LEE MEAD .. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
First, a brief clarification - these concert reports of mine are sometimes circulated by others as reviews but that's not how I see them, or write them... I think most would consider me too biased to review Mr Mead objectively! What I do attempt is to paint a word picture of the evening for those who couldn't be there, as well as capturing a few memories for those who were. If my words also encourage people to come and see the magic for themselves, so much the better, but that is not their primary purpose.
But enough of that, let's get back to that magic I mentioned... magic woven by the men in the picture to the right, tweeted by Lee before the most recent concert. Alongside the very smiley man himself are John Pearce (fiddle), the as-yet-unnamed sound guy, Richie Blake (bass), Mason Neely (musical director, drums and ukulele) and Michael Riley (piano). The first week of this autumn tour followed a different pattern to the 'three in a row' weeks that come later, with a break after the first concert concert in Leamington on Sunday 2nd before the next two at the end of the week in Leeds on Thursday 6th and Rhyl on Friday 7th. I have reported separately on Leamington, as the tour opener, but the other two are both covered here.
City Varieties Music Hall is just that... a music hall, which those of a certain age may recall as the home of 'The Good Old Days' (it looked much bigger on the telly!). In reality it is an intimate space and very beautiful, the Stalls nestled immediately beneath a high stage, Boxes for two lining the walls above, which prompted the usual "you're very close" comment from Lee, followed by one I hadn't heard from him before (but am not about to argue with) "I feel like a Greek god!" The tiny stage meant the band were close and Lee's roving style a little cramped, but also made more visible the frequent exchanged looks, laughs and wordless communications amongst the band and with Lee himself which demonstrate (as if the music wasn't enough) just how well they work together.
Rhyl Pavilion could hardly have been more different... a modern venue right on the seafront, built for the summer crowds, with over twice the capacity of Leeds and perhaps four times the stage area! The pit space between Stalls and stage put Lee at far greater distance from his audience, but he did have room to roam again, and to dance, which he did with style... those increasingly frequent cries of "you next on Strictly" aren't going to let up anytime soon with moves like that on display! Out of season, the house was far from full and I had feared it may feel a little flat, but far from it... the hugely responsive audience made up for their lack of numbers with much laughter, occasional banter and whoops & cheers aplenty. Their 'Any Dream Will Do' was a sight (and sound) to behold - well played, Rhyl!
My stand-out memories from these two gigs are only loosely connected with the music and from opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. From Leeds, that delicious flutter of the curls on Lee's forehead whenever he sang a word beginning with 'F'... a small thing, but so quintessentially Lee (sadly, in Rhyl, the sea air had reduced the flutter-factor!). From Rhyl, a moment when all Lee has done to bring him to this stage, on this day, singing this song ('All The Things You Are') tumbled into sharp focus like crystals in a kaleidoscope, filling my eyes with sudden tears at the immensity of watching this man literally living his dream. That we get to witness this on a regular basis is a genuine privilege and a source of great joy to me.
Musically, my highlights are too many to list (I include the setlist here) - Lee really has hit the sweet spot on this tour with songs that not only showcase his voice to perfection, but also his ability to tell the story of a song, a quality that stood out from the earliest days of his time on 'Any Dream Will Do' and plays an intrinsic part in making him such a compelling performer. The inclusion of 'Pure Imagination' in the set, in tribute to the late Gene Wilder, is an exquisite example of this, but it's also evident in 'Anthem' where I've often seen performers allow the 'power' to overwhelm the 'ballad'. There's no doubting the power of Lee's voice as he sings this but his understanding that the song's true power lies in its story lifts his version above that of many other great singers. Never more so than in Rhyl on Friday evening.
The band, too, really relish this style of music and I'm delighted that Lee has chosen to give them the spotlight from time to time - indeed, my only disappointment in Rhyl was that some (and only some) of the audience treated this time as a chance to chat rather than to enjoy listening to these astoundingly talented musicians. I'm aware that these interludes are as much to give Lee a breather on a tour where he currently has no guest as they are to allow the band to shine, but they are an absolute delight and I do hope they will retain some place in the set regardless of whether an indisposed Nick Pendry is able to join the tour at a later date. It was really lovely to hear the band members being cheered as they exited the Stage Door later, the loudest greeting being reserved for John "the fiddle" Pearce, whose skill with bow and fingers, along with his total immersion in the music as he plays, clearly touched many in the audience.
Finally, Lee's tour tweets have been as entertaining as ever - click the pic top right for more from the road, above left was tweeted shortly before he went on stage in Leeds - and you will see that food has been a recurring theme. After resorting to Co-op sandwiches in Leamington when an extended soundcheck left them without the time to eat out, the trend continued in Leeds where finding post-gig food proved a challenge, but in Rhyl there was a happier tale - a tweeted recommendation, a lunchtime visit so satisfactory that a return teatime visit with the band followed... Les & Rita's Fish Bar was THE place to go (and thanks to Mr Mead heartily endorsing the recommendation when we bumped into him in the town, I can personally vouch for the quality of the fish and chips!)
So with the first week behind us and only nine concerts remaining, I can confidently say that Lee is at the very top of his form on this tour, and with no plans yet announced for 2017, it is worth making every possible effort to get to one of the remaining dates - you can find all the details here, while Lee's full concert schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT DATES
First published: 9 October 2016