The last Sunday in June marked the half-way point of Lee Mead's fabulous Up Front & Centre London residency at The Pheasantry and, though the set is largely the same from one date to the next (allowing for a 'keep it fresh' switch around every now and then - of which more later!), each gig has its own unique vibe.
Yesterday evening, to me at least, had an intimacy beyond the obvious proximity imposed by a small venue - it felt like a gathering of friends (which of course it was for many of us in the audience) being entertained by the guy with all the stories who is so often found at the heart of such a group. That this guy also has a voice that is mesmerising in its beauty and the humility to take nothing for granted and you begin to understand why this 'first of its kind' residency at The Pheasantry has sold out its entire nine month run.
As always, Lee was backed by his brilliant band - Michael 'Mickey Blue' Riley on piano, John Pearce on violin and returning to the line-up this month Tommy Emmerton on guitar. His guests on this occasion were both known to the 'regulars' - a regular himself, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, enjoying having his evenings back now his year on the West End in Aladdin has come to an end and singing two numbers in the first half, and panto co-star past (Robin Hood, Plymouth 2013) and future (Jack and the Beanstalk, Southend 2017), Bobby Davro, who joined Lee in singing Ain't That a Kick in the Head as well as giving us a taste of his comedy and vocal impressions as Lee played the consumate straight man.
I mentioned earlier that Lee has a habit of playing with the set a little and has said before that it's one of the ways he keeps things fresh. But sometimes there's just a song that says what he's feeling better than any other, and last night, making its first appearance in the Up Front and Centre set, that was Feeling Good. It was at The Pheasantry that Lee first sang this song, at his tour warm-up gigs back in 2015, and if you've read my reports of the 2015 and 2016 Some Enchanted Evening tours that followed, you'll know just how much I love it and, more particularly, Lee singing it. I didn't think it possible to love it any more... but then there he was, singing it with such total conviction that no-one there could doubt its truth. It was like hearing it for the first time... and I was floored by it all over again.
While the evening was full of light and laughter and love, there was a moment of solemnity too as Lee spoke of his anger at recent tragic events and of the deep pain he still carries following Westminster and London Bridge and Manchester. He dedicated to the victims a song he feels a deep connection to, saying that for him it reflects each of the people who've passed... accompanied by Tommy Emmerton a simple yet achingly beautiful arrangement of Blackbird.
But my standout memory from what, in its immediate aftermath and rendered hopelessly inarticulate (I think the technical term is 'Mead-mushed') by the experience, I could only inadequately call a "WONDERFUL evening", is the succession of songs that started with the aforementioned Feeling Good and led us first to Saigon and then to Paris with absolutely stunning renditions of Why God Why and Bring Him Home. We missed out on seeing Lee play Chris in the West End, and maybe later on Broadway, when he dropped out of the running to take the part of Lofty in Casualty but I hope one day we may yet see him play Valjean.
Huge thanks to Debbie Semple for allowing me to share with you her absolutely gorgeous photos from the evening. Click any to view gallery of larger images.
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. The last five Up Front & Centre shows are all currently sold out, but the venue's flexible returns policy may mean some limited availability for other dates nearer the time. So do keep your eyes peeled if you're still hoping to get tickets 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: 2 July 2017