After the success of Lee's August 2013 residency, I was delighted to hear that he would again be playing three 'warm-up' gigs at the Pheasantry ahead of this new Some Enchanted Evening tour which kicks off in Bedworth on Sunday 19 July. I clearly wasn't alone in my delight - all three dates sold out within 24 hours!
I make only a brief report today, after the first date last night, to avoid spoilers for those yet to enjoy this most intimate of showcases for the new material Lee and his musical director, Mason Neely, have selected for the tour, and for the new album that will be recorded in time for release in Spring 2016.
Lee was his usual, chatty, funny, down-to-earth self, relaxing into the evening as the nerves he freely admitted to feeling calmed. He can be devastatingly honest at times in revealing the thoughts and emotions behind the selection of a particular song, and it is his ability to carry that feeling through to the song itself which makes his delivery so unique. The tour's theme is 1940's and 50's Hollywood musicals, and it is a rich seam to mine... though the date parameters were loosely applied to allow in one or two songs from both before and after this era, including my song of the night (but I'll save telling you which that was until after the final gig on Sunday).
Also included were a handful of more contemporary numbers, including two we'd not heard from Lee before, two guests - the lovely Daniel Boys and a first performance in front of an audience for Jon Trevor, the personal trainer Lee and his fellow contestants had worked with on Any Dream Will Do! - and a spontaneouos Q&A shortly after the interval. It seems we will see Lee back at the Pheasantry again before too long, with Stephen Rahman-Hughes for their new Both Sides Now collaboration, with shows on 31 October and 1 November ahead of their final outing for 2015 at Horsham's Capitol Theatre on 29 November, and hopefully also to launch his new album in the Spring. I found the 'quest for perfection' reason for the deferred album release very interesting - I've always loved how Lee's interpretation and performance of a song evolves over the course of a tour, and putting the recording back until after this process makes perfect sense to me! Oh, and if anyone needs 'curl care' advice, Lee's your man!
On Saturday evening, with 'first night' nerves behind him, Lee took the whole set to another level - my 'song of the night' from Friday topped the bill again for me on Saturday, as much for what it means to Lee as for how he sings it... though they are perhaps one and the same thing. He has always touched the heart most readily with songs that have personal resonance for him and that is very much the case with this new set, but there's humour too and swagger and power and stories... it simply wouldn't be a Lee concert without the stories! UPDATE: There was another Q&A too, and the big news from this one (which I'll include now he's also mentioned it in press interviews) is that Lofty is getting his first storyline - no details, as you'd expect, but Lee starts shooting in September for about 10 weeks through until he breaks for panto, which should put it on our screens in the early months of 2016... exciting!
On Sunday evening, the guests were new but much of the audience were back for their final taste of wonderful at the last of these three glorious warm-up gigs. Such gigs generally serve a dual purpose, allowing the performer to ease his way into a new set in a potentially more forgiving environment than the tour proper while whetting the audience's appetite for more - in Lee's case, with this audience, forgiveness would have been unquestioning had it been required, but the occasional hiccup in running order or intro couldn't begin to detract from the quality and emotional power of his performance, and their appetite for more requires very little whetting!
Joining Lee this time were his main tour guest and Casualty co-star, Amanda Henderson, enjoying her own tour warm-up, and an old friend of Lee's from Tommy days, Brian McCann, currently on the UK tour of Wicked, and his colleague from that tour, Natalie Green. They were there to give a debut performance of a song written by Brian following the sudden death of a schoolfriend of his who had suffered an epileptic fit in his sleep. 'Song for Paul', will be released on iTunes soon, with proceeds being split between Epilepsy Ireland, in memory of Paul, and MS Society UK, in recognition of Natalie's Mum's ongoing battle with MS. I'll add a link when it's available.
So, it's all over now... but it's only three weeks before it starts again on grander scale with the first tour date in Bedworth (tickets still available!). For reasons mentioned earlier, my personal highlight was Feeling Good, as it was for many judging by the conversations I had during the weekend... but there are other songs weaving a subtler magic which I already find myself humming. The chance to enjoy more of that enchantment throughout the rest of this year (and maybe into next Spring if the proposed 'northern tour loop' comes to pass) is a heady prospect indeed.
I have included full setlists for those who wish to delve and there are also a few (non-flash, non-motor drive!) photos from Friday night below, mostly from the first half before Lee's jacket came off and my battery died! Phill Cowndley was on official snapper duties on Friday and Saturday and several of his gorgeous photos can be seen on Lee's official Facebook page.
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
Last updated: 11 July 2015