STEVE AND LEE .. BOTH SIDES NOW
Partly through lack of time but also through a desire to allow a little objectivity to seep back into my views of the weekend's gigs, I've waited a few days before writing my report. In all honesty, I can't say that objectivity has made a huge amount of headway, but here goes!
The two gigs in the familiar, intimate space of Chelsea's Pheasantry, where both men have played their own gigs before and guested at each others, marked the launch of a new musical collaboration between two supremely talented performers with a wealth of theatrical and musical experience between them - Stephen Rahman-Hughes and Lee Mead, or 'Steve and Lee' as they are billed for this new show. Ever since the venture was first announced back in June, both men have talked about it with an infectious excitement - I can't recall when I last felt such a keen sense of anticipation for a show!
Sometimes that's a recipe for disappointment, but certainly not on this occasion. While still clearly a work-in-progress - a pause here and there to check what's next, a few 'who's line is this?' glances between the men, and laughter, so much laughter, when things didn't always happen quite as they expected - I sincerely hope that as they refine the act, they don't lose the easy spontaneity and sheer joy that makes it such an immense pleasure to watch. But I think it's in safe hands - the friendship between these two is writ large on all they do and makes them a hugely entertaining double act.
Steve and Lee were accompanied by two fabulous musicians - Steve Holness on piano and Don Richardson on bass - huge thanks to them for hitting all the right notes, not just musically (which goes without saying!) but in fitting right into the relaxed, irreverent mood of the evening. My thanks also to official photographer and good friend, Phill Cowndley, and to Steve and Lee's management team for permission to share a couple of his photos from Saturday evening here. You will find many more gorgeous examples of his work at the Steve and Lee - Both Sides Now Facebook page.
But what of the music, I hear you ask... it started, fittingly, with the first song they sang together (as a duet), at Steve's Hippodrome gig in March last year, a song and a delivery which highlights their friendship and sense of fun as effectively as it showcases their voices - 'Luck Be A Lady'. After that came a blend of duets and solos, new songs and old favourites, light-hearted lyrics and intense emotion, the familiar and the unexpected, all intermingled with stories and banter and laughter, so much laughter. Highlights were many and varied - from the beauty of their duet version of 'Make You Feel My Love' (pianist Steve played on the Adele recording of this wonderful Bob Dylan song) to the hilarity of Steve singing 'Can't Fight This Feeling' (from his last stage musical 'Rock of Ages') to Lee, from the Motown magic of 'Mercy, Mercy Me/What's Going On?' to a musical theatre first (for me, anyway) that was introduced to the set on Sunday night, a stunning duet arrangement of 'Bring Him Home'. As always, I include a full setlist for those who like to read the small print.
I keep mentioning the laughter - don't be fooled into thinking the quality of the music was in any way diminished by the fun the guys had, but that fun was such an intrinsic part of both evenings that I cannot recall the songs without also recalling the laughter - as I tweeted in the reflective quiet of Sunday afternoon: "Strongest sense from Steve and Lee 'Both Sides Now' is the sheer joy of it - so much laughter and voices to soothe your soul." That sense remains as strong now, and on a day when my soul is much in need of soothing, the memory brings a smile to both lips and heart.
While I love these two in concert, together or separately, and look forward to Lee's solo dates this year and next and further outings for Both Sides Now at Horsham and hopefully beyond, it's also great to know that both men will be back on the musical theatre stage again next year - Lee, after more than four years away busy with concerts and TV roles, as Caractacus Potts in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Steve in a role he can't yet reveal, but expect a casting announcement very soon!
Someone said to me during the interval on Sunday (and I paraphrase): "You could take this show and drop it straight into the late night TV schedule, it would be right at home there just as it is." As a measure of the success of the format, I'd say that's a pretty big tick in the box. The intimacy of the venue certainly gave the show that delicious 'in your living room' vibe and I'm intrigued to see how it translates to the more formal space of the Capitol Theatre in Horsham at the end of the month (tickets still available!). The atmosphere may be a little different but I have a feeling the men will relish the freedom of a larger stage and use it to full advantage, while the beefed-up band will bring new dimensions to the sound. We are also promised extra songs - there was mention of 'Don't Rain On My Parade', a West Side Story medley and a personal favourite, 'Did You Ever' - I can't wait to hear and see the Steve and Lee take on that!
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 5 November 2015