As I write, I am aware I have still to report on the concerts in Bristol and Liverpool, but I want to capture my thoughts about the final, triumphant date of the Love Tour at Birmingham's stunning Symphony Hall before they become intermingled with memories of other dates and other venues. But how to corral those thoughts when the sights and sounds and emotions of twenty-four hours ago are still chasing each other in and around and out of my head full-tilt? I think I'll try the oblique approach ...
The tour ended on a glorious, sunny Spring day, in stark but welcome contrast to the ice and snow that threatened its beginning just two weeks before. How lucky we were in the end that the weather gods smiled on us (although the travel gods had other ideas at times).
I love those minutes before a concert, friends gathering, greetings, exclamations of excitement ... and on this occasion, an audible gasp as we entered the auditorium (left). I have been to the Symphony Hall before, but had forgotten its impact, which was perhaps increased on this occasion by seeing it for a moment through Lee's eyes and recalling his tweet from earlier in the day: "Today is a big day for me. Very excited as I'm playing my own show at the Birmingham Symphony Hall where one of my heroes Tony Bennett played."
The buzz of anticipation crept ever higher, then the lights dimmed and the band walked on to whoops and applause, which faded momentarily as they played the now familiar opening bars of 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', then reached a crescendo as Lee burst through the centre doors at the rear of the stage and bounced down the steps, sliding to a halt at his mic stand with the widest imaginable grin on his face. And so it began...
I won't give a blow by blow account (although there is a link to the full setlist below) - there is another (you know who you are!) who can do so far better than I - but I will try to give a flavour of the afternoon for those who could not be there and capture a few memories for those who were.
After much gentle cajoling (not to mention outright begging) via Twitter, Lee had agreed to restore 'Hallelujah' to the setlist for this final concert ... of which more later, but I was delighted that 'Sail Away' had also made a return after its initial outing in Bournemouth. Other than that, the first half setlist was unchanged, but the passion and vocal excellence with which it was delivered reached new heights. From the lyrical simplicity of 'Better', to Lee's stylish nod to Tony Bennett with 'The Way You Look Tonight', via the wry raunchiness of 'Kiss', Lee took the audience with him every step of the way, with the final two songs of the half - 'Fix You' and 'Bring Him Home' - packing an emotional punch which brought many to tears and the whole audience to their feet.
They were to stand three times more in the second half ... twice for Lee - after 'Gethsemane', a truly stunning performance of a song which for me has been the outstanding memory of this tour and which left Lee barely able to speak to welcome Louise back to the stage, and after 'Anthem' - and also for Louise after her final rendition of the powerful rock ballad 'Squander', a well-deserved ovation for a beautiful and lovely lady who brought so much to the Love Tour.
If there was a fleeting moment of disappointment, it was that the eagerly awaited return of 'Hallelujah' was not to be ... it appeared on the setlist taped to the stage immediately after Music of the Night, but instead Lee introduced and went on to sing 'Your Song' which would normally have followed. He was lost in the emotion of the song at its end, thinking, he said, of his beautiful family, but then he glanced down at the setlist to see what was next and did an absolutely classic double-take as he realised what he'd done! Oh well ... there's always Worthing, and I've put in an early plea with Lee's tour manager, Neil (who incidentally deserves a round of applause all of his own for everything he has done to help make the tour such a brilliant experience for those who went along for the ride).
I cannot close without mention of Lee's fabulous band - he has had a seriously talented group of musicians around him on this tour and if the onstage fun is anything to go by, I imagine the backstage banter has been epic! So, take a bow boys ... Mason Neely, musical director extraordinaire, on drums (and occasional guitar), Jerry Crozier-Cole on guitar, Richie Blake on bass, Steven Reid Williams on keyboards and last, but very far from least, the brass boys - George Hogg on trumpet and the irrepressible Harry Brown on trombone.
The images that linger most powerfully as I write this include the utter delight on Lee's face as his eyes ranged around the auditorium drinking everything in, his step back in surprise as he called out to the second tier ledge to give him a shout and the third tier responded ... "up there too?!", the tremor of the microphone gripped tight in Lee's hand as his whole body literally vibrated with the strength of the emotion he poured into 'Gethsemane', the catch in his voice as he thanked people for coming out to see him, for allowing him to sing for them - these are things that will stay with me a long time, I hope they stay with Lee a lifetime. Judging from his tweet after it was all over, I think they just might: "Well..Blown away. That. Was incredible. Thank you so much Birmingham and to everyone that came to our gig. Brilliant, I'm on cloud nine. X"
This tour was in a different league to anything we have seen from Lee before and he ended it on the highest possible note. What next musically? I guess we'll have to wait and see, but whatever it is, he will no doubt exceed my very high expectations ... he does every time.
Click for the full setlist with band credits and a few extras you might enjoy. Scans of the programme are also included below or on the setlist page as appropriate and I also include a couple of photos from near the end of a very long signing queue, where Lee still had time and smiles for everyone. Thanks as ever to the lovely Phill on camera duty (who also deserves a round of applause for capturing so many wonderful photographs ... not to mention for those beautifully tailored suits!)! And finally, evidence that 'Hallelujah' really was on the setlist ;)
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
Last updated: 14 February 2015