Easter Sunday is in full swing at the Bluesfest site as we enter the fray and start with a session from Max Jury in the Juke Joint, the currently London-based US singer-songwriter seated behind a keyboard with a three-piece band behind him and two strong-voiced female vocalists flanking on his right.
He’s only in his early 20s but his pop-tinged Americana already evokes a certain world-weariness, delivering the wistful Great American Novel on his own before the band return to unleash an epic version of Princess and finish with the beautifully languid Home, which has most likely never been delivered in such a far-flung locale.
Blues-rock guitar virtuoso Eric Gales delivers an incendiary mission statement to open his set, beaming as he snarls, “I intend to play my ass off for you tonight!” And he proves true to his word, opening with a 12-minute jam featuring rollicking blues, massive solos and thick squalls of guitar. He follows this with a massive take on the ominous Change In Me, which has the strong crowd hollering with delight, Gales seeming like the living embodiment of all that have come before, his guitar almost seeming alive in his hands as he coaxes power and nuance from it in equal measure.
Over at the Crossroads veteran Californian Latin rockers Santana have pulled an absolutely massive crowd who spill outside the packed tent and seem delighted with the mixture of cool rhythms, guitar histrionics, horn stabs, chanting and exotic percussion.
Frontman Carlos Santana is like a talisman out front of his sizeable ensemble, his accomplished band pumping out a mixture of instrumentals, foreign language originals and left-field covers such as Enya’s Orinoco Flow (Sail Away) – which has people confused and delighted all at once – all of which elicits mass dancing in the front half of the writhing throng of people before them.
At the Jambalaya stage, British soul sensation Laura Mvula is holding court and delivering sultry tunes while continually – albeit subtly – exhorting the people before her to dance, moving slinkily around the stage herself during Green Garden and then getting impossibly sultry during a gorgeous cover of Nina Simone’s See-Line Woman. Mvula dons a massive white keytar during the lush and cinematic Make Me Lovely and the unwieldy instrument doesn’t stifle her urge to move her body to the tribal rhythms one iota, leading the way from the stage as her fans delightedly follow.
We catch a few more songs from Michael Kiwanuka at the Mojo tent and then head back to the Delta stage for a return bout with Nikki Hill, who’s in typically ferocious form and delivers a set completely different from the one we witnessed yesterday. The singer exudes confidence as she swans around the stage while her band pump out thick riffage, a poignant reading of Johnny Thunders’ You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory followed by a stream of firebrand originals such as the driving (Let Me Tell You 'Bout) Luv, the slinky Ask Yourself and the good-time frolic of Mama Wouldn’t Like It.
Finally we join the large throng in the Mojo tent for UK court jesters Madness, the sound massive as they open with One Step Beyond, which drives the crowd into an immediate frenzy. Singer Suggs is his usual mischievous self as he wanders the stage sporting dark glasses and that perpetual smirk. After Embarrassment they throw in a moving tribute to ska legend Prince Buster who sadly passed away last year, having gifted Madness both their band name and large swathes of their madcap aesthetic.
"The perfect climax to this penultimate night of Bluesfest magic."
There’s lavish visual production behind the large band that gets positively Python-esque during Herbert, the band heading into vaudeville territory for NW5 before unveiling the anthemic Wings Of A Dove and offering Blackbird as a tribute to the much-missed Amy Winehouse.
Guitarist Chris Foreman takes the vocal reins for a potent cover of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, which catches many by surprise, before the band up the tempo and unleash their string of ‘80s radio smashes: House Of Fun and Baggy Trousers both have the tent dancing delightedly, before Our House and It Must Be Love evoke mass singalongs, these songs still clearly resonating strongly in the Australian psyche.
They’re coaxed back for an encore of Can’t Touch Us Now but the damage has already been done, that cavalcade of hits and memories the perfect climax to this penultimate night of Bluesfest magic.