Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Great Escape

Jonas Gutierrez of Newcastle United celebrates scoring against West Ham United
Couldn't happen to a more deserving player.
And we finished ABOVE the mackems...

Saturday, 23 May 2015


And what do we have today?

Tom fucking Cruise...

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
You Better Move On
Autumn Leaves

Da Elderly: -
I'm Just A Loser
Love Song
Is It Only The Moonlight?

This was an open mic night like no other at The Habit. In the audience was one Warren Atkins of The Voice, checking out York's talent. There must have been nearly 20 acts all told, with an early start to get everyone included and the place was packed from the off. York put on an excellent showing of new and not-so-new music makers.

Due to the need to cram everyone in, The Elderly Brothers were held in reserve for the after-show unplugged sing-along. It was a very late finish too!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Hitchcock/Truffaut by Kent Jones - Reviews

Hitchcock/Truffaut Documentary Film
Hitchcock/Truffaut review: Cannes dons rose-tinted specs for ace cinephilia study
This terrific retrospective on the week-long series of interviews between François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock is a brilliant commentary on the discourse of cinema then, and now

Peter Bradshaw
Tuesday 19 May 2015

Kent Jones’s enjoyable documentary – presented in the festival’s Cannes Classics section – is a tribute to a pioneering act of cinephilia, cinema criticism and living ancestor worship. François Truffaut’s remarkable interview series with Alfred Hitchcock, conducted over a week at his offices at Universal Studios in 1962, was a journalistic enterprise which changed the way cinema was thought of as an art form. Nowadays, a young film-maker might envisage a similar exercise in terms of a film or cable TV series – but what Truffaut finally produced was text: a fascinatingly illustrated book, like the record of a supremely important cultural-diplomatic mission. Hitchcock was already famous as a director in a way that few directors were (partly as a result of his TV celebrity), but Truffaut insisted on his importance as an artist and, by this token, on the auteurist importance of directors generally.

Later, Peter Bogdanovich (interviewed here) would do the same with Orson Welles, but perhaps without quite achieving the compression and intensity of this primal encounter. Kent Jones’s film about this event elicits brilliant contributions from modern directors, reflecting on this interview. It includes James Gray, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, David Fincher – and from France (perhaps representing the “Truffaut” team) there is Arnaud Desplechin and also Olivier Assayas – in whose fluency and eloquence, incidentally, there is something of the ingenuous and idealistic spirit of Truffaut himself.

Rather in the spirit of the original interview, the emphasis is on Hitchcock’s work, rather than Truffaut’s, but the master’s work is seen through the lens of Truffaut, whose brilliance as a critic shines through. Jones’s film takes us through what their childhoods had in common: a terrifying experience in prison. Truffaut was looking for a father figure – he found one in the great André Bazin of Cahiers du Cinéma (perhaps Hitchcock was closer to being an inspirational teacher than a father) – but it was Hitchcock who freed Truffaut and whom Truffaut, in turn, wanted to free from his reputation as a mere showman.

This documentary takes us through Hitchcock’s supreme reverence for the purity of silent cinema and the importance of the image (we hear him listen to Truffaut’s description of the scene in The 400 Blows where the boy discovers his mother’s infidelity, and then he asks, sharply and even testily, if Truffaut should not have kept the scene without dialogue). The interview, and this film, takes us into the question of Hitchcock’s dream-like use of images and situations which look like reality but are not – and the way his subversion and his hyperrealism and surrealism were smuggled into the realist tradition of commercial cinema. Is this the secret of his enduring popularity and importance?

Truffaut came from a generation which believed in allowing the action to emerge, at least partly, through looser improvisatory work with the actors – utterly alien to the controlling Hitchcock, who regales Truffaut with an anecdote about how method school Montgomery Clift once presumed to tell him how he felt his character wouldn’t do a particular “look” in I Confess which was vital to the plot.

Do we have a young director now with this kind of charisma – or an old director? Do we have the overwhelming sense of groundbreaking cinephile excitement that made the Hitchcock/Truffaut interview possible? I wonder. A fascinating film.

‘Actors are cattle’: when Hitchcock met Truffaut
Hidden necrophilia in Vertigo, glowing milk, an on-set spat with Montgomery Clift … in 1962, Alfred Hitchcock revealed his tricks, and the often shocking meanings behind his films, to fellow director François Truffaut. Now their talks have been turned into the revealing film Hitchcock/Truffaut

Stuart Jeffries
Tuesday 12 May 2015

There’s a derangingly perverted scene in the 1958 film Vertigo. The femme fatale Judy, played by Kim Novak, appears before Scottie, James Stewart’s retired cop, in a sleazy motel room. She’s dressed as the dead woman with whom he’s obsessed. “I indulged in a form of necrophilia,” the director Alfred Hitchcock told François Truffaut during a week-long series of interviews they did in Hollywood in 1962.

Scottie has insisted that Judy dye her hair blond and wear the outfit he bought. Only then will he be able to have sex with her. But there’s a problem. Scottie can’t consummate his desire because one detail is wrong: Judy is wearing her hair down. The dead woman, Madeleine, wore it up. “This means,” Hitchcock explains to Truffaut, “she’s stripped but won’t take off her knickers.”

Scottie sends her back to the bathroom and sits impatiently on the bed. “He’s waiting for the woman to come out nude ready for him,” Hitchcock adds. “While he was sitting waiting, he was getting an erection.” Then Hitchcock tells Truffaut to turn the tape off so he can tell a story. We will never know what it was, but the safe money says it was really dirty.

Kent Jones’s engaging new documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut teems with such moments: the 30-year-old tyro French director asking his hero to explain how he made his films, and the 63-year-old responding in detail, often revealing the lubricious impulses behind such masterpieces as Psycho, The Birds and Marnie. For 50 years, these conversations have existed in book form. Jones has set them free, juxtaposing the audio recordings with relevant scenes from the films.

Hitchcock clearly revels in disclosing some of his secrets. As we watch the superbly sinister scene in the 1941 thriller Suspicion in which Cary Grant slowly, but implacably, ascends a spiral staircase towards Joan Fontaine’s bedroom, we may well wonder why the glass of milk he’s carrying looks so ominous and hyperreal. Because, Hitchcock explains, he lit it from inside with a little lightbulb. Truffaut gasps.

Truffaut had seduced Hitchcock into doing 30 hours of interviews by means of an imploring letter: “Since I have become a director myself, my admiration for you has in no way weakened; on the contrary, it has grown stronger and changed in nature. There are many directors with a love of cinema, but what you possess is a love of celluloid itself.” Hitchcock, flattered, telegrammed back in French from Bel Air: “Dear Mister Truffaut, your letter brought tears to my eyes, and I am very grateful to receive such a tribute from you.”

At the time, Truffaut had made just three films, including his semi-autobiographical debut, Les 400 Coups, while Hitchcock was editing his 48th, his extraordinary and probably self-revealing account of sexual repression, Marnie, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery.

Truffaut’s aim was to liberate Hitchcock from his reputation (one that the Englishman cultivated) as a light entertainer and celebrate him for what he was, a great artist. “It’s wonderful that Truffaut got Hitchcock to talk because directors of his generation didn’t often,” says Jones, head of the New York film festival, and the director who collaborated on Martin Scorsese’s survey of Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy. “They were dismissive about their art, at least publicly. John Ford would say, ‘I only make westerns.’ Howard Hawks would say, ‘I only make comedies.’ They weren’t inclined to talk seriously about their work, partly because they needed to survive in the studio system.”

Hitchcock and Truffaut were from different cinematic cultures. Hitchcock had made the first of his pictures in the silent era and went on to work in Hollywood. Truffaut was initially a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. Thanks to critics such as Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Godard and indeed Truffaut (all of whom who would become the iconoclastic hipster directors of the Nouvelle Vague), cinema for the first time became, as director Olivier Assayas puts it in Jones’s film, self-conscious. For the first time, it reflected on itself as art rather than dismissing itself as mere entertainment. The Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews were part of that revolution.

Truffaut and Hitchcock began their interviews on 13 August, Hitchcock’s 63rd birthday. Four years later, the interviews were published. “It has been an incredibly influential book,” says Jones, adding that it was pivotal in the education of film-makers such as Coppola, De Palma, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, Friedkin and Schrader. Today’s generation, it seems, is no less in awe. “When I asked David Fincher if he’d read it, he said, ‘Only, like, 200 times.’”
François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and, Helen Scott, who collaborated with Truffaut, during the interviews 

There are only two moments when Hitchcock clams up. First, as Truffaut suggests, quite sensibly, that the lack of realism and plausibility in Hitchcock’s movies (think of the scene in North by Northwest when Cary Grant emerges unscathed from a fireball caused by the crop-dusting plane that’s been pursuing him crashing into a fuel truck) is because his pictures yield to a deeper logic, the logic of dreams. “Hitchcock just doesn’t want to go there,” says Jones. “He’s not comfortable with that level of disclosure.”

Yet, as Fincher, one of 10 present-day directors whom Jones interviews for the film, argues, one of the exciting things about Hitchcock is that his fears and fetishes, his nocturnal terrors and his sexual daydreams, are all over his work. Indeed, for Fincher, one of the lessons of Hitchcock’s cinema is that any film-maker who thinks they can stop their psychopathologies leaking on to the screen is, as he puts it, “nuts”. Jones says: “I think David’s right. Hitchcock does what he wants, and indeed, if you look at those film-makers who try to do what others want, or what they think the audience want, they come unstuck.”

The other moment is when Truffaut, again quite sensibly, argues that Hitchcock’s trademark omniscient shots (the terrifying airborne shot of the town on fire in The Birds; the camera descending from Olympian heights to find the compromising key in Ingrid Bergman’s hand in Notorious) could have been made only by someone raised, as Hitchcock was, a Catholic. Hitchcock asks Truffaut to turn off the tape so he can go off record. “Again, we don’t know what he said, but he clearly didn’t want to reveal his motivations,” says Jones. Instead, in Jones’s film it’s left to another Catholic director, Scorsese, to clinch the point: the God-like perspective of Hitchcock’s aerial shots induce terror.

“In the book of the interviews,” says Jones, “Hitchcock came over as stilted and formal, which you can hear he isn’t.” Quite so: Hitchcock is often droll and cantankerous. “Actors are cattle,” he tells Truffaut, underlining his reputation for giving them no scope but to fulfil his artistic vision. “He can’t mean that,” says Jones. “Yes, he started in cinema during the silent era, well before the post-war era after which, as Scorsese says, the power shifted to the actor. But he wasn’t contemptuous – he had immensely fruitful relationships with actors.”

True, but Hitchcock was always boss. The film recalls his on-set spat during I Confess with Montgomery Clift over a split-second moment in which the actor was required to look up at a building as he crossed the street. The method actor who had trained with Lee Strasberg said he needed to consider whether his character, a guilt-ridden Roman Catholic priest, would look up at that moment. Hitchcock didn’t care what Clift thought: he needed him to look up at that precise moment or everything leading up to and from that glance would not make sense. Truffaut, when Hitchcock explains this to him, agrees: if Clift refused, he would have ruined the story arc. Happily, Clift ultimately glanced upwards and the scene makes sense.

Truffaut, for all that he was profoundly influenced by this father figure, gave actors more leeway. He tells Hitchcock about a scene in Jules et Jim that his three actors improvised. Hitchcock is incredulous: he could never allow that.

Later, Jones reveals, Hitchcock worried that he was too rigid in his commitment to narrative rigour. Perhaps he should have given his actors more freedom. In one telegram to Truffaut, he says how difficult it would have been for Mondrian to paint like Cézanne: by which he means how difficult it would have been for Hitchcock to direct like Truffaut, or indeed like others in the Nouvelle Vague, still less like the great American directors of the 1970s who allowed their actors a great deal of freedom.

It’s a point taken up by Fincher, who wonders how Hitchcock would have got on directing such actors as De Niro, Pacino and Hoffman. “Sadly, we’ll never know,” says Jones. “But he did have conflicts with actors who were less willing to respect his authority, not just with Clift on I Confess and Paul Newman on Torn Curtain.”

In any case, he did try to loosen up, to mutate, as it were, from Mondrian to Cézanne. “There is some 16mm test film provisionally called Kaleidoscope/Frenzy, in which he tried to be freer and give some young kids in New York the chance to express themselves as actors.” But that film was never made. Instead, in 1972 he made Frenzy, his penultimate – and psychosexually deranged – film, in which Barry Foster strangles his victims with a necktie, grunting: “Lovely! Lovely!”

Almost two decades after Truffaut and Hitchcock recorded their interviews, the Frenchman was still lecturing the world on his hero’s merits. “In America,” Truffaut told the American Film Institute in 1979 during a homage, “you call him Hitch. In France, we call him Monsieur Hitchcock. In America, you respect him because he shoots scenes of love as if they were scenes of murder. We respect him because he shoots scenes of murder like scenes of love.”

The following year, Hitchcock died. All too soon Truffaut followed him in 1984, aged only 52, and at the height of his powers.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Federico Fellini and 8 1/2

Fellini’s 8½ – a masterpiece by cinema’s ultimate dreamer
Federico Fellini never stuck to the facts. At his best, his films strike a perfect balance between fantasy and reality – and nowhere is this more evident than in his autobiographical classic, 8½

Michael Newton
Friday 15 May 2015

Fellini once laid out the basic requirements for being a film director. They include curiosity, humility before life, the desire to see everything, laziness, ignorance, indiscipline and independence. While probably all these qualities pervade his films, it’s their curiosity and their openness to the world that enchant you, as he once put it, his “immense faith in things photographed”, the sense that film might allow a moment of communion between the viewer and things, between you and a human face.

The White Sheik (1952)

In his black and white movies, that almost unparalleled run of masterpieces from The White Sheik (1952) to 8½ (1963), Fellini stands as the Charles Dickens of cinema. As with Dickens, critics find him sentimental, exaggerated and chaotic. Where some see sentiment, his lovers perceive a capacity to feel, not for some idealised abstraction, but for the specific character. The outsiders, the marginalised, the victims in life attract him, and he looks at them face to face, never from above, and never from a place removed from their troubling difficulty. He is close to Dickens in pursuing a politics based on gentleness, on the thought that a good society will form when this person here acts justly and tenderly to that person there. As for the exaggeration, like Dickens he actually softens and takes the edge off the unexpectedness and weirdness of others, even as he remains alive to it. When it came to people and to places, Fellini said of himself, “My capacity for marvelling is boundless … I am not blase about anything”. The chaos is admittedly there, but it’s a creative one; he possessed the immense gift of never settling for a fixed view about life. He condemns no one. As he suggested, his films are trials, but as seen by an accomplice, rather than by a judge.
Like Dickens too he was nourished on a genuinely popular culture – comic strips such as Flash Gordon and the circus. His cinema belongs to the fairground, not the museum. The comics were a seminal influence on him – he didn’t so much write his films, as draw them, making sketches, doodles and designs that would open up the spirit of the movie.
It’s odd to remember just how despised Fellini was once, a man found guilty by critics on the left of sullying the doctrinal purity of Italian neo-realism with sentiment and solipsism. Such critics understood art as essentially political, a form that either embraced or denied true “commitment”. For Fellini, however, film meant a free space for fantasy and memory, and a form where fantasy might transform memory into a beguiling and truthful lie. 8½ provides a devious, side-stepping response to his critics, incorporating their adverse readings into the film; “commitment” is both the film’s problem and its hero’s, troubled as he is in his career and his marriage. In a sense, it’s Fellini’s version of Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, a record of a breakdown that leads to the hearing of many enticing or hostile voices.

Though all art finds its roots in a life, it’s remarkable how very few expressly autobiographical film-makers there are – Woody Allen, Andrei Tarkovsky in Mirror, Bill Douglas and a handful of others, all recasting their lives as a fiction. As a man often identified with his work, Fellini is perhaps the most notable among this select group. An “autobiographical vein” runs through many of his films, each one encapsulating a stage of his life. Yet no one should think when watching his movies that they’re learning the facts about Fellini; like Dickens in David Copperfield, he transfigures the past (or in the case of 8½, the present) into artifice, a puppet theatre. He was never one to let the facts stand in the way of a good story. His films charm us with the invention of a life, the marvellous being made otherwise marvellous; not the small truths of anecdote, but the evocation of how it might have been. They dance around the dividing line between the imagined and the real. In I Vitelloni (1953), Ostia stands in for his home town of Rimini, and in the process turns nostalgia into a stage-set, an improved and refined quintessence of memory.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

In his early films, the characters have either the strong simplicity of children or the complexity of the devious; they are either kids or conmen. The greatest innocents of all are those played by his wife, Giulietta Masina, in La Strada (1954) and The Nights of Cabiria (1957). Both films are glorious, and Cabiria is certainly in my top five movies of all time. Here Fellini’s comedy – like much great comedy – works by breaking our hearts open and still finding there the muted capacity for hope. The great problem for his characters is that of loneliness. Its solution, where it can be contrived to occur, is the connection between people, including the most unlikely of pairs. Masina is the soul of these stories, an actor gifted with one of the most expressive and vital faces ever witnessed on screen. She is a holy fool in both films, an “Auguste” clown, a happy hooligan. Fellini said of her characters here that they’re not women, they’re asexual, figures beyond or above gender – a remarkable thought given that in Cabiria, Masina plays a Roman prostitute, though admittedlya rather hapless one.

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (1960)

With La Dolce Vita (1960), Fellini’s style shifted, and we move from artful naivety to a bright, louche and fragmented world, one, as Fellini himself put it, marked by “the silence of God”. There is a book of essays on Fellini from the 1970s in which the hero’s angst is taken very seriously indeed, and the movie compared somewhat implausibly with The Waste Land. In fact, rarely has the collapse of western civilisation looked such fun – and “fun” is precisely what that civilisation collapses into. The film’s title, “the sweet life”, isn’t irony, it’s intoxication. More than any other movie, La Dolce Vita preserves the enchantment of parties, even their enchanted weariness; the film bestows on us that sense of the possibilities present in an evening out, as well as the light melancholy that falls as the possibilities dwindle. Fellini liked to drive through Rome, or walk its streets, glancing at the faces, giving himself to the casual encounter; here, too, Rome is a place glimpsed in motion, connections forming and falling apart, as the night sobers up with dawn. As the society journalist, Marcello, Marcello Mastroianni offers us the Italian Cary Grant, a man baffled by his own beauty as well as the essential elusiveness of the women he somewhat fecklessly pursues.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

When I saw La Dolce Vita, my first Fellini film, I thought he was a sophisticate; now, years later, I know he was a dreamer. 8½, his memoir of his illness, is replete with reveries; Fellini much admired Carl Jung, and it shows. One reason why he cast his wife in his films was Masina’s magical “gift of evoking a kind of waking dream quite spontaneously, as if it were taking place quite outside her own consciousness”. As his career went on, his films became increasingly hallucinatory, in a way not always for the best. In his defence, other kinds of coherence are brought in, a moving away from logic and consequence. In 8½, the balance is still perfect, a film that stands in the uneasy but productive space between fantasy and the real.
1963, 8 1/2 , EIGHT AND A HALF
It’s a fabulously messy film. The eye moves restlessly over things, rarely settling. We’re inside a crisis, with apparently nothing noble about it. The film’s hero, the harried director, Guido Anselmi (played again by Mastroianni, and clearly a stand-in for Fellini), is as silly, mean, self-regarding and empty as the film itself – and yet, for all that, this same fractured movie is utterly superb. It’s in the relation between the sorriness and the wonderful that 8½ casts its spell.
Ultimately, 8½ is a comedy of guilt, of a life riven by untruths. In a double sense, Guido lives in breach of contract. He compromises the deal he has made with his producers, declaring he has a film in hand when really he has nothing; and, more darkly, he undermines his vow to his wife, by his affair with another woman. A need for naughtiness, for narrative, prompts Guido’s adultery; yet we can also see how it is of a piece with an overwhelming tenderness, an aptitude for curiosity about others. The film portrays brilliantly the farcical nature of shame, exposing in Guido’s relationship to his mistress his shifty embarrassment, the way he both wants her there and seeks to deny all claim to her. Playing the director’s mistress, Carla, Sandra Milo grants us the apogee of this comedy of deceit: spotting, as she debonairly approaches, that Guido is in fact at the cafe table with his wife, she manages to walk in two directions at once, her legs heading leftwards as she darts to the right.

To add to the grubbiness of it all, Milo was not only Guido’s lover in the film, she was also Fellini’s lover in real life. This is only one of the ways in which 8½ draws us into a hall of mirrors, where reality and art prove indistinguishable from each other. We gaze into an endlessly receding abyss, and yet (and this is the miracle of the film) we can perceive how that abyss overbrims with abundance. In the end, the film seeks to imagine a loving settlement that will fulfil the promises Guido has broken: in spite of everything there is a film; his love for his wife, for everyone it seems, all the puppets he controls, is intact. The guilt doesn’t matter: there is in the end reconciliation. Some might see this resolution as venal and self-serving, using a film to get oneself off the moral hook. And yet, as it plays on the screen, it also conjures by sleight of hand a release from shame, from doubt.

It’s not the anguish, the uncertainty, but the laughter in 8½ that matters, the reflective humour of it. The film closes with a death that appears to end the possibility of Guido’s film becoming real. For a moment, things pause, and there is an atmosphere of wistful farewell. And then Fellini pulls off his masterstroke, reclaiming life as a party, and one to be shared. When Guido and his wife Lucia likewise join the dance that Guido directs, not directing it any more but being a part of it, it proves to be, for me at least, one of the most moving moments in cinema. It recalls what Rilke wrote of The Tempest, when he described that moment when the artist-magus pulls a wire through his own head and hangs himself up with the other puppets, and then steps before the audience to take their applause.

8½ continues its run at BFI Southbank, London SE1, until 28 May.

8½ review – Fellini’s meditation on films as dreams retains its irresistible pull 5/5stars
A cinematic rerelease of Federico Fellini’s hallucinatory masterpiece offers a chance to be blown away all over again – its opening alone is one of the most incredible things in cinema

Peter Bradshaw
Thursday 30 April 2015

Fellini’s 8½ is rereleased in cinemas: it is the director’s compellingly fluent and sustained meditation on films as dreams, memories and fears, and the way they offer a fascinating but illusory way of rewriting and reshaping one’s own life. The opening dream sequence is more sensationally disturbing than ever, still one of the most incredible things in cinema. And then we wake up to a reality that has the weightless quality of a dream. Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni, is a celebrated film-maker, a version of Fellini, who has arrived at a midlife crisis and creative block (watching 8½ on the big screen is a way of seeing just how tired Mastroianni looks).
After a stay at a ridiculous health spa, Guido retreats with elegant diffidence to a handsome hotel to take meetings with producers and interested parties: weird, almost hallucinatory exchanges that look more like the encounters from Last Year at Marienbad or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They must discuss his latest unnamed project – which appears to be an indulgent autobiographical reworking of his own life that includes versions of his wife, mistress, and various other women, but also needing a scene with a full-scale spaceship that has, staggeringly, been built on location. Everyone wants a piece of Guido, everyone makes demands, especially clamorous journalists. (“Are you for or against eroticism? Are you afraid of the atomic bomb? Do you believe in God?”) It exerts an irresistible pull.

Friday, 15 May 2015


BB King was that rare thing – a game-changer who was also beloved
The blues legend, who has died aged 89, pioneered a style – and did so with a grace that made him a hero to fans and musicians alike

Charles Shaar Murray
Friday 15 May 2015

Very few 20th-century musicians were able to combine the roles of game-changing, creative, innovative virtuoso and beloved popular entertainer. Within this tiny elite group, BB King ranks second only to the late Louis Armstrong, who not only charmed the world with his jovial, winning personality but virtually invented the concept of the jazz soloist, and on whose broad shoulders all successors stood. Who else is there? Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and, of course, the Beatles in general and Paul McCartney in particular.
BB King in 1949
Genius and popularity alone are not enough: despite their brilliance, Bob Dylan and Miles Davis were too taciturn, too mysterious and too sharp-clawed for an audience to feel entirely comfortable and relaxed in their presence. BB King’s impact on the way blues guitar – and, by extension, rock guitar – is played to this very day is immeasurable. It is impossible to imagine how Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Albert King, Freddie King (both of whom dropped their birth surnames in favour of BB’s), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Moore or Joe Bonamassa, to name but a few, might have played had BB King never existed.

Yet his instrumental virtuosity and the seamless interaction between the liquid, vocal tone he conjured from the numerous Gibson semi-acoustic guitars that have borne the nickname “Lucille” over the past six-and-a-half decades and his warm, chesty singing (“First I sing and then Lucille sings”) was only one part of the reason for his pre-eminence not only in his chosen field of the blues but in the broader expanse of the past musical century’s popular mainstream. BB King was also one of the planet’s consummate entertainers; his expansive stage presence, enveloping generosity of spirit, patent willingness to drive himself into the ground for his audiences and ability to put virtually any crowd at their ease took him from the backbreaking labour and harsh racism of the rural Southern states to the biggest stages of the world’s capital cities. As an old man he would duet on Sweet Home Chicago with Barack Obama at a gala blues concert in the White House. Along the way, he collected enough awards, trophies and honorary degrees to fill a small warehouse and was the subject of a biographical documentary feature, The Life of Riley, narrated by Morgan Freeman.
Playing guitar, 23 July 1969.
And, for what it’s worth, that “nice guy” bit was no mere act: 65 years in the business and absolutely no-one ever had a bad word to say about him. His generosity to peers and protégés alike was as much the stuff of legend as his manifest talents. For much of his performing life he averaged 300 shows a year and devoted any energy left over after each performance to meet and greet his fans until utter exhaustion set in. No wonder he was taken to the world’s collective heart in a manner unlike any blues artist before or since; no wonder he was called “The Chairman of the Board of Blues Singers.”

And yet, and yet, and yet … it was perhaps unsurprising that a man in his 80s who was drastically overweight and struggling with type 2 diabetes should have to slow down and acknowledge a decline in his once-formidable powers. For some time, he had been seated on stage rather than standing up; his concert schedule, which would have been intimidating for a performer half his age and weight, had been reduced to a mere 100 or so gigs a year, and he had not released a new album of fresh recordings since 2008’s One Kind Favor.

When he played the Royal Albert Hall in June 2011, I wrote: “As his 86th birthday looms, BB King remains King of the Blues, with Buddy Guy, at a mere 75, as his heir. No surprise, then, that a long line of distinguished guests showed up at the Al to pay affectionate tribute and help the ancient titan shoulder the weight of a two-hour show: please meet and greet Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Ron Wood, Slash and (to sing some of the lyrics BB can no longer remember) Mick Hucknall.

“Also no surprise: the set is no longer a stately procession through 60-odd years of greatest hits, but more a combination of party, informal jam session and family visit to a mischievous, cantankerous but benevolent granddad. Forgetting lyrics (and even the names of some of his long-serving band-members) and occasionally starting a lick on the wrong fret of his guitar, BB’s immaculate comic timing turned each potential embarrassment into an endearing gag … The voice is still miraculous, once it’s cranked up, and that guitar tone is still authoritatively unmistakable. He roared through The Thrill Is Gone, Sweet Sixteen and Rock Me Baby, caught all the rock guitarists out with the tricky chord changes of the glutinous Vegas ballad Guess Who and made his triumphant exit to – shades of Louis Armstrong – When the Saints Go Marching In.
Performing in Frankfurt on 13 July 2004, the first concert of his German tour.
“Losing the plot? Maybe. But he’s still BB King ... and nobody else is.”

Despite all attempts to put the most positive possible spin on the evening, the occasion was still somewhat dispiriting. The Big B had become a magnificent ruin, like the Coliseum or the Sphinx: a monument to be visited not in the hope of seeing it as it was in its halcyon days, but to marvel at the fact that it was still here and, indeed, that such something so marvellous existed in the first place. Last year, a concert at St Louis’s Peabody Opera House disintegrated into an outright debacle, with BB actually getting heckled as he rambled and stumbled through a formless attempt at recapturing former glories.
At the 43rd Grammy awards in Los Angeles on 21 February 2001. King won for best traditional blues album, Riding With the King, and best pop collaboration with vocals for the album, Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t.
BB had always claimed that he would continue to perform as long people still wanted to see him, but by the end it had come to seem as if neither mind nor body were any longer equal to the task. He had the admiration of his peers, the affection of much of the world and an eight-figure bank account, none of which were anything less than fully deserved and thoroughly earned. Maybe he should have made the decision to take it easy at last: to rest on his considerable laurels and spend his last years taking pleasure in a lifetime’s achievement: a job well done.

In 2010, he and Buddy Guy recorded an affecting duet entitled Stay Around a Little Longer. If only he could have been able to take his own advice: then he might have celebrated his 90th birthday this September by putting his feet up, secure in his extraordinary legacy and enjoying the knowledge that what he has left us is, for all practical purposes, immortal.