As we headed into 2018, with Lee's 10 Years Anniversary tour stretching out ahead of us from February to November, there was a distinct gap in August - not unreasonable, a summer break for Lee and the band, from this commitment at least! - but it didn't stay that way for long. In March a brace of Pizza Express Live concerts were announced, not at The Pheasantry where he's played so many times before, but at their central London venue in Holborn. A new show title - Lee Mead Presents.. - but with the same much-loved format, the intoxicating cocktail of music, stories, laughter and friends that Lee has made his own.
The setlist for these summer shows drew much from the ongoing tour set, much to my delight as I love it so, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Full setlists from both evenings are here and with such material, it will come as no surprise that musical highlights were many... I've picked out just a few below:
- a first play in a year or two for Tom Odell's beautiful Grow Old With Me
- the exquisite emotion of 'Les Misérables' songs Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and Bring Him Home heightened still further by being sung one after the other, tears rolling down Lee's cheek (and many others) as he totally lost himself in the moment
- special guest and good friend Stephen Rahman-Hughes embracing the venue's jazz roots with Moody's Mood and paying tribute to the late, great Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, with How Do You Keep the Music Playing
- another outing for a duet of Everything with Stephen, even cheekier in this intimate setting than last time out in Epsom ... this won't mean anything if you weren't there but for those who were, can I just say "I'm like King Kong" and "John's really strong"!
- the tenderness and hope of Hushabye Mountain accompanied by a perfect sea-swell of strings from John's violin
- Maria... I'd heard it sung in the vastness of the Royal Albert Hall the week before, but its power in this tiny space was simply mind-blowing.
As has been his habit on this year's tour, on both evenings Lee invited questions. They covered jobs we'd be surprised he'd turned down, balancing his busy schedule, Twitter, working with David Ames ("a really lovely chap" and the feedback about Dom and Lofty has been wonderful) and how many takes the kisses take ("as few as possible, one!"), his favourite panto to date (the Palladium, 50 performances on that stage... "a dream come true really") and, should they transfer from the States, possible roles for him in Moulin Rouge or Pretty Woman (cue an immediate deadpan "I'm not right for that role" from Lee... well, he can certainly wear red, but maybe that dress isn't quite his style!). Lee's answers were the usual mix of humour, disarming honesty and thoughtfulness and included one of my favourite moments when he mentioned one of his Holby bosses was in the house, adding that he could happily sing to 5,000 people in the Royal Albert Hall but as soon as there were friends or family in, he was nervous as anything - Catherine Russell (Serena) promptly called out "You're bloody marvellous!" - the cheers that followed confirming she was far from alone in thinking so.
During Stephen's final visit to the stage on Sunday, the two chatted about being 'new neighbours' at Elstree Studios, with Stephen having recently joined the cast of Eastenders, also filmed there - he made his on screen debut as dentist, Adam Bateman, last week. So far they've been passing ships, but hope their schedules coincide so they can have lunch together sometime soon. They also took the opportunity to inform/remind everyone they'd be back on this very stage on Sunday 7 October with their Together Again show - tickets on sale now and going fast!
It's perhaps worth saying a little more about the venue, as this was Lee's first visit there... for the regulars who've enjoyed many shows at The Pheasantry, there was at once a sense of the familiar - a leisurely pre-show pizza in the restaurant upstairs, the chequerboard tiles on the staircase, names checked off a list before being shown to your table... and the new - a spiral staircase (no early queuing allowed!), a larger, darker space below and, on a purely practical note, more and better loos!
My own experience of the space was good - the semi-circle of seats immediately surrounding the stage offered a uniquely 'up close' view of proceedings - but I've heard it was not the same for all, with a couple of tables directly behind a large pillar and so little space between some tables that careful negotiation between neighbours was required to ensure all could reach their seats. The stage space was a little more generous than at the Pheasantry, but with a four-piece band (including grand piano), it was soon filled! It goes without saying, of course, that the show itself was as brilliant as always.
And speaking of the band, superb musicians one and all, there were old and new and even changing faces across the two evenings, so let me introduce them... on piano on Saturday was Jeff Leach (previously seen in Horsham on this year's fabulous 10 Years tour) and on Sunday the more familiar face and fingers of Lee's tour MD Adam Dennis, on bass Don Richardson (who played at Lee and Stephen's 2015 Both Sides Now gigs), on lead and acoustic guitar Danny Shaw and on violin the inimitable John Pearce.
Thanking everyone for coming out, Lee's heartfelt "I have to pinch myself sometimes, I can't believe you've all come out to see me sing, and this is my show, here in the heart of London. I feel so blessed and lucky" made me smile almost as much as the song that followed. Introducing it with "I had a dream... of being the sixth member of Take That!", he again entreated us to light our phone torches and join in with Back For Good - we happily obliged and I'm not sure whether we or Lee had more fun. Being serious for a moment, I hope Lee never loses that sense of wonder... his joy in performing is as integral a part of the joy in watching him as his glorious voice.
These intimate gigs were a delightful interlude in a year of amazing music from Lee. His hugely successful 10 Years Anniversary tour resumes next month with nine dates remaining, so if you haven't already booked, you still have time... be part of the party!
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERTS & LIVE EVENTS
Published: 23/03/2018; last updated: 27/08/2018