With the band in their seats and the lights dimmed, Lee ran between the tables and on to the stage, his gaze raking the room as he takes hold of the mic... I doubt the lights let him see much beyond a few feet from the stage, but if they did, he'd have seen a room full of happy, smiling faces gazing back at him. Opening, as he has all year, with Michael Bublé's Everything, from his first notes it was obvious that he was in very fine voice and the glint in his eye as he chatted for rather longer than usual after that first number suggested that he was feeling pretty damn good too! I know a song about that... but that came later ;-)
As always, he thanked everyone for coming, saying what a busy month he'd had playing Lofty and joking that he was pushing for his own TV series... "just 'Lofty'"! As a spin-off, that works for me :) He's clearly enjoying his time on the show, talking about the good storylines he's had, mixing it up with Dom... "will they, won't they?" Oh they have to, surely, though I am loving the slow burn!
But for now, on with the music, with this set that tells so many stories, or rather allows Lee to tell the stories of what each song means to him... the tales are familiar now, but there's often a twist or two and invariably laughter, LOTS of laughter:
- memories of the girlfriend who inspired him to learn Forever Love when she dumped him for a friend who could drive and his cherry red Fiesta 1.1 Popular, led to a casual "but now I drive an Audi A8, ladies and gentlemen...!" As he gave more details of his Audi and its engine size, a familiar voice called out "you know what they say about men with big cars?" adding "I've only got a little one". Lee's reply to his good friend, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, strayed briefly into Julian Clary panto territory before moving on with a final "it's a classy show, ladies and gentlemen!"
- with his Mum (and Dad) in the audience, Lee's memory of her hoovering as she listened to Jesus To A Child, embellished with an animated mime and appropriate sound effects, introduced the first of two George Michael numbers
- Lee first discovered the beautiful Blackbird watching the film 'Boss Baby' with his daughter Betsy... after singing it he told us, with a wry smile and love shining bright in his eyes, that she's 7 now, "a testing age", going on to ponder "newborn - no sleep, 3 or 4 - so cute, 7 - the devil" and recalling a recent 20 minute stand-off about the wearing of a coat on a cold day. It will be a tale familiar to many, if not all, of the parents in the room. But he did win... eventually!
- reminiscing about his time on Any Dream Will Do and after, dining with Andrew Lloyd Webber at his house in Majorca or sitting in his lounge in Mayfair talking about multi-million pound artworks... "I'm just a lad from Southend!" But while he had some amazing experiences, he is very clear that the most amazing of all was playing the role... "my dream role really". He then invited us to imagine him half-naked in a loincloth as he sang Close Every Door... well, if you insist, Mr M ;-)
The 'West Side Story' theme continued as Steve told us that while his look means he's always been cast as a Shark in the show, tonight he was going to be Tony! His Something's Coming was fabulous... and the aftermath hilarious as Lee's inner Shark emerged, leading to a little light 'rumble' as he returned to the stage!
Talk of next year's new album and tour cropped up a few times during the evening - it's selling now, don't you know! - Lee keen to tell us the multi-coloured coat will feature, but NOT the loincloth! But in typically generous fashion, Lee also happily yielded his stage to Alex, who works at The Pheasantry, to plug her own project... a musical about a class of GCSE students attempting to get to grips with puberty, and the events of the 20th century! The End of History plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden from 14 November to 2 December.
There was a plug too for Lee Mead at Christmas - Lee's London Christmas shows are legendary and after a year off in 2016, he returns on Sunday 3 December this year to a new venue - the Harold Pinter Theatre in the heart of the West End - but with all the elements that have made them such completely joyous occasions... a liberal sprinkling of festive songs (plus, this year, a couple of teasers from the new album!), special guests - Four Hymn and Natasha Barnes announced so far, Christmas jumpers and most importantly, snow... LOTS of snow!
A slight hitch (literally) brought proceedings briefly to a halt as Lee tried to free his mic lead from under someone's handbag! Lots of fiddling ensued, and again LOTS of laughter, as he quipped "lovely shoes" and "is that dress from Primark?" and finally "I'll be singing this song on my knees like this" ... given that he was kneeling just in front of me, I'd have been more than happy with that arrangement, but he did eventually regain both mic and feet and away we went with Ain't That A Kick In The Head!
Early in the second half of the show comes one of my favourite segments, with a trio of songs from the musicals that really showcase Lee's stunning voice... starting with the beautifully simple Hushabye Mountain and ending with the powerful Bring Him Home with its final note so achingly pure it gives me goosebumps. In the middle, Lee asks if we know the musical 'Miss Saigon', telling us of his time on the UK tour in 2005 and his audition to take over as first cover for the lead role of Chris, going on to play many times "one of the greatest roles for a guy in a musical... I had my gun, my GI outfit, felt really cool". Looked cool too, Lee ;-) And on Sunday he sounded amazing, with his 'full string section' (aka John!) and all the passion he pours into Why God Why - not for the first time, I was left wishing I'd seen his Chris.
Lee was in the mood for a chat and, as he sometimes does, asked if anyone had any questions... the first picked up on a tweet from earlier in the year, asking what happened to the pigeon on his balcony! Once he'd got over the surprise that people actually read his tweets, he told how he'd come home one day to find she and the babies had flown the nest. There was more to it than that, and LOTS of laughter, but it doesn't stand up well to the re-telling so I'll just say that talk of seagulls was greeted with mock-horror by Lee and leave him to his happy ending! With that important matter covered, I asked how he'd gone about choosing the songs for next year's Anniversary Tour ... he talked of thinking back over the 200 or so songs he's done to pick highlights from the TV show and from the shows he's been in, and some more recent choices. Whatever he's chosen, for the album and tour itself, it's going to be an amazing journey of rediscovery for his fans, and I hope of delighted discovery for those people who haven't kept up with his hugely-successful career since those early Joseph days!
After a throw back to When I Need You The Most, written for his first album by Gary Barlow, Lee took us even further back to the Will Young number he sang on Any Dream Will Do - Leave Right Now - first telling us that he was thinking of including it on the new album! I was thrilled when he added this to the set and am even more so to hear he may now record it. Then, before he moved on to the song that epitomises for me this whole, wonderful show and Lee's obvious enjoyment of it - the absolutely glorious Feeling Good - he took a moment to talk about the Stages cruise next October. He's a headliner on this first-of-its-kind musical theatre festival at sea along with Michael Ball (whose Radio 2 show he'll be on in the new year to talk about the Ten Years album), Beverley Knight, Collabro and more. Lee's surprised "oh, are you going?" in reply to one audience member drew many more shouts of "yes" from around the room - it promises to be a fabulous few days!
It was Steve's turn again next, but before enlisting our help with his song, he talked more about the "little interview" (cue shout of "long interview" from the back of the room) he'd recorded with Lee the previous weekend - the camera was running for a couple of hours but my appeal for the unedited version was met with a laugh and a "probably not!" Ah well, maybe a 'blooper reel' then, hey boys? But back to the song - one Steve had heard on the radio a few days earlier and was singing for the first time, Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill. A quick rehearsal and we'd nailed our "boom, boom, boom" lyrics and timing, though we were a tad on the quiet side (we were saving ourselves for Any Dream Will Do!)
The photos here are mine and of course taken without flash, so please forgive the quality, but I hope they add something to the account - click on any image (except young Chris!) to view the FULL GALLERY. As always, there is also a full setlist.
The October line-up of Lee's brilliant band had been introduced at various points during the evening - three super-talented musicians who each contributed hugely to my enjoyment. For Michael 'Mickey Blue' Riley on piano and Tommy Emmerton on guitar, this would be their last Up Front & Centre outing, both having other commitments keeping them from the final show. They will be missed. For John Pearce on violin, the usual extra loud cheer (something of a standing joke now) caused Lee to ask "do you know John"... cue communal shout of "Yes!" I guess you had to be there, but it was very funny at the time. John has an album out next year, which Lee was happy to plug, saying how proud and lucky he is to have him on his show.
Reading back before I post this, I realise that I've talked a lot about the chat and not a lot about the music - I think that's because the music is the constant in this show and I've waxed lyrical (no pun intended!) about it many times before. But as I tweeted to Lee on Sunday, he's hit a real sweet spot both musically and emotionally with this show... his incredible voice and innate story-telling ability elevating both pop and musical theatre songs far beyond being just a good listen. This show is, quite simply, good for the soul and I will miss it enormously once the November finale has come and gone. Thankfully however, we will still have Lee's Christmas show to look forward to and of course his 2018 tour which opens on 24 February in Newbury, ends with a hometown gig in Southend on 25 November and has 24 more dates in between, all on sale now!
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT & LIVE EVENTS