LEE MEAD .. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
I fear that whatever words I find to sum up the final week of Lee Mead's amazing Some Enchanted Evening tour can't come close to capturing its true magic, the last two concerts in particular providing a completely fabulous finale to what I consider to be Lee's finest tour yet... but I'll have a go!
The week started at the beautifully restored New Theatre Royal (see Gallery for Lee's tweeted set-up picture) in Portsmouth, which naturally brought reminiscences from the earliest days of Lee's career - his first professional job singing aboard the cruise ferry 'Pride of Bilbao' as it sailed back and forth across the Bay of Biscay, dashing back to London for auditions on his day off. It also brought another superb evening of music from Lee and his brilliant band (named below), performing with the same passion for one of the smaller audiences of the tour as they have at every other stop.
Next came Tunbridge Wells where the Assembly Hall held easily the most enthusiastic audience of the whole tour... or as Lee put it in an interval tweet "Amazing crowd tonight. You're a rowdy bunch"! Rowdy was a pretty good description but that energy is infectious and Lee's enjoyment of it was clear to see as he swaggered his way through the more showy numbers like 'Singin' in the Rain' and 'Luck Be A Lady'. His incredible voice drew ever louder whoops and cheers in response to the likes of power ballads 'Close Every Door' and 'Anthem', yet commanded absolute stillness when needed... you could have heard the proverbial pin drop as he drew breath during 'All of Me' or 'Hushabye Mountain'. I am constantly astounded by Lee's ability to move from the easy laughter of one of his 'stories' to the sometimes intense emotion of the songs he has chosen with such care for this album and tour, with but a brief pause to focus on the personal connection he has to them. It's a quality that gives his performance an exceptional richness and I look forward to enjoying it for many years to come. It was good to see amid the 'rowdy crowd' Lee's fellow contestant on Any Dream Will Do, and eventual runner-up, Keith Jack - lovely that the two are still such good friends over nine years on.
And then there was Southend. Lee's hometown. And the Cliffs Pavilion where, he told us with great pride and more than a little awe at how far he'd come since, how as a 15 year old on work experience he'd swept the very stage he now bent to touch. It was the perfect place to end this phenomenal tour - surrounded by his childhood memories, his family, friends and neighbours, and as many long-term fans as could get there - from down the road, across the country and over the sea. I've often said that an integral part of the enjoyment of seeing Lee live is the chance to catch up with the many friends I've made over the years of supporting him and that has never been truer than in Southend on Friday.
Things got off to an early start for the lucky 50 who had tickets for a 'meet and greet' with Lee before the show - a glass of prosecco, the company of friends and the knowledge that a relaxed and chatty curly dude was working his way around the room was a particularly fine way to get in the mood for what followed. And what followed was quite simply outstanding.
There was something indefinable in Lee that ratcheted everything up a notch... I'm not sure that technically his delivery was the best I've heard, he was too energised for that, but emotionally he hit all the right notes - giving the familiar songs deeper meaning and many of his stories a more immediate context. There were song dedications - Lee's favourite song from the tour 'All The Things You Are' to his lovely parents and to his childhood babysitter, the whimsical 'I'll See You In My Dreams'. And there was a point at the end of 'Pure Imagination' when he stepped right to the edge of the stage, closing the gap to the audience almost as if he wanted to be part of it just for a moment, to see himself up there doing what he'd dreamed of doing all those years before. If ever a song encapsulated the essence of an evening, surely on this evening it was 'Feeling Good', sung with such passion, such honesty... the memory of it makes my heart sing. And it seems from his exclamation: "I'm in absolute heaven tonight... right at this moment, right now, I couldn't be happier" that the evening made Lee's heart sing too. I can't ask for more than that - as I said earlier, a perfect finale to an incredible tour.
Lee has been supported throughout the tour by his superb band, led as always by his long-time musical director, Mason Neely on drums and ukulele, with Richie Blake on bass, John Pearce on fiddle and Michael 'Mickey Blue' Riley on piano. Their numbers were swelled for Southend by the addition of a brass section, which saw the return of two familiar faces - George Hogg on trumpet and the inimitable Harry Brown on trombone - alongside Frank Walden on saxophone (their 'boy band' dance moves in 'Any Dream Will Do' were a sight to behold!). The 'bigger' sound worked well in the Cliffs, filling the large space with a glorious noise, but I was a little sad not to hear quite as much of John Pearce's sublime fiddle playing as a result - he has been a real star of this tour (not to disrespect the rest of the band who have been consistently brilliant, nor detract from Lee's own superb performances) and I have to confess I was very happy to see the brass boys file off stage along with Lee after 'Anthem', leaving John and the rest of the band to give their final, utterly beautiful rendition of 'My Foolish Heart'. Those who loved this number as much as I did may be interested to know that John is including it on an album of jazz standards he is recording in January.
The set for the final three concerts was unchanged from previous weeks and I include it in full here.
The condensed nature of this October tour has been unusual for Lee, his schedule usually requiring him to trickle feed his concerts through the year. I loved the intensity of concert after concert but appreciate that for many this and the mid-week dates meant they couldn't get to as many gigs as they might have wished. Lee has mentioned on Twitter that he will be taking a break from touring next year but plans to schedule a few intimate gigs - and it seems from comments at Stage Door and in the meet and greet that an announcement of something (exactly what remains to be seen) is imminent. Anticipation of that, and the knowledge that in November Lee is part of an all-star line-up for two Broadway in Concert dates in Cardiff & London and joining forces with his good friend Stephen Rahman-Hughes for a sell-out gig of their collaboration 'Steve and Lee' Both Sides Now at London's Hippodrome Casino, is going some little way to staving off the post-tour blues. Some way. But still...
Finally, I would like to put on record my personal thanks to Lee and his band for giving me so much joy this past month, to all the friends who've shared in it, making the tour all the more special by their company, and to fine photographer and friend, Phill Cowndley, for allowing me to share a couple of his photos here.
Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 30 October 2016