LEE MEAD .. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
After a three week gap (not totally without a Mead vocal or two thanks to his appearance at Brian McCann's 40/15 Cabaret), the tour reaches the lovely Yeovil Octagon. Last there just 16 months ago, Lee expresses his delight that it is again approaching a sell-out and leaves the audience, banked on three sides of the octagon, in no doubt that he is happy to be back.
Lee opens as usual with 'Where or When', starting so gently and building so slowly until with the last notes he reveals the full power of his remarkable voice, but where he would normally only pause to say a quick 'hello' before his second song, tonight he is almost bursting with the excitement of talking to us about his return to the musical theatre stage as Caractacus Potts in the UK Tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang next year - his face lights up and he quite literally bounces as he sings a line or two of the title song and 'Me Ol' Bamboo'! He confirms he will finish in Casualty in just four weeks (though happily will be on our TV screens for a few months more), adding that he hopes he may be able to return to the role in the future. He also reassures us that he will continue to tour his own show too ("my baby"), both before and after his five month run in Chitty. Keep an eye on the website for details as 2016 dates are now starting to be announced.
But back to the music, which on this night in Yeovil is nothing short of sublime... the first half follows the pattern of recent concerts, singing of foggy days and falling in love (and telling of first kisses!) before welcoming his guest, good friend ("the sister I never had") and Casualty co-star, Amanda Henderson, to the stage for the first of her two sets. Amanda's voice was a revelation when we first heard it on Lee's 2014 tour, and continues to be so to those hearing her for the first time. It makes me ponder just how many of the actors we see week in week out on our TV screens have such glorious hidden talents! Lee returns to close out the first half with four songs which epitomise the theme for this tour, inspired as it is by the classic Hollywood musical films of the 1940s and 50s.
I won't list every song but include, for those who are interested, a full setlist, with notes of the musical films in which the songs first appeared.
Lee returns after the interval minus his jacket (lovely waistcoat, Mr Mead!) but with all the sparks still flying! Early in the second half comes my personal favourite song of the set, though there are many close challengers... 'Feeling Good' is a song I've loved a long time and of which I've heard many fabulous versions, but Lee singing it now, at a time in his life when it is so very clearly true for him, gives it a resonance that is utterly compelling. It simultaneously fills my heart with joy and brings a tear to my eye... clever, that!
Hard to follow too, but Amanda does so with ease with her gorgeous version of 'Over the Rainbow', the start of a lovely segment where she shares the stage with Lee, at first watching from a stool by the piano as, with a nod to his musical hero Tony Bennett, he sings 'The Way You Look Tonight', then joining him centre stage for two fabulous duets - 'Fly Me To The Moon' keeping its place in the set after it first appeared last time out in Barnstaple and the glorious mash-up of 'Get Happy'/'Happy Days Are Here Again' (originally performed by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland) which is another of my personal show highlights. Lee took another opportunity to show off his rather fine footwork (first glimpsed during 'Singin' in the Rain' before the break), with a cheeky Cha-Cha (excellent hip action...!) - methinks he's after a place on Strictly if only he can squeeze it into his schedule!
Alone on the stage again, Lee soon introduces a variation to the regular set - he does so at most concerts to, in his own words, "shake things up a little" and keep it fresh - this time it is a song he heard a few days earlier at the Broadway to the Bay concert in Cardiff (a concert series, incidentally, that he was invited to perform in but he was already committed to the Yeovil gig on its final night), a song that we have heard him sing so beautifully on past tours - 'Bring Him Home'. Hearing it again after a little while, its purity, depth and power are stunning. He follows that with a song from the show for which he will always be remembered, 'Close Every Door', putting so much into the vocal that as that final long, passion-filled note finally fades he is left light-headed, gripping the mic stand for a moment as he laughs and shakes his head to clear it.
With the concert nearly at an end, there is just the finger-clicking, mockney 'I'll See You In My Dreams' before Lee runs off the stage to cheers, whistles and hugely appreciative applause, returning a short time later, wearing a hard hat and carrying an inflatable Budgie the Helicopter, as you do, which he's appropriated from the Octagon's prop room! The encore could only be one song, and led by the 'hardcore fans' in the front rows, the whole audience rises to their feet, singing, swaying and clapping along to 'Any Dream Will Do'.
Finally, huge thanks to Lee's fabulous band - led by his long-time musical director (and album producer) Mason Neely on drums, guitar and occasional ukulele, with Ashley Long on bass, Nick (a new face whose surname I know not!) on flute and sax, and Michael Riley on piano - and to Anne Stern for this lovely curtain-call photo in which some of them feature (from left: Ashley Taylor, Mason Neely, Lee, Amanda Henderson and Michael Riley).
I get a sense of deja vu when after nearly every concert I hear from those around me or find myself saying "that was the best yet", but Lee really does just keep getting better and better and with only three 2015 dates remaining on this amazing tour and Lee, in my humble opinion, in the form of his life, you should get to one of them if you possibly can - but book quickly, there are only a handful of tickets left for Winchester 8 November and Lichfield 21 November, a few more for the grand Christmas finale at London's Garrick Theatre on 6 December (if you were there last year, you'll know why this is so eagerly anticipated!). While many of these wonderful songs will be on Lee's new album (due for release in Spring 2016 but available for pre-order now!), others, including the sublime Feeling Good, don't make the final cut, so... if you want to hear them all (and trust me, you DO want to hear them all), you'll have to see them live!
Remaining tour dates and Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 27 October 2015