LEE MEAD .. ALBUM LAUNCH GIGS
Lee's concerts are always eagerly anticipated but it's hard to imagine a greater weight of expectation, albeit leavened by pure excitement, than that preceding this quartet of gigs to launch his latest (and many say best yet) album, Some Enchanted Evening, an album of real quality that brings classic and some less familiar songs from the golden age of Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, 40s and 50s to vibrant new life.
Speaking of quartets... the number four, considered unlucky in some cultures, seemed everywhere - Lee's fourth album, four years on from his last, launched with four gigs, the first on the fourth of March. But Lee has always made his own luck - with a phenomenal talent, the courage to trust his instincts, a way of choosing his projects using both head and heart, a strong set of guiding values and sheer hard work - it's a real tribute to all these qualities that nearly ten years on from winning Any Dream Will Do, he is not only still 'in the business' when so many simply fade away, but has an increasingly wide-ranging and successful career. Watching him sing, especially in an intimate venue like Chelsea's Pheasantry, where he is at his most exposed, I always get the sense that, for him, performing is more about being than doing. It's a rare thing and draws his audience, or this member of it at least, into the moment with him... a privilege and a total joy.
Joining Lee on the tiny stage were a trio of supremely talented musicians, two well-known to Lee's fans - Mason Neely supplying musical direction and rhythm section and Will Stuart on piano - with a new face (and instrument) added to the line-up in the form of John Pearce on violin. Strings and this music seem made for each other, the fiddle providing a lyrical and often haunting counterpoint to Lee's vocal and a lightness, a humour even on occasions, to Mason's beautiful arrangements. My huge thanks to all three for playing so beautifully and with such infectious enjoyment.
My thanks also to official photographer and good friend, Phill Cowndley, and to Lee's management team for permission to share a couple of his photos exclusively here on the Timeline. You will find more examples of Phill's work at the Lee Mead Facebook page, and one final shot at the foot of this page - thank you Phill, a rare photo of yours truly with the man himself and I love it! I love it because it's a reminder of a truly special weekend of music and laughter and friendships founded in our support for the man who gives us the music and so much of the laughter.
I'd heard Lee sing material from this album at his concerts throughout 2015, some tracks even longer, and I'd had a week since its release to absorb the album versions of already much-loved songs, so you might think I could no longer be surprised by Lee's performance of them... but surprise me he did. Vocally he remains in the form of his life (so far...!) but he radiated confidence in a way that could be seen as arrogance in another performer but in Lee, who laughs at himself as readily as we applaud him, simply shouts of his delight in doing what he does.
Amid the album tracks were scattered other favourites given the 'Lee treatment' (my shorthand for his rare ability to tell the story of a song) - Billy Joel's 'Lullabye', Coldplay's 'Fix You', John Legend's 'All Of Me' - and it's a tribute to truly great song-writing (and to Mason's arrangements) that the lyrics and melodies of songs from decades earlier are as fresh as these more contemporary numbers.
There was also what Lee called an indulgence and I call genius - a throwback to his 15-year old playing of Danny Zuko in Eastwood High's school production of Grease - his first lead role and the revelation that (a) he loved performing and (b) the girls loved him when he did! My eternal thanks to the drama teachers who cast him - you set him on the path. And his collar-raised, lip-curling, hair-slicking (challenging with the curls), but firmly tongue-in-cheek rendition of 'Sandy' was DAMN good. A brief Q&A at a couple of shows revealed no startling secrets but provided thoughtful answers to questions on choosing the album tracks and Chitty among other things, while the presence of friends and family throughout the weekend helped, I hope, to make the shows as special for Lee as they were for his audiences.
We had heard tell of "secret surprise guests" and, while the secret couldn't quite withstand the intense speculation of a crowd of Meady fans with an hour or several to while away as they queued for a prime spot at the party, the surprises were still delightful! On Friday, a singer introduced by Lee as 'musical theatre royalty' who he'd first met briefly at the 2008 Lyrics by Don Black concert and again just a couple of weeks earlier as guests on Gaby Roslin's BBC London radio show when Gaby's powers of persuasion had the two singing an off the cuff duet live on air. With barely more preparation on this occasion, the fabulous Marti Webb joined Lee in the 'Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again' mash up originally made famous by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, returning later to sing her iconic version of 'Tell Me On a Sunday'.
No less welcome, though very much more familiar to Lee's fans, was the irrepressible and super-talented Stephen Rahman-Hughes who sang each evening during the weekend, his powerful solo renditions eclipsed just a little, for me, by their new duet (now that Lee has claimed their previous trademark 'Luck Be A Lady' as a solo for his album) - a grin-inducing, full-on romp through 'Don't Rain On My Parade' - which I loved more each time I heard it. The immense talent and great friendship shared by this pair make them hugely entertaining and I was delighted to hear that they hope to schedule more of their 'Steve and Lee' Both Sides Now gigs during 2016.
Two incredible women vocalists both did double duty - Landi Oshinowo (who Lee first met 10 years ago on the UK tour of Tommy and was reunited with last Christmas in his latest panto adventure) singing on both Saturday and Sunday evenings, and Lee's erstwhile Casualty co-star, tour guest and the 'sister he never had', Amanda Henderson, joining him for both Sunday shows. My personal highlights from their numbers were Landi's 'Natural Woman' and Amanda's 'Make Me Feel Your Love' - stunning voices, both. And rounding off the guest line-up on Saturday evening was Lee's former rival on 'Any Dream Will Do' and now good friend, Keith Jack, and on Sunday evening young Essex jazz vocalist, Lily Streames.
As always, I'll include a full setlist for those who are interested but this must wait until I'm in one place for long enough to compile it!
What a man, what a voice, what a weekend! One day I may run out of superlatives to describe Lee, his voice and his shows, but not while he continues to provide such inspiration. He has three more live dates in March - Weston-super-Mare 10th, Kettering 18th, Poole 23rd - plus a full tour of the album in October after his run in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It really is one not to be missed and full info can be found on the 'CONCERT DATES' link below.
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 10 March 2016