What started as a single concert, first grew into a long weekend of Lee's ever popular "An Evening with..." shows in late September and, with the addition of two dates earlier in the month and one in August on the Isle of Man in aid of Junior Achievement, eventually became a mini-UK tour - one to be treasured most highly as Lee's filming commitments to Casualty will mean it's a long time before he takes to the road again.
The itinerary made as much sense as most tours - ping-ponging from northwest to south a couple of times before settling in the Midlands for the final two dates - the road trips were highly entertaining and, as always, it was lovely to see so many friends along the way!
Lee was joined by special guest, Robyn Mellor, who many of his fans will remember as Princess Apricot to Lee's Jack in Jack & the Beanstalk last Christmas, and backed by his talented band, led once again by musical director, Mason Neely, on drums and rhythm guitar, with Steven Reid Williams on keys and Richie Blake on bass.
Lee had warmed up for this tour with a series of intimate cabaret gigs at The Pheasantry, trying out some new material from the classic musical film era which went down extremely well in the London venue, and no less so when he hit the road. I have never heard Lee in finer voice than he is right now and his choice of songs allows him to perform at his very best, showing both his incredible vocal power and range and his extraordinary feel for a song - a stunning combination!
In my view, and having spoken to many fans throughout the tour I know I'm far from alone in holding it, this has been Lee's best tour to date. I have already spoken of his choice of material - it offered many challenges and Lee rose readily to every one. He was vocally stunning, but equally assured in his engagement with the audiences - confident but never arrogant, funny but also sensitive and eloquent when the subject occasionally became more serious, fearless in laying bare his emotions in song. I think he probably surprised many of those who hadn't seen him since Joseph days by just how far he's come since, he certainly delighted all I spoke to and, without a doubt, gained many new fans along the road.
I have written separate reports for the Douglas and Barrow concerts, but for the late September dates will just record below a few of the more memorable moments from each gig and add a few photos where I have them. The wonderful setlist was a constant from Barrow through to the end of the tour (and only one song different in Douglas) and is detailed HERE.
Friday 23rd August 2013, 8.00pm - Villa Marina, Douglas, Isle of Man - report
Sunday 15th September 2013, 7.30pm - The Forum, Barrow-in-Furness - report
Tuesday 24th September 2013, 7.30pm - Shanklin Theatre, Shanklin, Isle of Wight
The trip to Shanklin on a glorious sunny day was as much a part of the 'event' as the concert itself - there's always something magical about crossing the sea, especially with such rich reward at the end of the journey! Lee was in great form, very excited finally to be able to talk about the series regular role he's landed in BBC's long-running drama, Casualty, and telling the audience a little of his character's back story. Being booked on the last ferry home, he had time to spare and allowed his talkative side full rein. He was also very happy to stay and sign for what looked like the whole audience at the end of the concert. Finally, a word of thanks for the wonderful volunteers who staff this community-run theatre with good humour and endless patience.
Thursday 26th September 2013, 8.00pm - The Platform, Morecambe
The drive to Morecambe was distinctly less pleasant, lashing rain and gail force winds, but at least it wasn't snow and the end game was worth every mile! The Platform is, as its name implies, an old railway station with unreserved untiered seating arranged over eight wide rows, with two angled 'wings' of seats to the side. The view, even from the back, was excellent and the sound quality surprisingly good, although from what Lee said later, the acoustics were a little challenging from his perspective. Two things unique to this concert linger in my memory - in the first half, Lee reading out a letter given to him by the parents of a long-time fan and dedicating to her the song he usually sings for his own daughter, Here Comes the Sun, and in the second, a couple taking advantage of the free floorspace to the side of the stage to get up and dance (very well!) to Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Lee also mentioned he hadn't managed to walk far enough before the show to see the famous status of Eric Morecambe on the seafront (pictured below), but I was happy to hear from him later in the tour that Mason had stopped the car on the way out of town for him to catch a brief glimpse in the dark!
A few photos (taken, as usual, without flash):
Friday 27th September 2013, 7.30pm - Camberley Theatre, Camberley
I was surprised to hear soundcheck still in progress as we arrived at around 6pm for a bite to eat before the show, but traffic jams are no respecters of schedules and Lee, Robyn and the band had got stuck in a doozie on their way from Morecambe! I was very happy to have missed it, although leaving Morecambe at 5.50am and taking a somewhat indirect route to collect my tour buddy, I'd still clocked up nearly 500 miles and 9 hours behind the wheel by the time I got to Camberley! But any tiredness fades with the lights as Steve strolls on to a ripple of applause, taking his seat at the piano to play the opening bars of Pure Imagination, then louder applause as Lee appears, dark suit, dark shirt, dark curls gleaming under the lights, and takes his place centre stage... and so the magic begins again! Power and passion, wit and whimsy, cheeky moves, steely clarity, honeyed warmth, exquisite tenderness, tears and laughter, stillness, silliness, standing ovation... an evening with Lee Mead!
I have the lovely Phill Cowndley to thank for most of the remaining photos, including these from Camberley:
Saturday 28th September 2013, 7.30pm - Civic Hall, Bedworth
Bedworth was the first of these dates to be announced and Lee said at the time how honoured he was to be invited to help celebrate the Civic Hall's 40th Anniversary. The red carpet was out, the Mayor in attendance, and a packed house was in party mood. It was an incredible concert - Lee feeding off the atmosphere and performing out of his skin, even treating us to a brief snippet of Nessun Dorma in honour of Pavarotti, a past performer at the venue, and taking advantage of the low stage to leap down and venture into the audience, not once but twice! One fan in particular has good cause to remember this concert - I won't embarass her again, it's enough that those there, and of course Lee, know the story! He also gave a call out to his international fans, with visitors from the Netherlands, Norway, the USA and Australia in the house, and was greeted by quite a crowd at the Stage Door after the show.
Phill is to thank for all but one of these Bedworth photos too, the exception coming from the equally lovely Abs:
Sunday 29th September 2013, 7.30pm - Town Hall, Cheltenham
Lee returned to Cheltenham's beautiful Town Hall for the final date of the tour - a venue he last played in December 2010, in two Christmas concerts for Gloucestershire's WI! I would imagine it's not the easiest venue to play, with the house lights never completely dark and a high stage putting the performers well above the heads of an audience stretching far, far back in unraked seating, but Lee made it look easy! There may have been no dancing in the aisles at Cheltenham, but if Lee was in any doubt about how much everyone enjoyed the show, that was soon dispelled by the huge signing queue that greeted him, snaking out of the bar area down the long, long corridor and back into the hall. He had time and words for all and was still smiling his gorgeous smile an hour and a half later when the final few filed past.
Grateful thanks again to Phill for these wonderful photos:
Finally, my personal thanks to Lee's management for arranging pre-sales for phone bookings at Camberley, Cheltenham, Shanklin and Barrow, a gesture which I know was very much appreciated by the fans.
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
Last updated: 30 September 2013