The final touring date for Lee in 2014 was back at the seaside in Clacton and while it was perhaps not at its most appealing on a rainy Sunday in November, what it lacked in sunshine, it more than made up for in the warmth of its welcome - from the diner we ate in before the show, to the charming West Cliff Theatre staffed entirely by volunteers, the people were without exception lovely.
Fitting then that they, and fans from further afield, were to be entertained by the man who (and I quote the Daily Express here) "has been dubbed the nicest man in the music industry". And entertain us he most certainly did, though right from the start, the audience also played their part... a voice calling out "my mum loves you!" as Lee walked to the mic and stilled to sing the opening line of his opening number, greeted by a burst of shared laughter from stage and Stalls, set the happy, relaxed tone for the evening.
The anticipated return of Stephen Rahman-Hughes to the tour was deferred until the Christmas show at London's Garrick Theatre on 7 December (limited tickets still available!), after he was called away to Milan last-minute, but the lovely Amanda Henderson again joined Lee and shared her beautiful versions of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and 'As Long As He Needs Me'. It has been a joy to see Amanda blossom from her debut back in May at the opening concert of the tour in Cardiff, when she conquered evident nerves to duet with Lee, into the confident and assured performer she is now. She is of course no newcomer to the stage, having been in the West End production of Oliver for two years, but as Lee has so often said himself, standing there as yourself is a very different prospect from performing in character. I look forward to seeing her again at the Christmas show.
Lee was supported by his brilliant band, led as always by his musical director and long-time collaborator, Mason Neeley, on drums and guitar, with Richie Blake on bass and Michael Riley on keyboards, and special mention must also go to the West Cliff lighting designer/technician, Keith Harris, for putting on the best lighting show of the tour.
The 'end of term' vibe that often pervades the final dates of a tour was definitely in force, with Lee in deliciously cheeky mood leading to several moments of great hilarity . But leaving the fun to one side, it was quite rightly his gloriously rich and expressive voice that stole the show . The changes to the setlist we saw last time out in High Wycombe remained - moving Close Every Door to the end of the first half works well and was preceded on this occasion by a rare dedication... to Jessie, who (with her anonymous husband!) was celebrating her diamond wedding anniversary.
Applause was loud and long after every song, but it was the big musical theatre numbers that brought people to their feet, again and again - for 'Close Every Door', 'Bring Him Home' and finally 'Anthem'. There was also an addition... a new song - John Legend's 'All of Me' - which for me and many others I've spoken to was the highlight of the evening. Lee has tweeted his admiration for both Legend and this song before and it struck me then that its thoughtful lyrics and haunting melody would be a perfect fit for him ... I wasn't wrong! Singling out one song, when each delighted, always seems wrong, but it was a real privilege to be there for this 'first' , performed so beautifully. With Christmas songs on the bill for the Garrick concert, some of the 'regulars' will no doubt have to be dropped - I do hope that 'All of Me', though new to the fold, survives the cull!
As always, I have detailed the full setlist and include below a few photos, with grateful thanks to the lovely Anne Stern for the final four.
Lee's full concert schedule (including past performances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 18 November 2014