BluesFest: Van Morrison and Robert Plant Live at London’s O2 Arena *****

A late addition to the bill and opening proceedings was Colin Macleod. Third on the bill and a five-piece band? Pretty impressive but this was BluesFest at a sold-out O2. Hailing from the Isle of Lewis, Macleod, whose Twitter profile describes him as “Musician. Crofter. Islander”, and his group of keyboard, bass, drums and lead guitar gave a superb opening 35-minute set which was a bonus and a treat. With a full wall of sound and a great style, familiar yet unfamiliar, Macleod ripped through a six-song set, with several tracks taken from his debut album Bloodlines. This was a great opportunity for Macleod to introduce his music to a mass audience and he took it willingly.

Van Morrison took the stage with a superb six-piece band. In a full 90-minute set he showed soul, blues, style and sophistication. He played several impressive medleys, one of particular note when the transitions were seamless between Baby, Please Don’t Go via Cry Cry Baby into Got My Mojo Working.

The highlight of his set was a breath-taking arrangement of Have I Told You Lately reimagined into a swing version to maximise the musicians that he had on stage. More swing with Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid and then a superb sax into by the man himself for I Believe To My Soul. More swing with Louis Jordan’s Early In The Morning and the amusing Broken Record.

Moondance had echoes of Miles Davis’ So What and another medley took us to the emotional encore of Ballerina. Smooth, sultry, sophisticated. Van is still The Man.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters came on stage to a rapturous reception from a capacity O2. Many may have been there because of Led Zeppelin, and sportingly Plant interspersed his set with remodelled gems from that era, a glimpse here and a nod there, including Black Dog and The Rain Song. But this was more a journey into Plant’s musical heritage with him extolling the virtues of the old blues masters Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bukka White, who’s song Fixin’ To Die ended the main set. Interspersed were folk songs reimagined, including The May Queen, folk meets metal on a version of the medieval Gallows Pole with Seth Lakeman starring on violin, and Little Maggie.

A hint of Whole Lotta Love brought the house down as part of the encore for this memorable show. Plant’s voice is remarkable, just as strong, powerful and emotional as ever.

Words by Chaz Brooks

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