B.B. King @ O2 Apollo, Manchester – 25 June 2011

Since the 1950’s there has only been one King of the Blues, a man who has influenced the genre beyond measure. – Riley B. King, affectionately known as B.B. King.

It’s not very often one has the opportunity to see a true legend, in this case the greatest living advocate of the electric blues guitar. So, it’s no surprise that there is a distinct air of excitement in the Apollo tonight.

Out walk the eight piece band that B.B. has been playing with for over 30 years, consisting a horn section which includes B.B.’s nephew, plus a fine guitarist, drummer and keyboard player. Spectacular in presence, the boys jazz it up as the main attraction enters to a massive reception.

The sharply dressed, eighty-four year old from Indianola Mississippi takes his seat centre stage, before Lucille is handed to him. Just before he begins to play, it feels like everybody in the house is holding their breath. But when it happens, it’s loud, and it’s magical.

This is the way Blues is meant to be played, his technique and the tone is nothing but a pleasant experience to watch and listen to. While the legs may not be as strong as they once were, the fingers and mind remain nimble.

B.B. thanks the audience for their attendance and introduces his fantastic band, before showing his voice has held up remarkably well with a wonderful soulful version of ‘I Need You So’.

We are treated to ‘Everyday I Have The Blues’, a track with as much history as King himself. It has been recorded countless times by the past masters, but his version is probably the most famous of them all.

‘Rock Me Baby’, ‘Key To The Highway’, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and another of B.B,’s signature tunes ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ are all given an outing, as the King of the Blues brings the Delta to Manchester.

Not every note is hit, but B.B. isn’t worried about that. He laughs it off, holding up Lucille and blaming her. Engaging in witty repartee, sending up of the other band members and flicking picks into the front row, he is having a whale of a time.

Last night he played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, tonight in front of a packed Apollo crowd he receives shouts of “You can take me home tonight B.B.” from ladies in the audience.

At eighty-four years old, B.B. King is an institution, still very much going strong. To spend a short time in his presence is a privilege.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston