LEE MEAD .. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
I must apologise for the time it has taken for me to write this report - work has been rather getting in the way of fun in recent weeks and this is the first occasion I've had time to sit down and reflect on what was a thoroughly fitting finale to a truly wonderful tour. Let's see how well my memory serves...
Before I go any further, let me first record my huge thanks to Lee's fabulous band - led as always by musical director Mason Neely on drums, guitar and occasional ukulele, with Ashley Long on bass, Rhys Taylor on clarinet, flute and sax, and on piano for the first time this tour, Will Stuart, whose ever-smiling face and magic fingers are always a welcome addition to the stage. My thanks also to Phill Cowndley, whose gorgeous photographs are displayed below, and to Eclipse Artists Agency for permission to share them. You can see more of Phill's photographs from the concert on the Officially Lee Mead Facebook page.
After last year's hugely successful Garrick Christmas gig, the anticipation for this one had been huge and the room buzzed with palpable excitement as the band took their places and started to play. The tone for the evening was set from the start as Lee sauntered on sporting a very fetching bow tie and Christmas jumper combo with pipe in hand and wandered over to inspect the Christmas tree before returning to his mic centre stage to open with 'Winter Wonderland'.
When the last note died, he chatted awhile, introducing us to Frosty the Snowman sitting stage right - "he has a surprise for you later!" - and asking if we liked his pipe. Grandpa Bert's pipe as it happened, which obviously held fond memories for him though he added "it's disgusting, don't smoke!" before tucking it away in his trouser pocket and talking of the tour, and everything that lay ahead - Aladdin at the Birmingham Hippodrome, more tour dates and the launch of his fourth album, also Some Enchanted Evening next March (though it's available to pre-order now!) and last but not least starring as Caractacus Potts in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang next summer. Busy man... lucky us!
A little later Lee reduced both the audience and himself to giggles when he paused before 'I Fall in Love Too Easily' to take the pipe from his pocket, placing it carefully on the music stand as he said "I'm moving this because it looks like something else!". Laughter is never far away at a Meady gig, and that was certainly the case on this most enchanted of evenings as he mingled Christmas songs with a slightly cut-down tour set, and was joined on stage in the first half by two guests, both very good friends of his and firm favourites with the 'regulars' in the audience. First the lovely Amanda Henderson, who has been Lee's guest all tour and who will be much missed from next year's dates if her Casualty filming commitments prevent her from joining him again, and later Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Lee's partner in a new musical collaboration, Steve and Lee, who played their first three Both Sides Now dates in 2015 and I very much hope will add more next year.
The festive theme continued as Amanda added 'The Christmas Song' to her much-loved mash-up of 'I Got Rhythm/It Don't Mean a Thing..' (that is, she added it to her song choices, not to the mash-up itself!) accompanied by Frosty blowing snow over the front rows of the audience as more fell from above, while Stephen sang one of my favourite Christmas songs, 'Oh Holy Night' - so beautiful. He told me after that it was the first time he'd sung it and he seemed unduly pleased to hear he'd wrecked my mascara in the process!
The second half opened with 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree' followed by my personal favourite from the 2015 tour set and a song Lee is "really enjoying singing at the moment", 'Feeling Good'. He introduced it with the FANTASTIC news that he has now put the song on his new album "because the fans wanted it on there" - thank you so much Lee, I could not have been more delighted to hear this! Whether or not it proves possible to capture in the studio the power and emotion that Lee brings to his stunning live performance remains to be seen, but if ever a track needed to be preserved for posterity, this track at this time in Lee's life is one.
As if that wasn't enough, another delightful surprise followed when Lee introduced a third guest, who he'd met on the Casualty set, the phenomentally talented Tracie Bennett. She is perhaps best known in West End terms for her award-winning protrayal of Judy Garland in Over The Rainbow and so it was entirely fitting that she joined Lee in the fabulous 'Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again' duet, originally made famous by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, which he has sung with Amanda during the tour. Tracie, in typically down-to-earth fashion, told the story of their brief rehearsal a couple of days earlier when Lee had started singing, only for her to say "that's my bit"! After a brief flurry of "but I can't do the other bit" and "well I certainly can't" she agreed that, as it was his show and he was a good friend, she would learn the Barbra part... it could have been a car crash, but it was of course a complete triumph. What a treat... as Lee said afterwards "she's the real deal", as is he in my humble opinion, and I get goosebumps even now just remembering it.
This was flanked by duets with Amanda and Stephen - 'Baby It's Cold Outside' and 'Don't Rain on My Parade' respectively - and Amanda also returned later with her beautiful version of 'Over The Rainbow' which has been such a highlight throughout the tour. It was lovely too to hear Lee sing 'Silent Night' for the first time (I think) in the UK, though it did feature on his 2011 Japanese tour, but perhaps the most emotional moment came towards the end of the show when Lee took a number that is always moving in his hands, 'Bring Him Home', and dedicated it to the victims of the recent horrific Paris attacks, expressing a sentiment that I'm sure many of us echo when he said "I want to say to those people 'we won't be beaten, we'll keep living our lives'". Well said sir, and it goes without saying, exquisitely sung.
As always, I haven't mentioned every song but include, for those who are interested, a full setlist. For me, the show was a complete joy and more than lived up to my unashamedly high expectations, hitting all the right notes both musically and emotionally, and as the snow drifted gently down from on high (no blizzards soaking the Stalls this year!), an encore of 'White Christmas' segued smoothly into the song that Lee will be singing 'til he's old and grey... the audience joining in loudly and joyfully with the 'ah ah ahs', before heading home with beaming smiles and full of Christmas spirit!
Next year's tour dates and Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 26 December 2015