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Bushy's Big Wheel Blues Festival is a fund raising event for the British Red Cross
Gary Moore and B.B King
Birmingham NEC Arena - Saturday, April 1 2006

By John Gregory
3rd April 2006

THERE'S a man who is moving his legs up and down, smiling in delight, raising his right hand into the air and singing for Britain. His name is B.B King and he turns 81-years-old later this year. Despite being seated throughout the vast majority of the show due to his 'bad knees', Blues Boy King had more energy than a university student and looked about as ready to retire as one.

The world's most famous bluesman was in Birmingham as part of a five date 'farewell UK tour,' also taking in Sheffield, Manchester, Bournemouth and Wembley. It was 'a once in a lifetime double bill,' as the publicity called it, featuring Gary Moore and Mr King, two guitarists and singers with very different styles but both with a deep passion for the blues.

Gary Moore at the NEC Birmingham, UK 1st April 2006 - Click to Enlarge
Gary Moore was up first and his guitar was quite simply the loudest I have ever heard. Sat just four rows from the front, once he struck his Gibson Les Paul for the opening of Oh Pretty Woman, my ears were in for a full-on assault. He battered his way through All Your Love, Too Tired and Walking By Myself. It was full on distortion and guitar pyrotechnics all the way. Still Got The Blues had a real bite. At one point one man near me commented 'I taught him everything he knows.' Unless that man was Jimi Hendrix or Peter Green people were right to laugh.

BB King and Lucille at the Birmingham NEC 1st April 2006 - Click to Enlarge
Before we caught sight of Mr King his eight-piece band did a marvellous job of introducing their amazing talents. After a couple of tunes on he came and within seconds of the packed crowd catching sight of him everyone was on their feet. B.B King did not have to sing a word nor even touch Lucille the most famous guitar of them all for such a reaction. It was acknowledgment of one man and what his music meant to us. While B.B may be king of the blues the world round, I wondered, at 80, how much he still had to offer. My question was answered within minutes and if I had lived in the UK I would have begged, borrowed and stole to see his last two remaining shows on British soil.

The humour, the banter, and most obvious of all his sheer charisma, captivated me and thousands of others. His singing was impeccable and to see him play Lucille was simply magic. At one point I looked at the row behind me: the audience were in a spell. Rock Me Baby, the Thrill is Gone, Guess Who, How Blue Can You Get? When Love Comes To Town. We heard them all at various points throughout the show.
BB King at the Birmingham NEC 1st April 2006 - Click to enlarge
His wonderful version of You Are My Sunshine was a highlight first playing the delightful melody on Lucille before singing it in dedication to the 'ladies,' who he had spent several minutes before gently taking the Michael out of. To hear him roar 'I gave you seven children and now you want to give them back,' during How Blue Can You Get?, to see him play so wonderfully and to see his band up close was a thrill I will remember for a long, long time. At the end of the show he thanked us all in a genuinely touching moment that gave me goosebumps. He then stood up and threw guitar picks and even jewellery into the audience. None of it landed near me and I was desperate for just one memento of the day. Within a couple of minutes B.B had literally put his coat and hat on and gone. The last wonderful soulful notes of the band had ceased.

Walter King's Autograph on John's rare vinyl copy of Live at the Regal - Click to Enlarge
Walter King's Autograph on John's rare vinyl copy of Live at the Regal - Click to Enlarge
The musicians were clearing the stage. I asked the roadies if they would pass my vinyl copy of Live at The Regal to the band to get it signed. The roadies refused to. I asked them for guitar picks, for a set list, nothing. What did they care? A man came to the front of the stage. I waved my vinyl record. No, he politely declined. It was time to go, the bar awaited and it had been a wonderful night. Wait, my wife said. She pointed back up at the man, who then told me to 'wait' himself. I found a roadie, passed him the record to the waiting man along with a black marker pen. 'Thank you,' I said. I wanted to say how much I had enjoyed the show, but I just couldn't. How could I describe how much what I had just seen had meant to me. The most famous bluesman in the world had passed this way, perhaps for the final time, and I had been a part of it. The man said something along the lines of 'no problem,' as he got the roadie to pass me the record back.

I looked at the inscription. 'Peace, Walter King.' My copy of Live at the Regal signed by B.B's nephew, Walter, the sax player in his uncle's band.

Back at the hotel bar everyone was buzzing. And I sat there thinking that I really felt a part of something. As I write this a couple of days later nothing has changed. So B.B, thanks for the ride, I was glad I was there with you and savoured every minute.

  • More on BB King here
  • More on Gary Moore here

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