It’s OK, I live here…
A couple of weeks ago Geri invited me to write a review for her blog. This week she’s has invited me to do it again, while she recuperates from illness. Mwah ha ha!! The Power! Oh I’m sorry. I’ll get on with it. (I’m sure she’ll be back soon.)
I’m not saying I’m obsessed or anything, but I’ve seen a fair bit of the British Isles due to my, uh, interest in actor-singer Lee Mead. I’ve seen the inside of more ‘quirky’ B&Bs than the producers of Four in a Bed. I could tell you stories about going to see Lee in Cardiff and the 90 minute walk through rugby fans. Welsh rugby fans. Or going to see him in Dublin, following his concert with the great literary pub-crawl. Just me and twenty or so friends. But as any
besotted dedicated fan who follows their hero to various events around the country knows, having them come to your hometown is something very special indeed. You’re on your own turf, able to show-off those local, known-only-to-natives-haunts to your friends. Plus it saves you a fortune in train fare.
So on Thursday afternoon, excited and only slightly self-important, I trotted into Leeds city centre, where I’d arranged to meet my friends Jo and Donna before Lee’s concert.
I arrived way too early. You see, despite numerous trips to the Leeds Grand and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I’ve never been to Leeds City Varieties before. Funny I’d never noticed it before… It should be easy enough to find….
I followed the brown signs. They led me to Briggate, a road I know very well. Surely I’d have noticed a theatre in the middle of the street! I mean I know I can be a bit tunnel visioned when I’m doing my Christmas shopping, but come on.
So I wandered up and down past the phone shops and the shoe shops and the fancy arcades… Nope. No theatre.
After a lot of wandering, I start looking more carefully at the side roads…
Between VodaPhone and the Flight Centre, both fronted with smart, modern in red and white logos, there’s a narrow ginnel. I stepped into it. This must be how Harry Potter felt when he walked down Diagon Alley. It’s a tiny secret world which the modern city has grown around without affecting it. OK so that’s an exaggeration, but that’s how I felt the moment the painted sign arching above my head “Leeds City Varieties”. Magical!
Lee Mead at Leeds City Varieties Music Hall
Leeds City Varieties is a jewel of a theatre. Harry Houdini and Charlie Chaplin have graced its stage. I’ve seen it many times on TV as a kid, watching ‘The Good Old Days’, I can’t believe I haven’t visited before. (Donna and I are planning to visit again.) It has all the charm of the original Victorian Theatre, but has been carefully restored so there is no sense of faded grandeur about it; the grandeur isn’t faded one bit.
The theatre staff seemed extraordinarily proud of the venue, justly so. I must praise their attentiveness and old-fashioned courtesy, which heightened our enjoyment.
When I told my colleagues I would be sitting in the front row, they frowned. ‘The stage is very high’, they said. ‘The view from the front row won’t be very good.’
As I settled into my seat, between Jo and Donna, I realised that they were partly right. The stage is indeed rather high, but because there are two sets of stairs leading up to it, the front row is set back a little way. Yes, I’d be staring upwards, but I’m short so I’m used to that.
Glancing behind me, I saw the auditorium filling up nicely. Would it be a complete sell out? If not it was pretty close, and by the time the house light dimmed I couldn’t see any free seats. Good. We like Lee to have full houses.
Down went the lights, on came the band: here we go!
Lee bounced onto the tiny stage and launched into his opening number – ‘Where or When’. It’s not an obvious opening number, being not particularly well known, but as Lee slowly built into a great crescendo on the final sustained note, he had his audience spellbound. A great round of applause filled the theatre. Ah! My home crowd were won over from the start.
And if anyone in the audience hadn’t already fallen him, well, he was about to embark on his charm offensive. Lee always find something complimentary to say about the venue he finds himself in, but he had loads of nice things to say about Leeds in general and the theatre in particular. He mentioned the height of the stage, which made him feel like a Greek god on a pedestal, and he teased the people looking down from the boxes, pretending they were royalty.
Yep. That’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, that is.
This concert was part of Lee’s ‘Some Enchanted Evening Tour’. In it, he sings the tracks on his latest album called, not surprisingly ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. The songs are from the golden days of Hollywood musicals, and though some (like ‘Luck be a Lady’) are very well know, the album and the concerts features many I’d never heard of before Lee started singing them. There are a few more modern songs too such as John Legend’s ‘All of Me’, Billy Joel’s ‘Lullaby’, and ‘Anthem’ from the musical ‘Chess’.
Ooh, and ‘Singing in the Rain’. Lee says he’s not a dancer, then always does a few comedy dance moves during that song, as if to drive home the point. This time he included a small section of ‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’ from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (he’s just finished a highly acclaimed 5-month stint as Caractacus Potts) much to our delight.
I think people are often surprised by how funny Lee is on stage. It’s not just his comedy dancing it’s also his hilarious, self-depreciating anecdotes.
That evening told us how he’d been ironing his shirt in the basement, when he heard a rhythmic tapping. He paused to listen (here he mimed himself stopping to listen) the noise stopped and so he started ironing again. The noise returned. He thought ‘Eek ghost!’. Then realised the iron’s flex was banging against the board.
I know I didn’t do the story justice, but believe me, there were guffaws coming from the stalls, and they weren’t just from me!
What I love about Lee’s performances (and the reason that I keep going to concert after concert) is the way he acts each number, making the lyrics seem much more meaningful than they did before. He changes mood so easily swapping from the dramatic, to the silly, to the sorrowful with barely a pause. That, and of course his wonderful voice, which still leaves me breathless with admiration.
Yeah I know! I’m a fan. I’m biased, but honestly he’s a damn good performer.
Lee usually has a guest artist perform with him but in these concerts he’s showcased his
excellent band. They played three instrumentals, all of which heavily featured John, the highly entertaining violinist.
Finally, Lee sang the single from the album, and my favourite track, ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’, complete plinky-plink ukulele accompaniment from Mason Neely . Charming! It got the whole of the stalls standing and cheering.
All in all a pretty enchanting day actually!
Today’s blog was written by Jane E. Thanks, Jane!