputations. Female artists are well represented. There were smiles on the faces of most attending as they left. As for next year, how about The Rides, Gary Clark, Buddy Whittington, Jonny Lang, Marcus Malone, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, Mahalia Barnes….?

Pete Sargeant

The JLTT team wish to John Bull at Rockrpix Photography, Joe Baxter  and all of the team at Baxter PR for all assistance in completing this feature. 




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