I initially took twenty-four hours to reflect on the show before trying to put my thoughts into words but then life rudely intervened and it is now from more than a week's distance that I put fingers to keyboard... yet the memories are still as clear as Lee's voice on that last, lingering note of 'Bring Him Home'. Many of you were there of course, and need no help from me to remember, but for those who weren't, I'll see if I can't conjure up with words just a little of the Meady magic that lit up the room that night.
I'd been talking of this show as the tour's 'grand finale' for months, hash tagging it on Twitter as the #gigoftheyear as it drew near... expectations and excitement levels were off the scale, but while reality often fails to live up to such hype, Lee has never yet disappointed me and you have only to read some of the many, many post-show tweets, including the one below from Lee himself, to see that he was in absolutely no danger of doing so this time!
Still buzzing after last night's show, thank you again to everyone who came along to the Garrick. One of the best nights of my life. X— Lee Mead (@leemeadofficial) December 8, 2014
But I'm getting ahead of myself... before I go any further, my thanks to good friends and fab photographers, Phill Cowndley and Anne Stern, for the gorgeous photos that accompany my words. They capture some of the very best moments of a wonderful evening on which the Garrick was a sell-out, the theatre packed to the rafters with people in the mood to party, including many of Lee's colleagues from the cast and crew of Casualty who had travelled up from Cardiff to see 'the Loftmeister' (copyright George Rainsford, aka Dr Ethan!) do his thing. I took my seat surrounded by the sight and sound, so familiar now at a Meady gig, of excited friends happily greeting each other, separated by time and distance, but united by their support for a curly dude without whom most would never have even met.
The stage was fuller than we've been used to... the extra music stands (and the programme - see below!) confirming the presence of the 'brass boys' to swell the size and sound of Lee's three-piece tour band for this special gig. The band was led, as always, by Lee's long-time musical director, Mason Neely, on drums and acoustic guitar, with Neil Charles on bass, Michael Riley on keyboards, the inimitable Harry Brown on trombone and George Hogg on trumpet, both familiar to Lee's fans from Love Tour days, and completing the lineup, Jim Hunt on sax.
The lights dimmed as Michael Riley took his seat, the hubbub rising briefly to a burst of exclamation and applause before fading to silence as he played the opening bars of the song Lee has opened the show with throughout this sensational 2014 tour - 'Pure Imagination'. Applause from one corner of the front Stalls signalled Lee's appearance in the wings a moment before he walked out into full view, the whole house erupting in a crescendo of cheers, whoops and whistles which only calmed as Lee said a few light words before starting to sing.
From that moment, the spell was cast... the audience enchanted first by his voice, then by his sheer delight in being there and by his slightly geeky charm as he told the tragic tale of a toasted tux, managing a quick plug along the way for the panto he was then in mid-rehearsals for ("Cinderella - New Theatre, Cardiff - Prince Charming"), and finally by his disarming honesty in talking about his life, whether it be his mission to taste test every food outlet's Christmas sandwich or the painful time he has been through personally.
Though Lee's concerts are always a great mix of music and chat, for me it is the music that invariably makes the most impact, but I really can't say that this time. Don't get me wrong, the music was outstanding and the addition of a liberal sprinkling of Christmas songs an absolute delight, but laughter was very much an integral part of this show and it is the words and scenes that caused it that are still running through my head, triggering apparently random bursts of giggles at frequent intervals.
But back to the music for a while... Lee's Elvis lip curl was deployed to great effect in the first seasonal song of the night, 'Blue Christmas', before he returned to his regular tour setlist for two songs from the classic Hollywood musical film era, giving a thrilling taster of the theme for his next album due for release in the summer and the associated Some Enchanted Evening 2015 UK tour. He then gave us his much-loved 'Chestnuts' (more formally known as The Christmas Song)... his mellow tones overshadowed briefly by a rushing sound from the wings as a snow machine made its presence heard before its effects were seen! Lots of snow, lots of laughter, with more a little later as a man appeared at the edge of the stage warming his hands at a brazier and Lee drew a pipe from his jacket pocket... Lee later blaming the actor in him for being unable to resist creating the wintry scene!
As ever, I find it almost impossible to pick out individual highlights as there were quite simply no low points, so it is mostly the festive elements, unique to this wonderful show, that I will focus on here (although I have also included a full setlist for the record).
Lee's first guest and good friend, the multi-talented Stephen Rahman-Hughes, joined him on stage sporting a very fine jingle bell-trimmed Christmas jumper... the Mead/Rahman-H double act we have seen so often during the tour went into full swing as first Lee complained about Stephen's lack of effort compared to his own tuxedo (a great reversal of 'shirt-gate' from Stephen's Hippodrome gig), before Stephen revealed he'd bought a jumper for Lee too and sent him off to put it on! These two duetting with 'Luck Be a Lady' is always a humour-filled highlight of the show, and the Christmas jumpers simply ramped up the hilarity and provided a classic image for the memory banks. Stephen rounded off his first 'spot' with another Christmas number 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' and a favourite of his, and mine, 'Nature Boy'.
Lee's second guest of the evening was another tour favourite, the lovely Amanda Henderson who was greeted with noisy enthusiasm by her Casualty colleagues (and the rest of the audience!). For those who know her only for her portrayal of Nurse Robyn, Amanda's voice has been something of a revelation making her performance of the hauntingly beautiful Eva Cassidy arrangement of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' one of the highlights of the tour. It was wonderful to hear it again at the Garrick, but for Christmas we were also treated to a second duet with Lee, 'Baby It's Cold Outside'... there was another version sung that night, Buble and Menzel was it? They did a good job by all accounts, but I do believe the Garrick had the better end of that deal ;-)
Early in the second half Lee excitedly told us that he was due to record a radio show the following week for BBC Essex, to be broadcast on Christmas Day. (Some of you may even have been asked to record a few words for the show while at the Garrick!) It is now confirmed in the schedules where it is billed as a "BBC Essex Special - Lee Mead's home for Christmas. He brings you special guests and festive music" and will air from 12.00 til 2.00pm. You could of course listen online or, for those who were a tad busy just then, the show was also available to Listen Again until late January. (You can now listen or download HERE.) He added that if it went well, they were hoping to do a weekly show, before his natural modesty came to the fore, cautioning "don't get ahead of yourself, Lee!" Fingers crossed it goes brilliantly then, as a regular radio slot would be a lovely treat to look forward to in 2015.
I think perhaps I'd better wrap this up like the present it was before you all fall asleep in front of the fire... but I really can't go without mentioning the snow. No, not that mild flurry I mentioned earlier, but the full-blown blizzard that engulfed the Stalls towards the end of the evening... it was during the penultimate Christmas song of the show, 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' when the snow machine in the wings was joined by its big brother in the gods, producing the best indoor snow I've ever seen, the most laughter I've ever had at a concert (or any show for that matter!) and the final story of the night which opened with "You know when you get a good idea in your head..."
Lee went on to recount how the snow machine he'd had for his Coliseum gig had produced only a few squares of white paper during the final song and he'd been determined to have 'proper snow' this time out. The equipment had cost him £600 and he'd even had to get a permit from Westminster Council to use it inside but, oh my, did he have proper snow! We had almost stopped laughing as Lee started his next song and there was only one thing it could be really... 'White Christmas'. He was joined on stage by Stephen (complete with sled and Lee's Christmas jumper) and Amanda in fur-trimmed cape to sing it out before they segued into 'Any Dream Will Do' to close the show.
And on that note I'll leave you, with a few more photos from Anne and Phill, a pointer to the website of Nikki Lewis, where you will find even more photographic delights, and some scans of the programme for you to enjoy. I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and wonderful, Meadyful year ahead!
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
Last updated: 6 February 2015