But his personal history with the venue goes back even further - it was the first stage he ever performed on, singing with a massed children's choir aged six or seven, and he was back aged fifteen for two weeks' work experience, sweeping the very stage he now commands with a ready charm and stunning voice!
Lee's third UK tour has been strewn gently through the year since opening in Cardiff on 4 May, allowing him to balance his TV commitments and his all-important family life, with a love of performing live that was never more evident than in front of his home crowd on Sunday night. Although the Christmas show at London's Garrick Theatre on 7 December will be the much-anticipated finale, Lee left his audience in no doubt that, for him, Southend was the 'big night' of the tour.
He was mildly hyper from the start, nerves heightened by the occasion, highlighting just how much it matters to him to be able to do what he does. The stories were a little longer, the tangent-hopping a little wilder, laughter never far away in the interludes between the songs... and during some, Lee's comic timing oft deployed to great effect! But for me, it is when Lee draws his audience into more thoughtful, sometimes darker, places that the full power of his performance becomes apparent. He unerringly finds the very heart of a lyric, his voice tenderly caressing the words or sending them soaring defiantly, pleadingly, joyously, filling the air with glorious noise.
In honour of the occasion, Lee's small but perfectly-formed band - musical director, Mason Neely, on drums and acoustic guitar, Richie Blake on bass and Michael Riley on keyboards - was doubled in number with the addition of a brass section, which included George Hogg, last seen on the Love Tour, on trumpet, together with as yet anonymous sax and trombone, adding a new dimension to the sound for this larger venue.
Completing the line-up was not one, not two, but THREE guests, all good friends of Lee's:
- the multi-talented Stephen Rahman-Hughes, who had hot-footed it from the Rock of Ages tour in Hull to join Lee for this special night, singing 'Nature Boy', the beautiful Joni Mitchell song, 'A Case of You' and Simon & Garfunkel's iconic 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', as well as joining Lee for their now-famous double act performance of 'Luck Be A Lady';
- Lee's co-star from Casualty, the lovely Amanda Henderson, singing the love duet from Wicked 'As Long As You're Mine' with Lee, and her beautiful version of 'As Long As He Needs Me' from Oliver; and
- a last-minute surprise appearance by Rhydian Roberts, who joined Lee in an almost unrehearsed but absolutely stunning rendition of 'Anthem' from Chess.
As always, I include the full setlist and also share a few photos below, with my ever-grateful thanks to the lovely Anne Stern (click on any to view full Gallery):
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
Last updated: 6 October 2014