LEE MEAD .. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
At the end of a run of weekend concerts which has taken Lee (and many of his fans) from a tiny West End basement club for Brian McCann's 40/15 Cabaret, via a return visit with this new tour to Yeovil's Octagon Theatre to two sell-out shows at London's Pheasantry for his new musical collaboration with great friend Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Both Sides Now, he arrives at the very beautiful (and very full!) Theatre Royal in Winchester with a beaming smile and a bounce in his step.
Wearing a tux with pleated dress shirt but no tie, he exudes the casual elegance so suited to the era he has chosen as the inspiration for his latest tour and fourth album (due out in the Spring but available to pre-order now!) - that of the golden age of Hollywood musical films from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. A bygone age given new life by the arrangements of Lee's long-time musical director and album producer, Mason Neely, and the voice of a man at the very top of his game.
After two gigs of new material last weekend with Both Sides Now (and very wonderful new material it is at that - tickets still available for their last scheduled concert at Horsham on 29 November, highly recommended!), Lee returns to his tour set with a swagger, oozing confidence while never losing the humility that shows in his self-deprecating humour and oft-voiced appreciation of how fortunate he is to be where he is, doing what he's doing. It's this charming contradiction which never fails to lift a Lee Mead concert from the realms of merely excellent music to truly fabulous entertainment. But for all the laughter, stories and 'Strictly audition' dancesteps... for me, it is still the music that holds the real magic, the power to entrance, never mind enchant!
If you've read any of my previous reports, you'll know that one song has remained my personal favourite throughout - Feeling Good - and its the honesty behind Lee's incredible performance of this standard that gives it such power. But this is true also of the whole set - no casually chosen songs here, rather a set carefully crafted by a man who knows that when he connects with a song, with its lyrics, with its heart or its history, he gives his absolute best to the audience. This applies as much to the more showy numbers, such as 'Singin' In The Rain' or 'Luck Be A Lady', chosen for the childhood memories they invoke of Saturday afternoons lying on his belly in front of the TV enthralled by those classic Hollywood musicals, as it is of the more reflective songs, those that tell a story that chimes with Lee, such as 'I Fall In Love Too Easily' or one of the more contemporary numbers 'Lullabye'. And whatever the mood, the delivery is spot on - Lee's voice caresses and growls, teases and soars, filling the room with its richness and power.
Supporting Lee, as she has been all tour, is his Casualty co-star (for a few more weeks at least) and good friend, the gorgeous Amanda Henderson - her sensational voice more than a match for Lee in their fabulous duet mash-up of 'Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again' and soaring to the rafters in her stand-out solo, a song she has loved and sung all her life, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. I will miss her contribution to the magic if her own Casualty filming commitments prevent her joining Lee on tour in 2016.
As usual, I won't list every song but include, for those who are interested, a full setlist, with notes of the musical films in which the songs first appeared.
Finally, huge thanks to Lee's fabulous band - led by musical director Mason Neely on drums, guitar and occasional ukulele, with Ashley Long on bass, Rhys Taylor returning on clarinet, flute and sax, and Michael Riley on piano. I don't know whether they'd had three Shredded Wheat for breakfast or several cans of Red Bull, but they were on fire in Winchester!
It was another fantastic show, the outpouring of appreciation on Twitter in the hours that followed proving that I'm far from alone in that thought. With just two 2015 dates left on the tour and Lee, in my humble opinion, in the form of his life, you should get to one of them if you possibly can - but book quickly, there are only a handful of tickets left for Lichfield on 21 November, a few more for the grand Christmas finale at London's Garrick Theatre on 6 December (if you were there last year, you'll know why this is so eagerly anticipated!). If you can't get to either of those, three March 2016 dates have now been announced (Poole, in particular, may be of interest to Winchester locals wanting a repeat performance!) and Lee also hopes to tour further afield later in the year when he's finished his run as Caractacus Potts in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While many of these wonderful songs will be on Lee's new album, others, including the sublime Feeling Good, don't make the final cut, so... if you want to hear them all (and trust me, you DO want to hear them all), you'll have to see them live!
Remaining tour dates and Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 9 November 2015