Festival Review: Bluesfest (Tom Jones & Van Morrisson), London O2 Arena

Legends Tom Jones and Van Morrison joined forces to close Prudential’s three day BluesFest at the O2 Arena on Sunday night. Having known each other since 1965 but having never sung together live, this was a highly anticipated closing show. And what a strangely brilliant show it was.

Dressed in his signature trilby hat, sunglasses and suit, Van Morrison kicked things off with a saxophone solo and went straight into ‘Close Enough for Jazz’. The more upbeat ‘Precious Time’ got the crowd going and Morrison brought out the harmonica for ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’. Highlights include a soulful cover of Ray Charles’ ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and ‘Days Like This’.

After an hour, he invited Tom Jones to join him onstage. Tom Jones is more of a showman, with Morrison having said little to the crowd throughout his solo performance, not even giving an introduction. With wonderful covers of ‘Sticks & Stones’ by Ray Charles, ‘What Am I Living For?’ by Chuck Willis, ‘The Lonesome Road’ by Gene Austin and Morrison’s ‘I’m Not Feeling It Anymore’, their voices bellowed like a match made in Blues heaven. They are two very different characters with a great chemistry, even having a bit of a sing off, seeing who could reach the lowest notes.

There were a few moments where they seemed to sing each others parts and did not seem to know what they were doing but that can also be seen to be the beauty of them having a simple set, just focussing on the hits they love most and being spontaneous.

After the interval. Tom Jones went into ‘Burning Hell’. There was a lot of Elvis influence throughout the night. Jones introduced ‘Run On’ as one of Elvis’ favourite tracks to sing to and proclaiming Elvis’ love of gospel music. He also covered ‘Elvis Presley Blues’, a dark and poignant cover that left the crowd speechless before going into a beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’.

“It was like having an insight into what an evening at home with the two icons would be like”

Jones sang many tracks from his new album ‘Long Lost Suitcase’, tracing back his roots including a cover of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone’, an instant hit as well as country-esque ‘Raise a Ruckus’.

Jones’ set included blues renditions of his own hits ‘Sex Bomb’ and the 50 year old ‘Not Unusual’. The entire set was not very ‘hit heavy’ with Morrison not singing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or ‘Moondance’ and Jones leaving out ‘Delilah’, ‘She’s a Lady’ and ‘Burning Down the House’. But then again, there are only so many hits you can fit into one show.

Jones’ then brought Morrison back onto stage. It was like having an insight into what an evening at home with the two icons would be like, imagining them sitting in a recording studio hearing them natter away like old school friends. They were telling stories about the ‘dodgy gangters’ they have come across and how they do not do drugs or drink, only spill drinks due to old age (they have a combined age of 145). Jones’ sense of humour and cheekiness is still apparent.

The spontaneity continued as they were asking each other what to play next, nearly forgetting to play ‘Sometimes We Cry’, a song which they have recorded together for Jones’ 1999 Reload album: a tearjerker for some.

It was a great end to the BluesFest with two of the genres most distinctive voices and influencers coming together to cover a wide range of tracks. Their age is not something that even comes to mind and it was great to see them being celebrated. With vocals like theirs, they seem to make anything work, even with what seemed like little practice.

Nellie Khossousi

Image: Nick Webb via Flickr

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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