It was back to the seaside for the last of three Welsh dates in Lee's 2014 tour, this time on the west coast in Aberystwyth. The University's Arts Centre is a versatile venue with a fantastic rake, giving everyone a first-class view of the first-class entertainment before them. Unfortunately, rather than a sea of black behind the spotlights, it also gave Lee a view of his audience - something we have learned in the past he finds somewhat disconcerting! Telling the audience they look horrible may not be the most conventional way to earn their appreciation, but once he stopped digging and started singing they would have forgiven him anything!
Lee was supported, as usual, by his fabulous three-piece band, led by his long-time musical director, Mason Neely, with Richie Blake on bass and a new face (who I later discovered was Nigel Hart) at the keyboard of a very imposing grand piano. His only guest on this occasion was the lovely Amanda Henderson, his friend both on and off set at Casualty, and a very talented singer with a wonderful warmth to her voice which reflects her personality. Her first solo of the night was a beautiful arrangement of 'Over the Rainbow', apparently a last-minute addition to the set, inspired perhaps by the stunning double rainbow Lee tweeted about seeing on their journey north from Cardiff. She also joined Lee in the love duet from Wicked 'As Long As You're Mine' (which Lee confesses feels slightly weird when sung to a mate), before returning later in the second half for her final solo, 'As Long As He Needs Me' from Oliver.
One of the things I find most appealing about Lee as a performer is that no two concerts are ever the same - the set list may be constant, the line-up likewise (though in Aberystwyth there were variations in both), but even for those among his audience who have seen both before, many times in some cases, Lee somehow makes every gig unique. He has talked in interviews (and did so again today when talking to Nick Cotter at BBC 3CR) about keeping it fresh six or twelve months into a West End run by remembering that every show is the first show for the audience on the other side of the lights (for most of them anyway!). His tours do not have the relentless schedule of an eight-show a week West End production, nor the tight constraints of a script, but order and structure are of course still very much required and it would be easy to simply 'dial in' a performance, particularly after a long, tiring week on set at Casualty. But that's not Lee - I've never seen him give less to a show than his full energy, talent and passion for what he does and it makes him a compelling presence on stage.
I include the setlist on a separate page and it is full of delicious highlights, my personal favourite this time being Tony Bennett's 'The Way You Look Tonight' - the way Lee looked, and sounded, as he sang it will stay long in my memory . Oh and a brief moment of hilarity at the end of the first half, which wouldn't mean anything in the re-telling, but which will make me chuckle whenever I recall it!
There are only three more chances this year to see Lee in the form of his life... two later this month - at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe on Wednesday 12 November and the West Cliff Theatre, Clacton-on-Sea on Sunday 16 November - and the grand finale Christmas with Lee Mead at London's Garrick Theatre on Sunday 7 December. All three will be fabulous but there will be something extra special about the Christmas show and tickets are fast selling out - I'm sure there are many delightful surprises in store for us that night, but for now can I just whisper 'snow machine' in your ear ;-)
Finally, I include a few photographs below (and top right) from this wonderful evening...
First published: 3 November 2014