So if you're wondering whether a Lee Mead gig is for you, just come along and see (his full concert schedule is here) - I promise you'll be entertained, but be warned... for most people once is not enough!
Right, back to my rambling! There should be something slightly surreal about walking into a restaurant courtyard and recognising everyone in sight... but that's just situation normal at the Pheasantry on the last Sunday of the month. Having acquired the habit of arriving early in the days of the 'stair queue', many people still do, but now sit in comfort as they catch up with friends, eating at a more leisurely pace than is allowed between 'doors' and 'music' downstairs!
It was lovely last Sunday, as it always is, to see so many familiar faces, but equally lovely on this occasion to see many new ones too... word has obviously got out that these gigs are something rather special. And Lee clearly agrees... speaking after his opening song ("I like to have a bit of a chat at the start...") he said how he keeps being asked by Pizza Express Live to play one of their bigger venues, but he likes the Pheasantry too much to go elsewhere!
So why are they so special? Well, there's the intimacy of course... but more than the fact of the audience being "just there" (to use Lee's own words), it's the effect of that closeness on Lee. He always talks to his audiences, but in this setting it feels more like a conversation (albeit a fairly one-sided one!) than simply a series of stories. He reacts to things he sees or hears - his quick-fire "two pizzas and some doughballs, please" when a phone rings in a far corner, coveting the dessert on someone's table, playing up to the laughter in the room - there's something almost anarchic in the air and it's wonderful!
With the chat comes much laughter - as much from Lee as from the audience - but he's not afraid to be serious too. In the past, he has talked with searing honesty about the tougher times in his life, and though on Sunday he was positively fizzing with happiness, which is wonderful to see, he spoke too of the anger he feels for the victims of the Grenfell fire and of the terrorist attacks at Westminster and London Bridge. The song he sang in tribute, for himself as much as for them, was 'Blackbird' which he told us had moved him to tears when he first heard it on a recent cinema trip with Betsy to see The Boss Baby. Incidentally, one of the many things I love about Lee is how he finds songs like this - really hearing them in a context where to others they might just be background noise.
Which brings me to the music... the set list (which I include in full here for those who like to read the small print) was largely as for previous Up Front & Centre gigs, though the order was shuffled a little and this time, with no guests to lighten his load, it was ALL LEE! He mixes pop songs from the likes of Wham!, Robbie Williams and Coldplay with iconic musical theatre numbers from West Side Story, Miss Saigon and Les Misérables and he sings them all with the same passion because they all have meaning for him, memories that he shares as he introduces them:
- following his Mum around the house aged 5 or 6 as she sang Wham! and George Michael while she hoovered - from the Wham! days came 'If You Were There' and from George's solo career 'Let Her Down Easy'
- being recognised by Chris Martin of Coldplay when he bumped into him at the gym - from Lee's Love Songs album came 'Fix You'
- meeting Guy Chambers (writer of many of Robbie's hits) at a party and not knowing who he was ("a very unassuming man" - remind you of anyone?) until someone asked him to get the guitar out and he started playing Angels - opening the second half was 'Feel'
- singing with SuBo at the Glamis prom earlier in the month - one of his solo numbers there and on Sunday was 'Maria', and I'm happy to report that on both occasions he NAILED the big scary note that stopped him singing it for so long!
- auditioning (successfully!) for the role of first cover Chris in Miss Saigon by playing it to a full house in Nottingham - his 'Why God Why' was my song of the night, not least for his astonishing ability to go in an instant from showing off his hip action to 'The Girl From Ipanema' (incidental music from the band as he took a drink of water!) to being Chris in the heat and chaos of Saigon
- performing 'Bring Him Home' at the Salvation Army's Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall and remembering his Nanny Lil who carried the flag for them.
With only four Pheasantry dates remaining, it was good to hear Lee talking of next year's tour - an Anniversary Tour celebrating the 10 years since Joseph (and he promises to bring the coat!) - dates for which should be released soon. Also in 2018 is the inaugural Stages musical theatre cruise - honoured and excited to be involved, Lee urged people to "get booking"... cue many cries of "we have"!
Lee never fails to thank people for coming to see him sing, saying how much it means to him, and on this occasion adding "I'll buy you a drink afterwards" rapidly followed by "oops... BIG bar bill!"
The photos here are mine, taken without flash, so please excuse the lo-res and soft focus - there are more behind the scenes, so click on any to view FULL GALLERY.
The last four Up Front & Centre shows are all currently sold out, but the venue's flexible returns policy may mean some limited availability nearer the time. They will put you on a waiting list if you call them (020 7439 4962) and I will of course tweet if I get wind of any availability!
There is also another chance to see this fabulous show - on Saturday 7 October, for one night only, it's heading north to Yarm (near Middlesbrough) where a beautiful 750-seat venue awaits - and while I love the delicious intimacy of The Pheasantry, I'm really excited to see it take to a bigger stage. Tickets are now on sale - full info here!
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERT & LIVE EVENTS
Last updated: 6 August 2017