Back at The Pheasantry for the fifth of this year's eleven shows in Lee Mead's Up Front & Centre residency at the popular Chelsea music venue, the anticipation was no less than it was for the first show back in March. Lee was backed by his brilliant band - Michael Riley on piano, John Pearce on violin and, joining the line-up for the first time, Nico Sabatini on guitar.
The eclectic set Lee has chosen for this show really shouldn't hang together - as Lee himself says "where else would you hear Wham! followed by Maria from West Side Story?" - but it absolutely does, the common thread being the stories with which he introduces each song. Lee's self-deprecating humour and fearless truth is utterly charming and has his audience on side before a note is even sung... and then he sings. And it's stunning.
I keep coming back to 'Bring Him Home' as my stand out moment from last night... tears were rolling down many a cheek, including Lee's, by the time that beautiful final note faded, the song's emotional resonance heightened, perhaps, by echoes of Monday's devastating events in Manchester. But talking to friends later, song after song was mentioned as "the best I've heard him sing it" and every time a new song came up, I found myself agreeing!
As always, Lee's guests brought their own vocal gifts - two songs from the ever-popular Stephen Rahman-Hughes, about to enter his final week in 'Aladdin' in the West End and looking forward to a break from eight shows a week, and one from the lovely Landi Oshinowo, who will again be giving her 'Empress' in the panto version of 'Aladdin' at the Bristol Hippodrome this year. Lee said again how lucky he is to have such good (and supremely talented) friends who are happy to come and sing at his shows - he hopes Landi will be back to sing again later in the run - I would have to say we are equally lucky to share in his good fortune!
It was hot in The Pheasantry (you can interpret that however you like!) and I'm still giggling at the memory of Lee's first anecdote (or should that be confession?) that he'd earlier taken refuge in the walk-in freezer next to the dressing room, only to find himself shut in... thankfully - for his health and our entertainment - after hammering in vain on the door for a while, he found the small door-release button and escaped before frostbite set in!
After Tuesday's momentous Holby episode, I was delighted to hear that the BBC are extending Lee's initial six-month contract and hope that Lofty is given the storylines that will allow Lee to show us more of his fine, fine acting.
I was equally delighted to hear that a longer Holby career for Lofty will not prevent Lee from touring in 2018 - the plan is for 30 or so dates around the country, scheduled Friday/Saturday/Sunday of the last weekend of each month (I suspect February to November), with a show (and fifth album) celebrating the ten years since Any Dream Will Do. One date is already on sale (Milton Keynes - Sunday 25 Feb) and I'll add to the 2018 tour page as more are scheduled.
As usual, I include a full setlist and have tried to avoid too many spoilers in this report for the benefit of those yet to see the show - despite Lee's assertion that the audience was made up almost entirely of 'repeat offenders', there are many new faces at every gig and I'm as excited for them to hear this wonderful show for the first time as I am to hear it again myself in a little under four weeks!
Perhaps it is the immediacy of the memory that so often has me saying after a concert "Wow! That was the best yet" for it seems unreasonable to expect a man to raise the bar every single time. And yet that's exactly what Lee does. Every. Single. Time.
- sometimes vocally - his voice, always so strong, has matured over the ten years since Any Dream Will Do, both in range - from a more powerful lower register right through to his beautifully pure and immaculately controlled falsetto - and in tone.
- sometimes in delivery - his habit of selecting songs to which he has a personal connection and his almost supernatural ability to share that connection by drawing his audience into the very heart of the song with him.
- sometimes in mood and manner - his chats to and with the audience often yield hilarity but also, on occasions, a devastating honesty that I have rarely, if ever, heard from another performer.
And sometimes, as last night, in every way possible.
The last six Up Front & Centre shows are all but sold out, with only the last on 26 November having any availability at all (just four tickets according to Lee!), though the Pheasantry's flexible returns policy may mean some limited availability for other dates nearer the time. If you get the chance... just go, I guarantee you will NOT be disappointed!
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT & LIVE EVENTS
First published: 29 May 2017