“Good things come to those who wait,” sings BB King. For today’s crowd, the wait is 15 minutes. That’s how long it took to introduce the “king of the blues” by way of an instrumental fanfare, his band indulging their look-at-me-mum solo skills. Fulfilling this year’s “living legend” slot on the Pyramid stage, King, 85, is clearly not in a hurry. When he does finally emerge, however, the blues veteran is an imposing, regal presence.
His music has no problems straddling the generation gap. Whether it’s the swaggering raunch’n’blues of Rock Me Baby or the gospel-tinged See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, his songs are greeted like old friends, so deeply is his DNA embedded within popular music.
King shines brightest without the sax solos and Seinfeld slap-bass of his backing band. At times, his playing is staccato and stripped-back, punctuating songs with curlicues of melody, at others it’s mellifluous and masterful, showcasing shimmering vibrato.
His voice has not diminished with age either: I Need You, soulful and sincere, summons the spirit of Al Green, while The Thrill is Gone, heartfelt and helpless, channels Muddy Waters. A glaring omission is When Love Comes to Town, recorded with U2, suggesting perhaps that King may duet with Bono later this evening.
Glastonbury “living legend” sets can often disappoint, their business-as-usual blandness provoking responses such as “Well, at least I can say I’ve seen him”. Not so with King, who is clearly enjoying himself. Eyes closed and head raised heavenwards, he is blissfully absorbed in his blues. When he announces, “I wish we could just go on and on and on …” there is no doubting his conviction. He closes with Guess Who, serenading the crowd with the line “Someone really loves you … and it’s me”. Judging by the rapturous response, the feeling is mutual.